Can We Close the Gender Gap?

On March 6, over 150 people gathered at FINCA’s headquarters in Washington, DC to discuss an important question. Is financial technology the key to closing the gender gap?

Joined by thought leaders from CGAP, The MasterCard Foundation, McKinsey Global Institute and Savannah Bank, Andrée Simon, CEO of FINCA’s microfinance network, led a discussion on the benefits and challenges of using mobile innovations to empower women with financial services.

Of the nearly 2 billion unbanked worldwide, women are 28% less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. While there have been strides in advancing financial inclusion through mobile phone access, women on average are still 14% less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

“We know that when women have cell phones, they feel safer, find jobs better and have increased access to financial services,” Andrée Simon said at the event.

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Greta Bull, CEO of CGAP, saw new innovations as a natural progression of the microfinance industry. “We’ve seen the limits to scalability for microfinance as a model,” she said. “Fintech can crack that open and will allow us to think how can we get further with financial services.”

“Mobile solutions and fintech are a game changer,” added Susan Lund of the McKinsey Global Institute. “With mobile phones, you can get a 30% increase in people accessing finance.”

Despite the potential for this technology to change women’s lives, obstacles remain in the form of social norms. Speaking to her experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ann Miles of The MasterCard Foundation said, “In the DRC, a married woman can’t open a bank account without her husband’s permission. This is a legal code and a huge challenge for us to change. But digital financial services could do end runs around these social challenges.”

As the Executive Director of Savannah Bank in Nigeria, Patricia Nowbodo has seen this first hand throughout Africa. “I work in the banking industry and I know that because of culture, a lot of women feel shy and intimidated approaching men when they go to the bank. They end up banking with women. Fintech will work in helping women access financial services, if more women get into financial services and fintech startups.”

Ultimately, the panelists agreed that though the financial technology space is new and undefined, it is growing and has the capacity for tremendous change.

“Bold action is both necessary and possible,” Andrée Simon concluded.

Bold action is possible because we have a solution in our hands that enables education, communication and access to financial services that can include millions of women.