A deeper look into women’s uptake of digital financial services in Jordan
By Enas Halaiqah
Despite the continued growth we witness today across many developmental areas to reduce inequalities and elevate livelihoods of the most vulnerable across the world, one fact remains persistently unchanged: the financial inclusion rates of women are not increasing. In fact, the gender gap in financial inclusion remains unaltered since 2011 (1). The discourse on why women are excluded from the formal financial ecosystem and what can be done to reduce this is ongoing. Nonetheless, what might truly shift the way we address this challenge, possibly leading to tangible results, is asking women what they want and getting their insights on what would bring them closer to access to and use of financial services.
Extensive research has been conducted on why women are out of the financial services realm. Reasons ranged from limited access to technology to cultural barriers, limited mobility and low access to the labor force among other reasons. While this analysis is considerably global, each country has its own conditions and complexities, requiring contextual investigation and adapting efforts to expedite closing its gender gap. In Jordan, the gender gap in financial inclusion is one of the highest in the world. 56 percent of all Jordanian men are financially included in comparison to 27 percent of women, which is less than one in three women (Global Findex 2017) (2). To better understand women’s financial needs and behaviors, the Jordan Payments and Clearing Company (JoPACC) collaborated with the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) to conduct two digital experiments that look into women’s access to and usage of digital financial services, specifically mobile wallets. 1.9% of Jordanian men use DFS while only 0.1% of women use those services (Global Findex 2017).
Digital experiments are interventions in the current business, technical, awareness, or communication strategies governing digital financial services. They range from a marketing and awareness pitch to a new technological solution, or even a new business model capable of enhancing the specific area of focus. They aim to analyze the impact of services and solutions, address unforeseen challenges and gaps, and introduce ideas that increase the uptake of digital financial services. The mentioned experiments investigated the impact of a loyalty program and the impact of digitizing the payment and re-payment of microloans on increasing women’s access to and use of mobile wallets. The experiments focused on women’s behavior, women’s experience and women’s feedback.
The experiments found that women are thorough clients when it comes to their financial lives, especially in underserved communities. Women do not sign up for services revolving around finance if they don’t fully understand them. In one of the experiments we conducted, women were offered a financial incentive to open mobile wallets. Surprisingly, this incentive did not lead to high registration numbers of wallets. Later in the mentioned experiment, thorough awareness sessions were held and the registration rate and use of mobile wallets increased afterwards. This leads to the conclusion that women cannot be attracted to financial services if the approach of quick sales win is followed. Due to this conclusion, it is strongly recommended to intensify financial awareness efforts to women and offer practical guidance on the use of mobile wallets.
In the conducted digital experiments, the technical experience with the mobile wallet application and the interaction with the frontline service providers -agents- proved to have a notable impact on women’s active use of mobile wallets. Women who started using mobile wallets were motivated by the ease of using the mobile application. They also appreciated the availability of information on fees in the application. This reinforces the assumption that the customer’s experience should be seamless and informative. On the other side, some agents shared misleading information with clients and charged higher than what is communicated by the mobile Payment Service Providers (PSPs), which confused clients and discouraged them to use the wallet. Because of the vital role agents play in the service cycle of mobile wallets, training agents comprehensively and following up on their performance is a vital investment by PSPs to increase the uptake of mobile wallets by women, and all clients more generally.
One element of the experiments that triggered positive results is the representation of women in financial services. Financial awareness sessions were led by a female community leader who received training on mobile wallets and strongly believed in the impact of mobile wallets on women’s financial inclusion that she decided to champion the cause. Because she understands the needs and pain points of women in her community, she was capable of addressing their concerns and conveying the key messages about mobile wallets in a persuasive way. Moreover, a female staff member served women in one of the experiments and assisted them in opening wallets, which led to higher registration rates. Women serving women can contribute to increasing access and use of digital financial services.
What women valued the most in using mobile wallets are privacy and saving time and money. Having a financial tool that offered complete privacy and autonomy made women feel more empowered and independent. Moreover, because of the family commitments they carry and the challenge of transportation to run errands, women mostly appreciated making transactions through wallets to rid them of said transportation costs. Proper guidance on the use cases of wallets familiarized women with wallets and boosted their confidence in transacting through their wallets.
Besides the different elements of women’s experience in the use of mobile wallets, one specific program had a positive impact on their activity level. One of the two experiments involved running a loyalty program where clients were rewarded against the number of transactions. The program followed a points system and included weekly and bi-weekly draws. The program increased the financial activity of targeted female beneficiaries by nearly 38%. This act of positive conditioning evidently improved the perception of mobile wallets for the experiment group and increased women’s confidence in the service provider. Payment service providers and financial inclusion advocates are encouraged to introduce programs to build strong customer loyalty.
In conclusion, gender-inclusive financial services require proper communication with women and investment in quality awareness and diversified service programs. The valuable insights offered by women on their needs and expectations can lead to enhancing services that encourage their own uptake and active usage of digital financial services. Women can contribute to economic growth by gaining skills to manage their financial resources and as a result engaging in economically productive activities. Closing the gender gap in financial inclusion can act as an enabler and accelerator of countries’ development, economic growth, inequality reduction, business evolution, and social inclusion. While the path may seem long, understanding women’s needs and addressing them is a key stride to achieve the goal of reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion.
- Financial Inclusion for Women: A Way Forward: Click here
- The Little Data Book on Financial Inclusion 2018, page 82: Click here