The Financial Inclusion Gender Gap is Wide. Which FinTechs Are Working to Narrow It?
As you’re probably well aware, significantly more women than men around the world lack access to necessary digital financial services. In some countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria, the gender gap has actually grown since the last assessment by the World Bank’s Global Findex. The consequences of this gap are compounded by the fact that women are often the financial managers for their households, in charge of allocating scarce resources to critical family priorities such as childcare, food, education and health. Financial exclusion makes it significantly more difficult for them to perform this role.
That’s a problem. But we at DFS Lab saw it as an opportunity to take action – and we’re using digital financial product service design and execution as a way to do it. We’ve talked before about the importance of product design for women’s financial inclusion, and we’ve made sure our portfolio is gender-balanced with 50% female founders and 50% female customers. With our committed partners Flourish Ventures, Women’s World Banking and FinEquity, housed at CGAP, we’re also highlighting the work that’s already being done in the fintech space to better serve women. It’s one way we can encourage others to further build upon this valuable work.
Three Cheers for Female-focused fintech
As part of this focus, we’re recognizing and rewarding existing efforts to tackle the financial inclusion gender gap by launching our Female-Focused Fintech Prize, or the F3 Prize for short. The prize helps to shine an investor spotlight on the entrepreneurs and products that are expanding digital financial access for women. Because one thing we know from our work as an emerging market fintech investor is that with the right support and the right network, founders go far. We want – and need – to see more momentum among the entrepreneurs who are building products that work for women.
We know this is a complex issue that goes beyond product and service design and execution. There are many barriers to serving financially excluded women, such as a lack of gender-disaggregated data, risk aversion in providing services to non-traditional clients, and financial literacy – among many others. But we wanted to leverage our strengths, and the strengths of other like-minded organizations, to start tackling these barriers. That’s why we’re putting out a call for F3 Prize applicants that offer fintech products serving primarily female customers in areas where the gender gap is widest: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Indonesia.
We typically think of this wide gender gap as a problem for women, which it is. But as Women’s World Banking points out, it’s also a problem for the financial institutions that are failing to meet women’s needs with their product offerings. That’s because women – not China – are the biggest untapped market worldwide. Yet it’s rare for a fintech to intentionally overlook this market and build products that don’t work for women. The more common problem is that the fintech’s products are built to be “gender-neutral.” Providers often fail to realize that taking a “gender-neutral” approach to product design is actually male-centric, and therefore reinforces the status quo.
The F3 Prize offers fintechs that have moved beyond designing gender-neutral (i.e. male-centric) products a chance to demonstrate to other companies that designing financial products for women works. By highlighting the best practices in designing for women, we hope the F3 Prize will start to become a movement. We believe that by showcasing what’s working, others will have more clear guideposts for how to build products that work for women, which makes good business sense.
We also want to reward that work. Fintechs that apply have the potential to earn structured mentorship from our team and the F3 Prize advisory committee. And they will be featured at the Transformational Business Awards in London, where they’ll be awarded a celebratory cash prize in front of an audience of global investors (many of whom are likely to be interested in their work).
One thing we see from the bootcamps we run with startups in emerging markets is the value of cross pollination. When startups come together to work with us for a week, they inevitably talk with each other, share ideas and sometimes even form partnerships. In that vein, we hope to put the companies that apply to the F3 Prize in dialogue with each other, to further hone their strategies for bringing women into their customer base.
By bringing successful fintech products working for women to investors’ attention, we hope to see more investments made in these startups. And by connecting founders who have made gender inclusion a priority with each other and with a strong mentor network, we hope to see more startups incorporate gender inclusion into their strategies, or strengthen their existing inclusion strategies. Ultimately, we hope this will contribute to an improvement in the gender gap in access to meaningful digital financial services.
Photo courtesy of organization.