East Africa strives to serve women as financial inclusion experts meet in Dar
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THE Executive Secretary of National Economic Empowerment Council (NEEC) Ben’gi Issa delivers her opening speech during the launch of the first VICOBA Day in Dar es Salaam. (File photo)

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CEO- NMB international leaders convene in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania today for Women’s World Banking (WWB)’s Making Finance Work for Women Summit.

Over 300 participants will tackle a major issue facing our global economy: one billion women around the world do not have access to financial services.

The fact that this gathering is happening in East Africa is not an accident; some of the most in-depth analysis and innovative approaches for serving women with financial services are happening right here in our region.

Reaching women with vital financial services is particularly critical in countries like Tanzania and Mozambique where only 17 and 13 per cent of women respectively have an account with a formal financial institution.

Women’s financial inclusion should not only be an imperative for financial service providers, which stand to profit from these loyal and sustainable clients, but for governments and the development community because financially empowered women spur economic growth. Many of these actors are making strides in women’s financial inclusion across East Africa.

In Mozambique, Financial Sector Deepening Mozambique (FSDMoç), a programme of the UK’s Department of International Development, created a targeted strategy for women’s financial inclusion supporting good policies and regulations for women’s financial inclusion, working with financial service providers to develop products for women, and generating better data and information at the macro, and micro levels.

On the latter, this included commissioning an in-depth gender analysis of FinScope financial inclusion data. The findings show that prevailing social, domestic and labour circumstances present greater challenges in deepening women’s access to financial services.

They also highlighted that women’s levels of education and financial product awareness are lower than men and that women are less likely to turn to banks for financial advice compared to men.

Additionally, women are less likely to have either identity documents or proof of residential address, often required for opening an account. These insights are instrumental in developing financial products that meet women’s unique needs.

So what are financial service providers and policy makers doing about it? For one, with catalytic support from FSDMoç, Women’s World Banking and Mpesa Mozambique have partnered on a venture to expand digital services to rural women and savings groups.

In Tanzania, NMB Bank is working with WWB to address women’s financial needs and design financial products that will meet them. NMB recognises the market opportunity in serving low income women as well as young girls.

When girls receive financial education and appropriate banking products from a young age, they are more likely to use formal financial services as adults.

In partnership with WWB, NMB launched WAJIBU, a family of youth savings accounts paired with a financial capability programme designed to help youth in schools across Tanzania to save and manage money for a bright future, together with their parents.

Research conducted on the differences between female and male youth clients while designing WAJIBU was revealing. For example, girls between the ages of 13-17years are more likely to have deposited money at a bank, while boys in the same age group are more likely to have asked a question to a bank staff.

As a result, NMB staffs strive to be more accessible to girls, who are more likely to be active savers but are less comfortable in approaching bank staff for their further financial literacy.

These types of adjustments to product design are critical for opening up access for women and girls effectively. Access will not be possible without the appropriate regulatory support, which is why the role of government is so critical for achieving women’s financial inclusion.

Both Tanzania and Mozambique are working toward policy changes that will empower women to access financial products. In Mozambique, the government is making efforts to deepen financial inclusion through relaxed know-your-customer (KYC) requirements that will allow more people to easily open and manage accounts.

The relaxed KYC opens up tremendous opportunity for banks to expand their customer base, including the market opportunity to serve low-income women.

In Tanzania, the government established the National Financial Inclusion Framework in 2013 and has shown progress in closing the gender gap through legislation and regulation to support mobile money financial services.

However, the ability to reach women in rural areas and the limited digital remains challengeabe. We look forward to joining regulators, financial service providers, members of the development community, as well as investors at the Making Finance Work for Women Summit to discuss these and other promising approaches to achieving women’s economic empowerment.

*Ineke Bussemaker is the Managing director of NMB Bank. in East Africa and around the world.

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