The Future of Women’s Financial Inclusion: Three Key Takeaways from #MFWW2017

wwb 01croppedDesigning for Behaviour Change panel Last month, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the Women's World Banking 2017 Making Finance Work for Women Summit (MFWW). Over 300 participants gathered in Dar es Salaam from across the African continent and the globe, representing various organizations, institutions, and firms, to engage and deliberate on key trends, topics, opportunities and challenges concerning women's financial inclusion. I was inspired by the speakers and panelists who shared their stories, insight and vision for the future of women's financial inclusion.

In this post, I want to share three key takeaways I have reflected on after returning from the Summit. My hope is that they give a glimpse of the event and speak to my own learning about the state of women's financial inclusion and what the future may hold.


1. Access to finance is a necessary but insufficient condition for women clients.
For women to become empowered economic actors, entire ecosystems need to be inclusive. Even if there is access to finance for women, barriers still exist for the uptake and usage of financial products and services and inhibit active engagement as financial actors. A research presentation titled 'Widening Uptake of Financial Services for Women' was based on data from the FinScope Tanzania 2017 survey. Gender gaps in mobile phone ownership, literacy and levels of education, comfort levels in dealing with financial service providers, land ownership, lower monthly incomes, among other factors – all contribute to the higher exclusion levels and uptake of financial products and services by women.

Laws matter too. There are barriers and enablers that affect women’s financial inclusion, for example: restrictive labor laws can result in higher gender wage gaps, leaving women with less money to deposit, save and invest; while paid maternity/paternity/parental leave and flexible working options help women to stay in the workforce.1

A compelling quote stated at the end of Day 1 caught my attention: "If you're not part of financial inclusion, then you're essentially part of financial exclusion." It's true – financial inclusion is not only an agenda for the financial sector and financial service providers. It is a collective responsibility inherent to the empowerment of women and closing the financial inclusion gender gap.

2. The future of digital financial services – 3 P’s.
The conversation that emerged out of the Digital Financial Services (DFS) panel was very exciting. With rapid rates of change in technology, there is huge opportunity, especially with payments, partnerships, and processes. wwb 02Design Workshop (credit product)

Several studies have demonstrated the impact of electronic payments on economic growth.2,3 It is critical to understand how payment systems work and how they can be improved for segments that are traditionally excluded from financial systems. For payments to work for women clients, partnerships are key for the integration of platforms, products and services that are easy to use and understand. Collaboration and partnerships among actors such as financial service providers, telcos and mobile network operators, and governments can unlock innovation in processes and products that have traditionally been siloed. The move towards digitizing payments, national IDs, and information will enable improved access to vital services and products to address customer needs. And while the upside of this digital era is huge, it is critical for customer needs specific to women to be at the center, not an afterthought in the global financial inclusion agenda.

3. Design should be systematic and intentional.
The 'Designing for Behavior Change' panel was one of my favorite sessions throughout the entire Summit. I was excited to hear about topics very relevant to the work I do at MEDA. We must challenge our biases and assumptions when we design and explore potential solutions for clients. This is not new, but we sometimes lose sight that the products, services and solutions we design and deliver should be user-centric, not use-centric. This was an important reminder to be aware of the assumptions that I may carry and approach my work with a desire and openness to always learn about the end client. We really should not assume we know what our client needs, desires, and challenges are until we ask, verify, and validate.

Finally, a few key questions raised by the panelists resonated with me:
     • How do you start a design process without a product or solution in mind?
     • How do you build in (or embed) automatic testing in organizational processes?
     • From testing, what do you learn and discover? How can these learnings improve your  
       product/service /solution?
     • What is the emotional role of finance in a client's life? How can this understanding (empathy)
       contribute to the design process?

For me, the MFWW Summit reflected the state of women’s financial inclusion and called to action the multitude of actors in this space to push the boundaries in partnerships and collaboration, product design and development, policy and regulatory frameworks, the way we measure and use data, all to make finance work for women, not against them.

References
 1A presentation by Tazeen Hassan of Women, Financial Inclusion and the Law (World Bank Group) at the Making Finance Work for Women Summit

 2 "The Impact of Electronic Payments on Economic Growth,” (2016) Moody’s Analytics.

3 "The opportunities of digitizing payments,” (2014) World Bank.

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