Social Norms and Women’s Financial Inclusion: The Role of Providers

How do financial services providers (FSPs) shape gender norms that restrict or expand women’s access to financial services? In more ways than you might think, and there are good reasons why FSPs should be aware of this.

Photo: Yavuz Sariyildiz, 2012 CGAP Photo Contest
Photo: Yavuz Sariyildiz, 2012 CGAP Photo Contest

From a business standpoint, social norms shape the demand dynamics of a customer base and determine the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and channels. When norms discourage women from using financial services, they close off a huge potential market for FSPs. The 2017 Findex shows that in Turkey, where CGAP is researching gender norms that affect women’s financial lives, only 53 percent of women over age 15 have an account at a financial institution compared with 82 percent of men.

That’s roughly 14.6 million women who don’t have accounts, and each one is a potential customer.

Our qualitative interviews of over 90 men and women and a host of providers and NGOs have revealed a number of social norms that likely contribute to this gap, along with some interesting examples of FSPs whose work could help open new female client segments.

One belief that both men and women espoused in many of our interviews is the idea that women are not as financially savvy as men and should consult with their husbands and fathers rather than make financial decisions on their own. It’s not hard to see how this belief discourages women from having their own financial accounts. When women have safe ways to incrementally demonstrate their financial savvy, it can help shift people away from the belief that there is an innate gender difference.

Ininal is a self-described “bank for the unbanked” in Turkey that is doing interesting work in this regard. Through 20,000 distribution points, including postal outlets and grocery chains, it provides a preloaded payment card that allows customers to store value and shop online, where there are discounts that had been off limits to the unbanked. The platform has 1 million active users who transact at least once per month, 98 percent of whom use an associated mobile wallet to check their balances, transfer money between cards and pay bills.

When we spoke with Ininal CEO Omer Suner, he told us that men compose 73 percent of Ininal’s user base but that the company is working to expand women’s access to its services. According to Suner, part of the reason why young women have so few accounts is that they are more comfortable relying on their fathers’ accounts. However, transaction data show that women are increasingly obtaining their own cards and topping them off with money from their fathers’ accounts, rather than directly using their fathers’ cards.

Suner wants to encourage more women to obtain their own prepaid cards as a way of managing their finances independently. He hopes that upcoming marketing campaigns targeting women’s financial independence and accountability will deepen women’s engagement with Ininal’s platform and shift perceptions, while broadening the company’s reach.

Another social norm CGAP encountered in our interviews is the belief that women should not run large businesses because doing so interferes with their primary responsibility of managing the household.

A common phenomenon in social norms is that people conform to how they perceive (or misperceive) society at large to behave. For example, if there is a perception that nobody is recycling, people are less likely to recycle. But if people start seeing others recycle, they are more likely to follow suit. The same principle applies with women’s financial inclusion. If FSPs give visibility to women who are breaking the mold and redefining their roles, they can crowd in more women entrepreneurs and generate new customers in the process.

Some providers are running campaigns that could have this effect. TEB Bank’s Women’s Banking Program recently ran a social media campaign around the popular catch phrase, “What will people say,” to inspire more women to pursue their dreams. It featured ambitious business women who sought to grow their businesses and highlighted how they stood fast despite the doubt others had in them.

KAGIDER, the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey, provides another example. When it paired women entrepreneurs with female mentors, the entrepreneurs’ business grew 68 percent and hired more employees, in large part because mentees were inspired by their mentors’ success.

In addition to perception correction, some private-sector players provide products and services that allow workarounds to norms-based barriers. Opening a brick-and-mortar business requires a lot of capital, and women often struggle to come up with the capital because they don’t own property that they can leverage as collateral. Running a store also requires particular opening hours and engagement with men outside of the family, which pose additional challenges for women. However, starting an online company requires lower startup costs and opens far-flung markets that were previously inaccessible at flexible hours. It also enables women to work from home and engage less directly with male clients.

Iyzico, a company that provides digital payments solutions to corporate and personal sellers, has seen an increasing proportion of female entrepreneurs using its technology. The number of female merchants using Iyzico has increased more than 10-fold since 2016 and now constitutes 20 percent of the company’s business. The tools provided by Iyzico also positively impact women-owned businesses. The average revenue generated by businesses owned by women is roughly double that of businesses owned by men. A quick glance at the Turkish fintech ecosystem map reveals that other firms are providing all manner of services that facilitate access to capital and markets and allow new business models to emerge.

Many providers do not actively take into account the constraints and barriers that women face when designing their financial services because they do not see the business case for serving women. But as these examples show, some providers are helping to increase women’s demand for financial services and are enabling women to seize new opportunities. The more providers that take such approaches, the more we will see the needle move on women’s financial inclusion.


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