This study was conducted to identify and analyze the levels of empowerment among customers of financial services and the obstacles to financial inclusion they may face. The study looked at the background and experiences of people with various profiles who are economically active in different sectors.
First, the customers’ levels of financial inclusion were compared with their capacity to choose and use financial services. Second, the study assessed whether or not they were able to take control of their relationship with the financial service provider (FSP). This approach made it possible to document the defined dimensions of empowerment: (i) ability to choose, (ii) possibility of accessing and using financial services, and (iii) ability to be heard and to express their point of view. The overall objective of this research is to understand, through interviews with customers, their views on customer empowerment.
The research was also aimed at observing and analyzing experiences, behaviors, and customer use in relationship to digital financial services and their link to the concept of empowerment. Therefore, special attention was given to the level of uptake and use of financial services through mobile telephones. In view of its rapid social adoption, this type of digital service gave us an opportunity to observe the financial inclusion behaviors in various segments of the population. Uptake and use of this service have led to empowerment outside the traditional financial channels and services.
Sixty participants were interviewed: 38 women and 22 men. Twenty-three interviewees were from rural areas; 37 were from urban areas. The interviewees were identified through three partners: CARE International, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) with an office in Côte d’Ivoire that supports village savings and loan associations (VSLAs); microfinance institution (MFI) ADVANS-Côte d’Ivoire; and Biopartenaire, a joint venture with Barry Callebaut, which supports and purchases cocoa from small farmers. CARE International provided access to members of VSLAs, including both men and women, with various levels of experience. Biopartenaire allowed us to interview small cocoa farmers individually. They have the same economic activity in common. They also show varying behaviors as to whether or not they use financial services, although they are equally exposed to them. With ADVANS, we focused on criteria indicating level of customer activity (weak, average, high) in the use of services from this MFI. Having successfully obtained a loan or having a current savings account that is either dormant or used only occasionally are the criteria we used to choose among ADVANS customers. Cross-cutting criteria, such as whether or not persons had an account in a bank or MFI, or whether or not they had a digital money account on a mobile telephone, were used to determine the composition of participants for the focus group discussions.
Based on these criteria, the three partners made proposals concerning groups and individuals, among whom we randomly chose the interviewees. A large number of women were chosen because we decided to focus on homogeneous composition and because most VSLAs comprise of women. Women represent the least financially included social category, although they are the most active in the primary and informal sectors.