Research & Analysis

Women Agents for Financial Inclusion: Exploring the Benefits, Constraints, and Potential Solutions

A strong relationship has been observed globally between Cash-In, Cash-Out (CICO) agent network coverage and greater use of Digital Financial Services (DFS), especially by low-income and rural customers. However, the expansion of these networks has not automatically translated into an increase in the proportion of women with access to DFS as customers and agents, hindering their ability to reap the benefits of DFS.  
This Working Paper presents learnings from CGAP research that show how DSF providers, policymakers, regulators, and funders can influence agent networks to be more inclusive of women and other vulnerable customer segments. This paper seeks to answer the following questions:  

  1. What are the benefits of increasing the number of women agents, for women agents themselves, for customers, their communities, and for DFS providers? 
  2. What are the constraints experienced by women as agents? 
  3. What are the potential solutions to these constraints that promote women agents at scale? 

The evidence is robust that engaging women agents is not a performance trade-off as long as there is a good understanding of the barriers they face, the support they require, and how public and private actors can coordinate their efforts to provide this support.  We suggest solutions on how DFS providers, policymakers, regulators, and funders can work together to remove barriers for women being employed as agents and unlock their full potential and impact.  

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In India's Bihar state, women Bank Sakhi agents help enable financial inclusion for rural, vulnerable, and hard-to-reach customers, more so than the traditional agents - but various gender norms constrain how they operate. We discuss solutions.