INTERVIEW-Technology revolution "brings the bank" to poor women

18 November, 2014

LONDON, Nov 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New technology has "brought the bank" to millions of low-income women in a revolution that could help drive economic growth, according to an authority on women's finance.

Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president of Women's World Banking (WWB), said women in developing countries were embracing the use of mobile phones, ATMs and point of sale terminals in local shops to access their finances.

Around 2.8 billion people worldwide do not have a bank account, Iskenderian said, and poor women, living on two dollars a day or less, were 28 percent less likely to have a bank account than men.

She was speaking at the Trust Women conference on a panel about women's economic empowerment.

"Women are time-starved, worried about carrying cash around and want their savings to be kept confidential from friends and family. Mobile banking lends itself well to their wishes," Iskenderian told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the women's rights conference in London.

"With the ability to deliver services digitally, we should see more women being able to understand, access and be empowered by financial services."

There is increasing evidence that countries are missing out on significant economic growth by not having equality of financial access between men and women, Iskenderian said.

"Women make more investments in their families and communities than men do, which can lead to a path out of poverty."

WOMEN ARE BETTER CUSTOMERS

Iskenderian said data from a number of financial institutions showed women were better than men at paying off loans, that they deposit money more frequently and leave it in the bank for longer.

Women are also more likely buy multiple products from a financial institution, and Iskenderian said she believed women were starting to see genuine changes to their lives through access to services like pension and insurance products.

"We've seen health insurance enabling women to give birth in hospital, rather than having to deliver the baby at home," she said.

"A savings account under a woman's name means that if she suffers domestic abuse, she has the safety net to leave her husband in the knowledge that she can provide for herself."

Iskenderian said her organisation wanted to tackle a bias against giving women larger loans, and to work to overhaul financial institutions' policies to ensure fewer low-income women were left behind.

WWB works with its network of 34 financial institutions in 24 countries to create new credit, savings, and insurance products for low-income women.

"We have better data than ever before that allows us to make a strong business case for providing financial services to poor communities," she said.

"This isn't charity or corporate social responsibility but a perfectly viable business segment that will allow them to serve countless women around the world while making a profit."

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ros Russell)


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