Ghana made waves earlier this year when it launched the world’s first digital financial services (DFS) policy, building on the past five years of explosive DFS growth in the country. Among the policy’s goals is to ensure that at least 85 percent of men and women have financial accounts by 2023. There are reasons to be optimistic that this target is achievable for men, who already reached 62 percent account ownership in 2017, but what about women? Can the new policy help to close the gender gap?
Ghana’s financial inclusion gender gap
According to the 2017 Findex, 54 percent of women in Ghana have formal financial accounts, meaning that there is an 8 percentage point gender difference. DFS have the potential to close this gap. In fact, between 2010 and 2015, half of all new access to financial accounts was through non-bank financial institutions, more specifically mobile money. And the trajectory of DFS as a driver of inclusion remains steady today.
While DFS offers an opportunity to close the gender gap, getting there will require us to address the barriers women face in accessing these services. For example, the GSMA Connected Women Initiative found that women in Ghana are 16 percent less likely than men to have a mobile phone. Women in rural areas have especially low phone ownership levels. A World Cocoa Foundation study of rural cocoa farmers in 2018 found that women were 20 – 30 percent less likely than men to have a mobile money account, bank account, or both. The study also established that 50 percent of the women who didn’t have an account said it was due to lack of funds, while 17 percent said it was because they were uncomfortable with or had a negative view of DFS. Women also tend to have lower levels of digital and financial literacy, as well as formal identification, all of which depresses their uptake of DFS.
Ghana’s new DFS policy presents an opportunity for government and industry to address some of these barriers. But the impact of the policy on women's access to DFS will depend on how it is implemented. As such, CGAP, Ghana’s Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Ghana set out to identify concrete ways policy makers can ensure the DFS policy results in real change for women.
Implementing the DFS policy with a gender lens
The DFS policy provides an overview for how a gender lens should be applied in its implementation. This includes understanding market dynamics from a gender perspective, considering normative barriers, engaging with women to understand their needs, monitoring the impact on women and addressing unintended consequences, and promoting the business case for serving women. But how would this look in practice? Below are five initiatives that the public and private sector could take while implementing the policy to bring real change for women:
Put gender at the center of DFS governance and regulation. The policy calls for members from the regulatory agencies supervising DFS to form a task force for evaluating “issues in the DFS landscape.” This task force should be gender balanced and should systematically review all initiatives through a gender lens.
Collect gender-disaggregated data to inform enabling regulation. The policy underscores the need to increase gender-disaggregated data collection from all providers that submit data to the regulator. The Bank of Ghana should support the banking sector in that regard. As one of its commitments to the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), the central bank already plans to roll out gender-disaggregated measurement indicators and collection tools that will be critical for DFS supervision and regulation. The government should use this data to develop guidelines that encourage supply-side interventions that catalyze women’s financial access.
Include gender sensitization in capacity building. The various government ministries, development partners and DFS providers that are working to advance financial inclusion should provide ongoing capacity building so that supply and regulatory-side actors in the financial services arena fully understand the unique constraints that women face as it relates to financial inclusion and how those can be addressed through policy, regulation and business practices.
Target MSME payment digitization efforts to women-owned businesses. The digital payments pillar of the DFS policy calls for promoting digital payments in retail. Focusing on women-owned businesses could have an outsized impact. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, women constitute 90 percent of the labor force in the informal economy and own 46 percent of informal businesses. Digitizing this segment’s transactions could not only reduce the risk of women carrying large amounts of cash, but create digital records that enable providers to offer the credit that businesses need to grow.
Support fintech innovation that better addresses women’s financial needs. The policy recommends supporting fintech innovation and making Ghana a regional fintech hub. One way to do this would be to incentivize women-owned fintechs or financial service providers that introduce women-focused products or provide pathways to women’s mobile phone ownership. Additionally, innovation hubs could be encouraged to support more women-owned fintechs and “male champions” who design and promote digital products for women. In a 2020 CGAP study on women’s financial inclusion in Ghana, financial services providers agreed that there was immense unrealized commercial potential in the women’s segment but that more research was needed before they would be willing to invest in women-targeted products. Support through hubs and innovation challenges would go a long way to unlocking this opportunity.
Having been the first nation to pioneer this type of policy, Ghana is in a unique position to be aggressive and deliberate in using DFS as a tool for improving women’s access to financial services. Indeed, how this policy is implemented will serve as a blueprint for how the gender lens can be applied to all regulations so that women can come closer to reaching parity with men in all areas of social and economic life.