MAKING FINANCE WORK FOR WOMEN – SCANNING POLICY TO BREAK NEW GROUND

Women contribute only 18% to the national GDP in India; and their workforce participation hovers around 27%. Among these, poor women are mostly self-employed; they are subsistence farmers and micro entrepreneurs, and while their work is critical for family well-being, they earn significantly less than men. Access to finance is an important impediment that keeps women out of the mainstream economy.

It is therefore imperative that for meaningful financial inclusion of women, focused and deliberate policy attention is given. In India, women have been the focus of the two significant microfinance channels – the MFI and the SHG Bank linkage model. The SHG bank linkage model is one of the largest microfinance programmes in the world that has linked unbanked women to formal financial institutions. Beyond this, there is no formal policy attention to financial services for women.

In terms of ownership of bank accounts, the gender gap in India had substantially dropped from 20% in 2014 to 6% in 2017 as per the Findex reports, largely due to the progress made under the Jan Dhan Yojana. By September 2019, 196.2 million PMJDY of the total of 368.9 million were of women. This however does not translate in visible any way to women beginning to benefit from financial inclusion. However outside of the SHG programme, there do not seem to be any other programmes and policies which promote and push flow of loans and access to other financial services specifically for women. One of the key policies to push loans to underserved segments is the Priority Sector Lending targets for banks. The government had set up the Bharatiya Mahila Bank for specific focus on women, which did not take off and was subsequently merged with the State Bank of India. The PM Mudra Yojana promotes loans to micro and small enterprises, without any specific targets or focus on women.

The session discussed whether there is adequate, deliberate focus on reaching women with financial services within the current policies and schemes aimed at promoting financial inclusion. It provided recommendations for policy consideration to enable meaningful inclusion of women, particularly from poor and low income segments, in the mainstream financial sector. The session touched upon MoRD’s experiences, challenges and core strategies pivoted across NRLM and other financial inclusion policy framework in leading the economic development campaign and advancing financial inclusion for women. The session also discussed on Ministry of MSME’s effort in bringing focus on access to finance for women enterpreneurs. The session had detailed discussion on product suitability, need for women specific financial institutions and partnerships for facilitating better coverage for women.

TEJI0306Key Takeaways

  • While the financial services access points with respect to basic credit is largely available to women as customer segment, quality of financial services and diversity of products offered needs to be improved.
  • There is a glaring need for infusing gender bias (tilted towards women) by way of appropriate incentives and subsidies in policies, which are otherwise designed gender neutral. Such positive bias opens up opportunities both at supply and demand side to increase women participation in financial inclusion spectrum.
  • Women do not shy away from using technology platform; the retention and sustained usage rate of technology is significantly better than for men as customer segment. Hence JAM trinity holds immense potential in reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion.
  • While lower ticket micro-loan segment is largely dominated by women borrowers on group-backed models, there is need for higher order loan sizes for individual women and women owned enterprises.
  • One-size-fits-all approach might not work while providing services targeted for individual enterprises unlike micro-credit.
  • The shift of focus on ecosystem development and not just product development is critical. Similarly shift of focus of policy makers from manufacturing sector to trading and services sector has brought spotlight on women as target beneficiary.
  • Market intervention, technology skilling and regulatory framework needs to be conducive for making women as an entrepreneurial and economically active segment. Economically vibrant women and women businesses presents itself as financially viable value proposition for financial institutions to pursue after.
  • There is need to aggregate smaller women enterprises by way of producer companies for efficient delivery of services and usage of financial and other resources.
  • For making finance work for women, there is an accentuated need for strong relationship between financial institutions and communities. This relationship has to be routed through community resource persons or similar cadre of Feet-on-Street who can help break the opaqueness of operating environment of small, micro and dwarf enterprises. It will bring comfort to many mainstream commercial financial institutions as more information is made available about the enterprises.
  • Concerted effort to break the information asymmetry around availability of various schemes, products and bouquet of benefits is also critical to create empowered and informed demand from women.

BUILDING A CLIENT – CENTRIC FINANCIAL SERVICES ARCHITECTURE – THE EXPERTS TALK

A customer-centric approach to product design and delivery can offer value for financial institutions, customers, and the ecosystem at large. Apart from a strong business case for an ‘outside-in’ approach, customer-centric solutions can empower clients by responding to their needs and empowering them with the tools to control their financial lives and mitigate risk and uncertainty.  In a series of Ted-style talks, experts from the Krea University ecosystem discussed the key principles, from various perspectives, essential for designing a customer-centric financial services architecture in India and how to create a truly responsive and inclusive financial services sector that offers long-term
value to all stakeholders. The talks were focused around Enabling last-mile access through Technology, Integrating Humanities and Social Science Concepts in Creating a Customer Centric Financial Ecosystem, Women and Customer Centricity, and Leveraging Insights from the Ground.

Interface of Women with Indian Financial, SystemTalk by Soumya Kapoor, IWWAGE (Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy) at Krea University

• Gender disparity in number of inactive accounts under Jan Dhan Yojana is stark. Inactivity stems from various reasons spanning from insufficient cash at disposal, limited working knowledge of operating bank account to interacting openly with a BC correspondent.

• BC assisted and guided schedules is critical for usage of bank accounts and other financial services by women.

• While there are empirical studies clearly articulating and highlighting strong rationale for financial products and services for women, not much is explored or discussed for supply of women-workforce in financial services for servicing women clients.

• Practitioners have mentioned challenges related to mobility, lack of disciplined time commitment from women field officers and safety as primary concerns.

• Also women workers look for stability of income flow and largely field officer’s fixed and incentive are linked with targets. Such incentive structures at times act as a barrier for women workforce to participate in financial services sector.

• Apart from the tangible challenges outlined above, many practitioners mentioned that they need field officers who can “run around” and becomes a “sales rock star” indicating strong gender bias even before actual hiring.

• Designing a customer –centric, gender responsive and inclusive financial services architecture will need to address the issue of missing women workforce in financial services space.

Creating a Citizen-Centric Financial Ecosystem, Talk by Dr. Bisnu Mohapatra, Dean of School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences (SIAS) at Krea University

• The role of Rights-based approach, esp. for marginalized communities, for universal financial inclusion is not explored much, and provision of financial services is largely market-driven. Market-led solutions to solve for efficient resource allocation and return maximization, and financial services design and delivery is largely left for the market to engage, provide and serve customers/client guided by the principle of shareholder’s value maximization.

• In contrast to the existing state of supply for financial services, many citizen studies have highlighted that India as a country expects state to provide for basic goods and services. Interestingly, studies have highlighted the provision of basic financial services is perceived as the responsibility of the state to provide. While the delivery mechanism of such services could be in partnership with private players, the state cannot absolve themselves from providing such services.

• The primary concern with making a client-centric argument is customers and clients are individualized and narrowed down to very thin categories. Customers and clients are defined as segment consuming certain products and having certain preferences at certain price points. The market has to solve for these preferences. The client-centric approach does not acknowledge rights and neither makes a strong enough argument for accountability.

• Hence it will be critical to incorporate the dimension of citizens instead of just clients in the discourse, including tenets of a rights-based approach in designing more considerate and sensible financial inclusion architecture.

• The idea of clients and citizenship should be connected to the social structure of society. The idea of citizenship applied properly to financial services, can do a lot of good to the client-centric imagination

– It will allow paying attention to multiple facets a client has, for e.g. access to finance/ market is connected to many things like education, upbringing, social capital, etc. This would help identify,  understand, and acknowledge the complexities to be addressed while designing a resilient system.                                    – It will facilitate including technology perspective basis the understanding that technologies introduced are connected to unequal social forces in society. Technology is not a neutral entity, it rides on capital and private interest.
– It will allow room for designing accountability mechanisms.

Enabling Last Mile Access through Technology, Talk by Dr. Gaurav Raina, Head of Research Council at Krea University

Adoption and sustained usage of technology at last mile is complex.

• Technology adoption is largely  use case driven even for a fairly educated and tech-savvy population segment. Any technology adoption targeted for last mile will have to be articulated strongly for clear use-cases.

• Designing systems and architecture which will enable transfer of money will have to be designed for trust, comfort along with interoperability, fastness and security.

• The last mile issues like language are still not addressed in a fairly stable mobile payments segment yet. Multilingual applications, user-interfaces and customer support is critical for breeding trust and comfort from user’s standpoint.

• UPI and IMPS are recent but are increasingly contributing to digital payments. There has been a 10x increase in per capita digital payments in the last 5 years and a 10x increase is expected in the upcoming 3 years. There are around 100 million unique UPI users in the country.

• The national unified USSD platform did not require to download an app. This is the only payment channel where both value and volume has dropped. It is difficult to isolate reasons why it hasn’t taken off. From the people owning mobile phones, 50% people are using smartphone and the other feature phones. Only 1/5th of them are using UPI with rapidly increasing numbers. The number of USSD users on feature phones is dropping.

• However, USSD has seen a smashing success in South Africa. One of the reasons for that is – multilingualism – seeing/hearing things in their own language provides a sense of comfort leading to confidence which acts as a proxy for trust in the system, an important component missing in India’s USSD offering.

• For digital financial services to contribute towards universal financial inclusion, there is need to pay attention to triangulation of practical use cases, human behaviour pivoted against cultural, gender, age, socio-economic lens and map it carefully to underlying technology.

To view the talk, please click here.