Bangladesh has gender inequality in case of access to mobile financial services (MFS), as the female users of such services are almost half their male counterparts in the country, a study finds.
Around 53 percent of men in Bangladesh have used MFS at least once in the past, compared to 27 percent of women, whereas some 19 percent of men have registered MFS accounts, compared to 6 percent of women.
The findings of the study on “Opportunities in the Female MFS Market in Bangladesh” conducted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) were shared at an event at Le Méridien hotel in Dhaka yesterday.
The IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, organised the programme as part of the IFC and the central bank's joint initiative to financially include women through increasing MFS adoption.
The partnership project is supported by the World Bank Group's Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality.
As part of the study, 4,000 women were surveyed in all eight divisions. Of them, 2,000 are MFS-users and 2,000 non-users.
Twenty-one focus group discussions took place with the presence of 155 respondents. Some 30 female MFS agents were interviewed.
There has been significant growth in registered female users over the last four years.
While the overall proportion of women with registered MFS accounts remains low, the annual growth rate of MFS registration among women has been high at 124 percent. Most users have not registered for MFS accounts. Registration for mobile financial services is even lower in rural locations, only 25 percent.
The report said the female MFS market has shown remarkable growth and has excellent growth prospects.
Based on a growth rate of 52 percent, some 33 percent of all adult women in Bangladesh would be registered MFS users by 2020.
The study said the market growth can be accelerated through offering banking products through the mobile channel.
MFS is perceived as a simple money transfer service, as 95 percent of women use the service to receive money while 82 percent send money through the channel, according to the study.
Other usages include airtime top-up, savings, and utility bill payments.
Most non-users indicate that they do not find MFS useful. A significant portion also cited lack of awareness or knowledge as a reason for non-use.
“This highlights the need for greater awareness and financial literacy.”
The study highlighted the gender gap in agent network: only 0.4 percent of agents in the market are female. The appointment of more women as agents can pull more women to the services, the study finds.
Female users carried out three transactions in six months through male agents whereas the transaction number goes up to four when the agents are female.
“Customers who use female agents are likely to use mobile financial services more often.”
The majority of women surveyed noted that female agents are likely to be easier to approach compared to male agents.
Female agents are more trustworthy, likely to be better in maintaining confidentiality, more likely to keep data secure, less likely to overcharge for any transaction, and agent outlet visit is preferred and approved by male family members, according to the report.
Women's access to agents is a crucial part in bringing more women under the digital delivery channel.
The report said agent networks in rural areas are a barrier to MFS adoption: in urban areas, 99 percent of users walk to agent outlets. In contrast, in rural locations, 24 percent of users have to take public transport to reach an agent outlet.
In focus group discussions, female MFS-users rated savings in time and hassle as the most attractive features in MFS, which highlight the importance of access points.
Seven minutes is the median time taken for users to reach an agent outlet. In rural areas the time taken is 10 minutes, while in metropolitan, other municipal centres, and non-municipal centres it is 5 minutes.
The report said addressing gaps in financial literacy can spur wider use of MFS among women.
Gaps in financial literacy impede women, even current mobile money users, from making full use of the MFS value proposition.
Only one out of 10 women MFS users know how to change their PINs and only two out of 10 women MFS users are aware of fees and costs of the mobile money.
As financial access in Bangladesh is low, MFS can provide alternative delivery channels to reach underserved segments such as women, especially in areas where it would be unsustainable for bank branches, the IFC said in a statement.
To enable the market to meet its potential, MFS providers would need to take targeted strategies for acquiring female clients.
In his remarks, State Minister for Finance and Planning MA Mannan said the government has worked tirelessly to create an enabling environment for the financial sector's digital evolution.
SK Sur Chowdhury, deputy governor of the BB, said the central bank values the international expertise that the IFC brings to the financial sector.
Wendy Werner, IFC's country manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, and Sidsel Bleken, ambassador of Norway to Bangladesh, were also present.