How three companies are making fintech work for women
And what you can learn
Significantly more women than men around the world lack access to necessary digital financial services. This a problem for women and a problem for financial service providers.
DFS Lab saw it as an opportunity to take action — and we’re using digital financial product service design and execution as a way to do it. We’ve talked before about the importance of product design for women’s financial inclusion, and we’ve made sure our portfolio is gender-balanced with 50% female founders and 50% female customers. With our committed partners Flourish Ventures and FinEquity, housed at CGAP, we’re also highlighting the work that’s already being done in the fintech space to better serve women through the Female-Focused Fintech Prize. It’s one way we can encourage others to further build upon this valuable work.
It’s not just a problem for women— it’s yours, too
We typically think of the gender gap in access to financial services as a problem for women, which it is. But as Women’s World Banking points out, it’s also a problem for the financial institutions that are failing to meet women’s needs with their product offerings. That’s because women are the biggest untapped market worldwide. Yet it’s rare for a fintech to intentionally overlook this market and build products that don’t work for women. The more common problem is that the fintech’s products are built to be “gender-neutral.” Providers often fail to realize that taking a “gender-neutral” approach to product design is actually male-centric, and therefore reinforces the status quo.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration to go beyond a gender neutral approach and actually design products that meet women’s needs, we found three companies you can look to for insights and inspiration. We’ve also highlighted a few key trends we saw after reviewing dozens of companies that are successfully building products that work for women (i.e. your biggest untapped market).
1) Go to where women are and operate within their social context
When we reviewed applications for our F3 Prize, we saw that almost all of the top companies had some kind of distribution partnership with a women’s group, women-focused MFI, or farmer group. This distribution strategy is key, because you need to bring financial services to where women are — where they work, where they live, and where they socialize through trusted channels.
Meeting female users where they are in day-to-day life makes a big difference. One of the best examples we saw comes from Kaleidofin, the F3 Prize winner. They offer a “doorstep service” in India, tailored to women, to help build a robust personal financial management plan. Recognizing the importance of social structures, Kaleidofin emphasizes discretion and privacy while offering its services, giving its customers the option to check their balance via “missed calls” and to set a non-household proxy to receive messages about her account.
Another prime example comes from Pezesha, who was a runner up for the F3 Prize. Pezesha is a fintech based in Kenya that markets directly to savings groups and designs incentives around them. Their credit score as a service
product boosts an entire savings group’s score as individual members display good borrowing and repayment behavior. Pezesha taps into the incentives structures already represented in these groups and boosts them, effectively engaging distribution partnerships.
2) Balance tech and touch: Provide a technically accessible on-boarding process with in-person assistance
Female users are oftentimes more digitally excluded than their male counterparts. This takes a disproportionate toll on novice female users as they look to navigate digital financial offerings. Our best applicants recognize this reality and design for it, with a series of in-person techniques to guide users through their on-boarding processes while ensuring that the benefits of going digital are not inhibited.
Mama Prime in Kenya designed its maternity savings and credit product with two distinct user experiences — one for its female customers and one for its hospital partners. For its female users, Mama Prime ensures that it is largely effortless and can be used quickly. The menu is in USSD and they help with on-boarding at the hospital itself with future expansion to rural areas through health workers. The menu is simple with three options to drive towards an affordable down payment and the saving process is extremely flexible — “pay any amount, anywhere, anytime.”
Another approach we saw came from Pezesha. They empower their female users to help champion the product and provide guidance for new users as a way to balance tech and touch.
3) Help women meet life goals, not just financial ones
Kaleidofin lives by this; their mission is to help women meet their real life goals. They don’t offer single digital financial service products but instead offer bundled products tailored to their female customers’ life goals such as children’s education. Over 90% of their customers are women.
Kaleidofin’s approach reflects a trend we saw in the top companies we reviewed: none of their product offers led with the financial benefits of their products and services, but rather with how it augments their female customer’s current efforts to achieve specific life goals that are important to her and her family.
Mama Prime, a product targeting expecting mothers, offers a three-tier product designed around the three phases of maternity (prenatal care,
delivery including emergencies, and post-delivery care). Pezesha’s markets to women on Facebook who are using search terms related to specific life events such as school fee payments. If you’re trying to reach women, and you’re leading with your product benefits, you might want to take a closer look at these companies and their approach.
Three Cheers for Female-Focused Fintech
We know this is a complex issue that goes beyond product and service design and execution. There are many barriers to serving financially excluded women, such as a lack of gender-disaggregated data, risk aversion in providing services to non-traditional clients, and financial literacy — among many others. But we also believe that by showcasing what’s being done to overcome some of these barriers, and by highlighting what’s working, other companies will have more clear guideposts for how to build products that work for women, and see that it’s not just good for women, but good for business.
One thing we know from our work as an emerging market fintech investor is that with the right support and the right network, founders go far. We want — and need — to see more momentum among the entrepreneurs who are building products that work for women.
Meet the Companies Closing the Gender Gap
Our advisory board reviewed and scored each application that was submitted to the F3 Prize. While we were impressed by a number of companies and the work they are doing to close the gender gap in access to financial services, three companies especially stood out: Kaleidofin, Pezesha, and Mama Prime.
A version of this article was originally published at https://nextbillion.net on May 13, 2019.