#IWD2018: Women Leaders in Finance Talk Fintech, Financial Inclusion

March 14, 2018
Events, Financial Inclusion, FinTech, Women Empowerment

Fintech innovation can help close the gender gap—but intentional, targeted action is necessary to ensure new technologies are used in the right ways—and for the right reasons. That theme featured prominently during FINCA Impact Finance’s 2018 International Women’s Day event held in Washington, DC.

The centerpiece of the evening was a panel discussion featuring Diana Biggs, Head of Digital Innovation at HSBC Retail Banking & Wealth Management; Laura Foose, Executive Director of the Social Performance Task Force; and Momina Aijazuddin, Global Head of Microfinance at the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Left to Right: Andrée Simon, Momina Aijazzudin, Laura Foose, Diana Biggs. Photo Credit: Lucy Mui.

FINCA Impact Finance President & CEO Andrée Simon moderated the panel, explaining the need for greater financial inclusion among women: “Two billion people don’t have access to financial services,” she said. “More than one billion of them are women. We know that if we invest in women, we see better health and economic impacts.”

Simon then asked Aijazuddin, Biggs and Foose to weigh in on a range of topics at the nexus of gender and finance—including blockchain, mobile banking, gender-equitable hiring practices and the business case for women’s economic empowerment.

Will Technology Advance Women’s Financial Inclusion?

According to a live poll taken during the event, 84% of the audience believed Fintech would help close the gender gap. The panelists were divided on the issue, however.

Biggs expressed optimism about tech redressing power imbalances and providing new opportunities for women. She touted the potential of blockchain, a transparent record of financial transactions that, by reducing information asymmetries, could help close the gender gap in financial inclusion.

Foose was more skeptical of Fintech. In her remarks, she noted that most current innovations are designed to benefit those who already have access to finance and are not geared towards rural or oral customers – 755 million illiterate or innumerate people globally – a disproportionate percentage of which are women. Tech innovation alone won’t expand opportunities for the women most in need of financial services. In fact, it could worsen inequality in the short term. “Financial service providers must be intentional about their financial inclusion goals. This is particularly important when it comes to women”, she said.

Aijazuddin took a middle position. While she’s excited about the potential of Fintech, she recognized that innovation doesn’t solve problems by itself. It needs to be used deliberately, and that requires getting both women and men involved in creating lasting solutions.

FINCA Impact Finance President & CEO Andrée Simon. Photo Credit: Lucy Mui.

The Business Case for Empowering Women Through Financial Inclusion

Another common thread concerned the business case for empowering women. It’s not only about closing the gender gap—it’s also good for the bottom line.

“We should have more women in finance because there’s a strong business case for it”, said Aijazuddin. “The microfinance institutions that do well are the ones that have a double bottom line: doing well and doing good. It’s institutions that are able to combine both heart and head.” Many successful institutions—including FINCA Impact Finance—are cultivating the potential of women as clients, partners and employees.

Foose followed by arguing that not only do financial institutions need to come out with women-centric products, they also need to promote women’s empowerment in the hiring process. “In order to effect women’s empowerment, it’s not just about the products. Having your staff be representative of the client base that you’re trying to serve is also important”, she said.

Ultimately, promoting financial inclusion among women is about creating opportunities. Fintech can help, but innovation needs to be properly harnessed to achieve the desired outcomes. Biggs closed with a powerful call to action: “We can go a step further than Press for Progress. We should demand success. We should really strive as individuals.”

Note: If you were unable to attend FINCA Impact Finance’s International Women’s Day event, you can watch the full video here.