Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda are the top five countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region with the highest bank accounts for women in 2021, according to the latest Global Findex report.
The report titled ‘Financial Inclusion, Digital Payments, and Resilience in the Age of COVID-19, said mobile money has become an important enabler of financial inclusion in SSA especially for women.
“It is a driver of account ownership and of account usage through mobile payments, saving, and borrowing. The spread of mobile money accounts has created new opportunities to better serve women, poor people, and other groups who traditionally have been excluded from the formal financial system,” the report said.
It said the gender gap in access to finance has narrowed, but it still exists. “Women, along with the poor, are more likely to lack identification or a mobile phone, to live far from a bank branch, and to need support to open and effectively use a financial account.”
According to the World Bank, policy makers will need to make additional efforts to include underserved population groups in the ongoing transformation.
“Financial education programs are among the tools to consider, and they are bound to be more effective if they involve peer-to-peer learning, for instance through women’s self-help groups,” it said.
The report has become a mainstay of global efforts to promote financial inclusion. Launched with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it has been published every three years since 2011.
The 2021 edition is based on nationally representative surveys of about 125,000 adults in 123 economies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It contains updated indicators on access to and use of formal and informal financial services, including on the use of cards, mobile phones, and the internet to make and receive digital payments including the adoption of digital merchant and utility payments during the pandemic and also offers insights into the behaviors that enable financial resilience.
Authors of the report also revealed that the percentage of Nigerian women with bank accounts increased by nine percentage points to 35 percent in 2021, the highest in 10 years from 26 percent in 2011.
But when compared to men, women still lagged behind as 35 percent of them with bank accounts is 21 percentage points lower than the 56 percent of men who have.
Across SSA, unbanked women are seven percentage points more likely than unbanked men to cite lack of a mobile phone as one reason they do not have an account, according to the report.
“This gap increases to 14 percentage points in Nigeria, where women are almost twice as likely as men to cite lack of a mobile phone as a barrier to account ownership. Ghana reported a double-digit gap (10 percentage points) between women and men citing mobile phone ownership as a barrier.
“Another barrier is lack of identification. In Liberia, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Tanzania more than 40 percent of unbanked adults cited lack of documentation as a barrier. Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Sudan all have significant gender gaps corresponding to this barrier,” it added.
“We need to think about the inconsistencies of women in Northern Nigeria and also the young people because they represent the groups that are mostly financially excluded in the society,” Isaiah Owolabi, former chief executive officer at Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA) said.
He said the country needs to consider how they can accelerate digital financial inclusion and also leverage data, which is what his company has been doing since 2008 so as to inform key decision policy actions across different sectors.
Financial inclusion is when individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way, according to the World Bank.
The importance of financial inclusion, which is a key enabler to reduce extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity, has made it to be identified as an enabler for seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.
“Financial inclusion has been described to be an enabler of seven of the SDG, and a vital tool for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity,” the National Bureau of Statistics, said in a recent report.
“It helps to reduce the rate of poverty, generates employment, creates wealth, improves general welfare and standard of living, and drives overall economic growth,” it added.