The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has recently released its draft policy for reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion in Pakistan. The policy recognizes various demand and supply-side barriers for women’s low financial inclusion in the country and proposes solutions to reduce this gap. The draft policy could not have come at a more critical time.
As per World Bank’s Global Findex 2017 – a comprehensive database on financial inclusion statistics across 140 countries, Pakistan has the third largest unbanked population in the world after China and India. A staggering 100 million Pakistani adult’s lack access to formal financial services, making up 6% of the world’s total unbanked population of 1.7 billion.
Only 11% of adult Pakistani females possess a bank account, as compared to 21% of adult Pakistani males
Further analysis of these figures reveals that only 11% of adult Pakistani females possess a bank account, as compared to 21% of adult Pakistani males. These differences are attributable to religious, societal, and cultural barriers that prevent women from participating fully in economic spheres of life, a significant drawback for a country whose females make up almost 49% of its total population.
SBP draft policy recognizes this problem and the role to be played by the financial services sector in helping overcome it.
Why microfinance matters; MMBL’s struggle for a financially inclusive Pakistan and financial empowerment of women
Microfinance banks stand at the crossroads for supporting the cause of financial inclusion in Pakistan. Microfinance, by its very nature, is inclusive. Its singular aim remains to bring financial services to marginalized communities and individuals who, for one reason or another, cannot access traditional banking.
By leveraging the power of digital in the right way, microfinance banks can play a transformative role in narrowing financial inequalities and supporting inclusive communities.
Combined with the outreach made possible by the advent of digital financial technologies, the latent power of microfinance for implementing the financial inclusion agenda is unprecedented. In a technology-enabled era, where digital financial services are becoming ever more accessible over a basic feature phone, the upward trend of mobile penetration in the country presents a huge window of opportunity for the exponential growth of digital banking. As per Datareportal, 75% of the total population in the country possesses a mobile phone connection as of January 2020, an increase of 6.2% from January 2019. A GSMA report also found that 81% of the male population and 50% of the female population owns a mobile phone device. By leveraging the power of digital in the right way, microfinance banks can play a transformative role in narrowing financial inequalities and supporting inclusive communities.
Mobilink Microfinance Bank (MMBL), the largest digital bank in the country, with over 27 million registered users including 12 million monthly active mobile wallets, realizes this potential.
Backed by VEON Ltd., MMBL is cognizant of the unique position it occupies on Pakistan’s digital and financial services map, and the responsibility such a position entails. Committed to its vision to alleviate poverty and promote financial inclusion through innovative solutions, MMBL is already playing a game-changing role in turning the vision of a financially inclusive Pakistan into a reality.
Together with its sister concern Jazz, the largest telecommunication and digital company serving over 65 million customers nationwide, MMBL and Jazz’s flagship digital product JazzCash is currently the leading digital payments platform in the country. JazzCash offers a broad portfolio of banking services including money transfers, bill payments, debit cards, insurance, savings, ticketing, and government, and corporate payments. These services can be accessed by anyone possessing a basic feature phone through the JazzCash USSD channel. Combined with a well-designed mobile application and a nationwide network of over 100,000 retail agents, JazzCash has become the mobile wallet of choice for customers across the spectrum.
As part of the GSMA’s Connected Women commitment initiative, JazzCash is also committed to increasing the proportion of women in their mobile money customer base by 2023. There has been a phenomenal growth of female mobile wallet users and retails agents from December 2019 to 2020 nationwide.
Leaving no stone unturned
In an effort to ease supply-side barriers to financial access, MMBL has digitized the onboarding process for its customers and is the first bank in Pakistan to use digital signatures – an important step towards going digital. Using hand-held digital devices, MMBL is onboarding customers and offering lending products without the need for a single sheet of paper using a digital signature certification in collaboration with National Institutional Facilitation Technologies (Pvt.) Ltd.
Whilst driving the agenda for financial inclusion through digitalization, MMBL also realizes that barriers to digital inclusion make it imperative that marginalized communities are also reached out using the traditional brick-and-mortar physical branches. In addition to branchless banking, MMBL constantly utilizes its network of 76 plus physical branches nationwide to remain connected to marginalized communities and to provide them continued access to finance.
MMBL’s portfolio of products is uniquely designed to offer products that promote financial inclusion. From agricultural loans that cater to the financing needs of small farmers to microenterprise and ‘karobar’ loans for budding entrepreneurs, MMBL’s lending products cater to marginalized sectors that are usually not catered by traditional banks.
Success stories abound of lives transformed through MMBL’s help. Products are developed to offer sustainable financial empowerment to customers; beyond profits, MMBL aims to allow them to stand on their own, be financially empowered, and continue expanding their businesses and entrepreneurial interests.
MMBL branches specially hire and train female officers who go out into the field and provide financial literacy to working women
To facilitate greater financial access for women and to educate women about financial empowerment, MMBL branches specially hire and train female officers who go out into the field and provide financial literacy to working women, inform them about the financing opportunities open to them and help them get into the banking system for their financial needs. These efforts are reflected in the bank’s growing number of active female borrowers; as of December 2020, 20% of the bank’s active borrowers are women, an increase of 36% over December 2019.
Promoting financial inclusion through continued access to education
MMBL is always looking for innovative new ways to help communities gain access to finance and thrive.
A noteworthy step taken by MMBL in this regard is supporting the education sector in the country which was hit badly by the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Recognizing the value of education as a great equalizer that opens the doors of opportunities for all towards digital and financial inclusion, MMBL recently partnered with Opportunity EduFinance – a UK based education company to increase access to quality education through school financing that links all Pakistani non-state schools to affordable capital.
The gender-inclusive culture within MMBL
Within MMBL, there is a recognition that to drive ahead the agenda on financial inclusion, strong women champions are needed within the organization. The HR agenda recognizes workplace diversity and gender inclusion to have a high performing culture. The female HR chief says that their excellence is largely credited to a level playing field for all where the organization celebrates women’s resolve and ensures that it creates an open and equitable culture for all. A lot of credit for this success goes to the female trailblazers starting from the leadership team to having women representation on all teams across the MMBL family.
The road ahead
Providing marginalized segments affordable access to financial services is imperative for poverty alleviation and for fueling the economic growth engine of a developing country like Pakistan. Financial inclusiveness affords underprivileged individuals the chance to create and run businesses, grow their savings, and work towards financial and economic self-betterment, accruements that together translate into an overall positive macro-economic impact at the national level. MMBL realizes that a lot of challenges remain ahead, but it is determined to face them head-on and keep aligning its contributions towards the state’s financial inclusion policies and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030