Fintech is one of the most exciting sectors for venture funding and is making real people better off. But as the field grows, it’s important we not leave behind the potential customers whom fintech could benefit most: women in emerging markets.
Worldwide, hundreds of millions more women lack necessary financial services than men. While technology has connected nearly a billion people to their first account over the last decade, the gender gap stands about where it was in 2011: around 7 percent. In some countries, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria, the gender gap is nearly 30 percent.
It’s almost a cliché to point out all the economic and societal benefits of women gaining access to their own accounts. For example, women merchants who open a bank account often invest more in their businesses, and female-headed households usually spend more on education after opening a savings account.
Frustratingly, the gender gap in mobile phone ownership—the key gateway to access financial services in emerging markets—is even bigger. Globally, mobile ownership is 10 percent higher among men, and mobile internet usage is 23 higher than women’s—making it harder to reach women with new fintech products.
At Flourish, we have been tracking the gender gap for years, and in our 2016 report A Buck Short, we investigated the unique expectations, cultural values, and needs women have when it comes to using financial services. Companies rarely discriminate intentionallyagainst female clients; rather few focus on the female customer experience.
When companies do try to make financial products and services more useful to women, small tweaks can make a big difference. Women are generally tasked with backstopping and stretching the family budget, so adding flexible micro-financing to accounts can help cover unexpected expenses. Easing requirements to reactivate dormant accounts can keep female customers, who go through more life-altering changes than men.
Designing financial products for women is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business. To spur more innovation for women, we partnered with DFS Lab, Women’s World Banking, and FinEquity to create the Female Focused Fintech Prize, or F3.
The F3 Prize recognizes the most innovative digital financial productsthat are narrowing the gender gap. With this prize, we are looking for products serving primarily female customers in geographies where the gender gap is starkest: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Indonesia. In those markets, especially, we want to find, support, and learn from companies who are successfully breaking barriers and reaching female consumers.
With this prize, we are shining an investor spotlight on entrepreneurs and products targeting the mass market and expanding financial access for women. We also want to support startups that have made gender inclusion a priority.
While it is not a female founders’ prize, rather aimed at products designed for women, we do hope the F3 Prize will introduce the world to daring and creative female entrepreneurs. With the F3 Prize, we want to recognize both fintech startups and “fintech plus” companies offering financial services alongside offerings like last-mile delivery, online marketing, or farm supply.
Winners receive cash prizes and get connected to mentoring from DFS Lab and its network of experts. Applications are due May 15 and all the winners will be honored at the FT/IFC Transformative Business Awards on June 13 in London.
By being truly innovative and focusing on women as a pivotal fintech customer segment, we have an opportunity to finally close the gender gap and bring millions of new customers into the financial mainstream. We hope the F3 Prize will help create a small spark in a movement to better serve women—and their families and communities along with them.