FinTech: Addressing Uganda’s Gender Gap in Financial Access through Mobile Money.
Mobile money is doing a great job of reducing the financial access gap in Uganda – credit to the well-recognized contribution of FinTech. How? It is readily accessible, easy to use, and reasonably safe. From shopkeepers to homeowners, corporate executives, salaried workers and even students, mobile wallets have become an everyday life asset, making financial transactions easier by the day.
The two widely used mobile money platforms in Uganda are MTN Mobile Money and Airtel Money. Both are regulated by the central bank under the National Payment Systems Act 2020.
MTN Mobile Money (MoMo), the more popular of the two, is a fintech platform providing consumers and businesses with a host of innovative digital financial services. Among other things, it enables users to make and access payments, conduct-commerce, insurance, lend/ borrow/ repay money, and access remittance services (Fintech Solutions MTN 2023).
Airtel Money too is a fintech platform that provides payment services to customers (Airtel Uganda 2023). It also provides the whole range of services that MoMo provides
The digitization of the finance and microfinance sector has simplified the everyday lives of Ugandans. However, like any other sector, there are gaps to be addressed.
The Gender Gap
While mobile money in general eases financial access, the male/female digital divide seems to favor women less in this respect. According to a GSMA Industry Report published in 2022, there is a gender gap in the use of mobile money, whereby “women are less likely to have an account”. What causes this?
According to research by FRIENDS Consult over the years, this boils down to two main causes:
- Social norms – in some communities, very few women own phones because. In most of rural Uganda, fewer women own phone just because it is “not normal” for them to. It is an unwritten, unenforced but deeply rooted aspect in societal fabric. These social norms seems to be the biggest hindrance in financial inclusion for women in this digital era. in this regard, gender gaps in financial access are brought about by mindsets.
- Literacy and digital skills– Basic digital skills and literacy levels are necessary for one to access mobile money services. However, the gender gap is also present in functional literacy and digital capabilities especially in rural areas. This gap should disappear to enable more equitable access through FinTech.
Fintech is here to stay and is a large part of everyday life, no matter which economy. The digitization and the personalization of financial inclusion is where the world is going. It is up to the consumers to get up to speed with the services. While writing this article, a colleague told us about an aunt in the countryside who has never used a phone, yet she makes more than UGX 3 million (USD 820) in a harvest season from crop farming. This aunt, typical of Uganda’s rural women folk, just needs a mindset change and a few basic digital skills to benefit from the formal financial sector.
Future of Fintech in Uganda
The world is changing fast, and Uganda is no exception. Platforms such as mobile wallets, mobile banking, agency banking, and apps such as Chipper Cash signalize the advance of this new era in financial inclusion. This is reinforced by a number of Fin Tech platforms under regulatory sandboxes overseen by the Central Bank and a plethora of emerging platforms and apps that promise to penetrate the remotest market segments. It is driving us to an era where the customer is as much of an initiator as the service provider. Women must recognize their empowerment and opportunities in all this and pull the strings in learning, getting familiar with, and using these services.
FRIENDS Consult`s perspective.
With the world soaking up in the fourth industrial revolution and developing countries like Uganda having a digital divide that keeps some people dangerously behind, that gap must be closed through enhancing digital and functional literacy. We would like to be part of the change catalysts. We see a Uganda (and sub-Saharan Africa) well versed with the world of FinTech, and the greater world of technology. We see this technological embrace driving development in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It is getting clearer that the biggest gap in financial inclusion is a matter of awareness and mindset. Not a matter of access. As certain limiting norms and mindsets dissipate, we emerge into a new era. One of empowerment and possibilities, one of financial inclusion for all.
Call to action!
What should be done to address this digital divide that affects financial access? According to Greta Bull of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “We must look for solutions across that adoption and usage journey, on-boarding and helping women get comfortable using their phones and their mobile money accounts.” For Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries, this means improving functional adult literacy and basic digital capabilities among rural and lower income women. In studies conducted for development partners like Care International, FSDU, aBi Trust, GiZ, DFID, Grameen Agricole, and several financial institutions, FRIENDS Consult often found that knowledge and capability are twin-pillars driving digital access, lack of which accounts for slower pace.
What financial institutions should do to close this gap? More focused and intentional customer education on the benefits of mobile banking. This will increase their willingness to use mobile money and other FinTech solutions.
What should the Government do? Implement more effective programs to improve functional adult literacy, enhance financial literacy, work with community/ cultural leaders to address retrogressive cultural norms, reduce the cost of digital finance access (including lower taxes), nurture young IT/ digital talent better, and nurture embryonic digital innovations into breakthrough applied technologies.
What should development partners do? Provide financial support for sandboxing and market-placing Fin Techs. Patient funding in the form of risk or venture capital could be a good breath of fresh air.
Keren Obara and Joseph Sserunjogi – FRIENDS CONSULT LTD