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In recent years, technological developments in the payments industry and beyond, from open banking to electronic wallets, have undoubtedly improved financial inclusion for women. For some businesses and individuals in the fintech community, I know social impact is one of the things that gets them out of bed in the morning and motivates them at work. But we’re nowhere near done yet. The fintech community must use its influence and harness innovation to pave the way for global financial inclusion and ensure equal access to financial services the world over.

The sad truth is that across the globe, women are still disproportionately excluded from traditional financial services. Systemic inequalities often feed into this, such as the fact that women are over-represented in the informal economy. They may also have reduced access to formal forms of identification such as a passport or driving licence, reduced opportunities to become financially literate and increased mobility constraints. As a result, many women are forced to rely on inefficient or unstable financial options.

The good news is that in recent years the evolution of digital financial services has helped to improve financial inclusion. According to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database in 2021 the gender gap in account ownership across developing economies fell from 9% to 6%, in large part thanks to the developments in mobile accounts. The even better news is that improving women’s access to personal finance has a real-life impact upon women’s lives, driving female empowerment and entrepreneurship. For example, in Sub Saharan Africa, the World Bank emphasised the explicit link between an increase in mobile account ownership and a reduction in the gender pay gap, whilst in Bangladesh, it was found that garment workers increased their local savings after employers switched to electronic wage payments.

However, this must only be the beginning. The reach, influence and innovation of fintech companies and payment providers means that we are well positioned to drive change in the years ahead.

The fintech community has a role to play in addressing systemic issues both in the UK and further afield. Financial illiteracy remains a critical barrier to many women, which stymies their financial autonomy and renders them dependent upon men. We have a responsibility to improve female digital literacy rates, whether that is pushing for government programmes or launching their own training initiatives.

Advancements in technologies will be key to strengthening the relationship between women and financial inclusion. The fintech community must build upon the progress made by open banking, electronic wallets and P2P payments to drive financial inclusion, and blockchain will prove a critical enabler. Blockchain technology is a decentralised digital database in which all transactions are immutable, transparent and encrypted. It is also accessible and open sourced. These characteristics offer a wealth of opportunities for supporting women’s financial interactions. For example, in contrast to many major banks where $10 transactions often incur a 10% fee, blockchain assisted micropayments can be free of charge, rendering them an efficient and reliable alternative for women in developing economies who work in the informal economy. However, the potential of using Blockchain technology to advance women’s financial inclusion is only just beginning to be explored.

For businesses who step up, the rewards are not just limited to making others’ lives better. Championing financial inclusion for marginalised groups is mutually beneficial. Companies that assist the financially excluded or underrepresented can reap the benefits of an enhanced reputation while bolstering their bottom line. If women have equal access to financial services, we increase the number of users and the amount of money being spent and transferred.

Whilst the evolution of digital financial services has had a considerable and positive impact upon women’s financial inclusion, this is not the time for self-congratulation or to take our foot off the pedal. Progress has been made but the fintech community must build upon this momentum and break down the traditional barriers to financial inclusion to ensure that all may reap the benefits of the digital transformation of the financial system.

Alison Conway is the Head of Corporate Development and Strategy at Trust Payments. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: ]