Thursday, December 11, 2014

Female Financial Literacy: Gender in Mobile Money and Financial Practices

In introducing this IMTFI panel, Rebecca Mann of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation argued that "gender is important," because women are less likely to be involved in the financial sector and among the poorest of the poor may thus find it harder to respond to financial shocks and to capitalize on opportunities, particularly because women earn money in smaller increments, even if they do so more regularly, which are dissipated in household expenses relatively quickly.  By highlighting "research that we are seeing" that "documents behaviors of women and girls," Mann expressed her hope that the daily expenditures of the very poor could be better understood.  She also took a moment to promote the Grand Challenges initiative, which in the past has tackled design challenges that range from the toilet to the condom, and its efforts in a new program for "Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development."

In "Mobile Money, Social Capital, and Financial Behavior of Women’s Cooperatives in Rural Nigeria" by Onyima Jude Kenechi and Onugu Charles Uchenna of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, researchers asked the following question: "What are traditional ways of storing and transferring wealth?"  This fundamental baseline provides a key way for understanding how was/would mobile money be transformative, if "mobile money adoption changed the financial behavior of rural women."  Among their informants, 38% had no formal education, and 73% came from households with more than six occupants.  Among them were office cleaners, casual workers, petty farmers, hawkers, sales attendants, and apprentices.  99% own mobile phones, but they used them primarily for calls, texts, and downloads of music and pictures.  93% did not have ownership of a bank account, and only 5% participated in micro finance institutions.  In this demographic only 8% of respondents had heard of mobile money, and only 3% have used such services, as opposed to 46% awareness statistics in urban areas in which 16% of residents are also users.  Researchers attributed slow uptake to a number of factors, but singled out  lack of coordination between the National Communication Commission and the National Bank of Nigeria as a key problem.  Despite entry into the Nigerian market by 10 mobile money operators, relatively few of those most in need signed up for accounts.

Many informants mentioned the role of community leaders, particularly for authority figures and peers among church attendees, as important influencers in their decision making.  For example, researchers reported statements such as "I will use it if someone I trust like our priest educates me" or "I am not comfortable with it, but I can use it if our church member encourage it" or "If it’s that useful, how come other women in our church do not use it?”   Valuables were often kept by ministers, who might also participate in lending activities, serve as guarantors, or provide advice about financial services.  As the Ghana research team reported, the role of deities was also significant in the Nigeria study.

Issues of trust and difficulties in cooperatives also emerged as factors when "arguments and quarrels" were seen as likely consequences for business relationships outside of family structures.  Many respondents were still using advance payments to accumulate capital, despite a relatively strong home saving rate of 20%.  Other mechanisms included informal savings clubs, cooperatives, and thrift collectors.  (For context, respondents reporting spending 30% of their incomes on food.)

Women had access to a number of methods of storing wealth, however, including holding membership in groups, managing the marriage of a girl child, and benefitting from the role of in-laws, as well as from apprenticeships, church sources, title taking, and deities.  Material stores of wealth included jewelry, livestock, utensils, palm oil, and tubers as storage media.  Mobile money adoption had no significant effect on traditional modes of storing wealth, although it did reduce the use of bus drivers, relatives, and others for in-person transfers.  These new financial products also seemed to reduce the risk of being subject to creditors of a debtor coming after family members or being coerced into making sacrifices to deities.  They also appeared to reduce dependence on advance payment instruments.  Mobile money's effects on attendance at cooperative functions was not significant, because there were other socio-cultural reasons for attendance, although it did facilitate certain forms of joint liability by providing a means for peer screening, peer monitoring, and resolving information asymmetry.  Its role in kinship ties among cooperative members and growing a level of trust seemed significant, although fears of members performing transactions without anyone else’s knowledge remained, although members acknowledged it could be helpful in spotting fraud.  At 8% adoption, researchers argued that novel approaches needed to be pursued.  They asked another significant question: "How sacrosanct are the words of religious leaders in money matters and how could they be used to propagate and instill trust?"  Although they still wondered under what conditions could a bank-led model be preferable to operator-led model, they thought that religious leaders could certainly at least promote awareness.

"Assessing the Impact of Financial Knowledge on Adoption of Mobile Payment Systems among Enterprise Owners in Dharavi, Mumbai" by Mudita Tiwari and Deepti KC of India's Institute for Financial Management and Research presented a study conducted in the slum of Dharavi in Mumbai that gathered data from 100 business owners, 20 suppliers, 115 clients, 2 bank managers, and 25 banking agents in order to promote understanding movements of cash.  Researchers reported a strong cash preference, which could be attributed both to savings on taxes and to a lack of awareness and trust in financial products.  Consequently they argued for context-specific financial literacy modules for two groups: migrants and female entrepreneurs.  Despite a range of financial services available, including Tatkal agents able to remit money and employers able to transfer salaries to bank accounts directly, many still prefer informal economies and unbanked financial practices. Researchers showed a range of unconventional saving strategies involving hiding places that have become common practices of money management for women.  Money may be hidden in dirty boxes, talcum powder jars, and other nooks and crannies, but discovery often leads to domestic disputes and even violence from male partners.

First the group described their financial literacy strategy for their target group of 120 migrant workers, which was structured around 3 visits within a month.  34% were aware of mobile banking and 87% visited banking agents after training sessions, and they also seemed better equipped to control gambling, consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and other “temptation expenses,” despite erratic income, leading to an almost 50% decrease in spending practices that undermine financial stability.

As a co-author of the comic book textbook, Understanding Rhetoric, I was particularly interested to see their financial literacy tools for women, which emphasized graphic media for storytelling and sequential art as a means of communication.   Before adopting this approach they found that the lack of information impeding financial uptake was compounded by apathy toward generic information that "didn’t click."  Those needing advice wanted to relate to stories and characters to understand how cash-only vs. cashless tradeoffs worked, their long-term savings capabilities, and possible improved decision-making processes.  Forgetfulness was also an important issue.  To provide context an interactive story-telling approach using comic books was deployed featuring two memorable practitioner-characters: Radha, who is always struggling with financial adversities, and Saraswati, her sensible money-managing friend who offers approachable solutions that reduce savings inertia over the long term.  Researchers actually used real-life stories to compose the narrative.  Next steps include expanding efforts to  Utter Pradesh and Bihar, making training videos on YouTube that animate the content, and translating existing comic books in different languages.  Audience member Jing Gusto was so enthusiastic about this approach, based on his own experiences of the educational value of telenovelas and SMS questions, that he proposed adapting 3 of the 7 stories of the Indian researchers for use in the Philippines and was counseled to emphasize  how to increase savings as a priority.

"Women, Monetary Practices, and Technological Innovations" by Kone Nara Kanugui Idriss of ENSEA emphasized that although the time of intense crisis in Côte d'Ivoire may have largely passed, which required many women to take children into their families, the financial repercussions continue.  He noted that Orange Money became the first mobile money services in Côte d'Ivoire, but was soon followed by MTN Mobile money, CelpaiD, and Flooz.  Yet even with four providers of mobile money services and 5 million accounts created between 2008 and 2014, obstacles remain.  His team of researchers designed a questionnaire with five sections: access, use, perceptions, monetary practices, and demographics.  Drawing upon a simple random sample of 477 respondents, drawn from Guro market women, one third of whom were single.  Many of those studied only had a primary school education, although they did benefit from a quasi-universal access to cell phones.  Mobile money services were popular among women, who identified their principal sources of information as being entourage influences, media messages, advertisements, and panels.  Only 32% had mobile money accounts, and 4 in 10 users were at the earliest stages of experimenting with mobile money. Trade was the main reason they ventured into novel financial products and services, although they reported occasional misadventures with PIN use, suspicions of agents, and long wait times.  Despite a general perceived ease of use and level-headed approach to risk, doubts sowed by the possibility that "they don’t give you all your money" remained.  Questions were designed to differentiate benefits.  For example, question eighteen dealt with gaining time "in your daily activities," while question nineteen addressed possible increased revenue.   More than a third of women surveyed still appeared to have serious doubts about mobile money services and reported low levels of financial inclusion in an environment in which 8 of 10 might have no access to financial inclusion.  In filling out the profile of a typical mobile money user, the women who emerged had secondary school education, reported perceived ease of use, and had access to the more established Orange mobile network.

Moderator Rebecca Mann challenged panelists to consider financial services beyond savings, including insurance and agricultural investment.  The Indian group of researchers did describe programs for mortgage payments, “good saver” programs that offered low-interest loans, and potential construction of women-only banks.  In the question-and-answer session, the audience expressed admiration for the Indian researchers' abilities to build such trust that the women were willing to show their secret hiding places.  Tiwari and KC explained that these results were the product of multiple trips, going without paper and pen, talking about their own lives, and telling stories with aggregated effort in 20-25 trips over two months.  "That’s why our sample size is so small!"

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