Why women pay more to access digital financial services

A illustrated woman is working at home

Women in Kenya are paying almost twice as much as their male counterparts to access digital finance services (DFS), according to data released recently by British digital payments research firm Caribou Data.

The report, Payments System Design and the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap, conducted in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Bangladesh reveals the multiple ways in which women remain excluded from fintech products.

Across Kenya, a strong gender bias in transaction fees paid is prevalent, with women paying about Sh11 per peer to peer transaction compared to Sh7 for men.

This owes to the fact that women are less financially empowered, pushing them to send smaller amounts, usually less than Sh5,000, which in turn attracts higher transaction fees compared to sending bigger amounts on Safaricoms’ mobile money platform M-Pesa.

“This leads to higher average total fees paid per month, about Sh30 for women and Sh16 for men,” notes the study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Currently, to send Sh500 you pay a transaction fee of Sh6, which is 1.2 percent of the transaction value, compared to sending Sh50,000 at a fee of Sh105 which translates to 0.21 percent of the amount sent.

Safaricom’s fees start at Sh10 (before the Covid-19 pandemic) for transactions between Sh101 to Sh500.

Consequently, users pay an average fee of about 1.5 percent of the transaction value in fees, with women averaging a significantly higher fee burden over men during the study period.

This changed when Safaricom raised the fee threshold from Sh100 to Sh1,000 in response to Covid-19 economic hardships, where higher values were transacted.

The survey also discloses that Safaricom’s overdraft facility Fuliza is seeing a stronger demand from men than women for expanded scope of mobile money services.

Launched in November 2018, Fuliza has quickly become common, with 21 percent of women and 26 percent of men using it, according to the research.

“While fewer women used the service, those who did were more active than their male counterparts: Women averaged 4 transactions at an average value of Sh140 each, compared to men averaging 1.6 transactions for Sh80 each,” states the research that surveyed over 1000 men and women in the first quarter of 2020.

Women’s high utilisation of Fuliza suggests that innovative new DFS products—in this case a wallet-integrated credit facility—may be valuable in serving unmet financial needs of women.

According to Roselyne Wanjiru, a decentralised finance expert at Kesholabs, Nairobi, most women are mothers taking care of children, and smaller transaction amounts are expected due to many household expenses yet larger cumulatively over a month.

“Men can be said to spend more on family and external high risk investments. They also tend to ask for more work opportunities, promotions and executive level positions than women do,” she told Digital Business.

She adds that it’s an offshoot of a primarily patriarchal Kenyan society in the sense that it is only in recent years where more women were seen in executive and top level corporate positions that pay huge salaries.

“The country is yet to embrace a culture of equal work for equal pay in Kenya whereby a male graduate in one company can be earning more at an entry level than their female senior in another company with more experience,” she notes.

But both genders, the study found out, are more encouraged to send amounts less than Sh100 that attract no fees, with 25 percent of Kenyans completely avoiding  sending amounts higher than Sh100.

“Men had a slightly higher proportion of their P2P payments threshold of Sh100 at 27 percent compared to women at 22 percent. Interestingly, we see no substantive difference in this fee avoidance behavior based on income.”

On M-Shwari, which has boosted widespread adoption of digital savings accounts, 19 percent of men are saving their cash, slightly outpacing women (14 percent).

Alice Anangi, founder and chief executive of Nairobi-based Zeden Technologies says that the current economic situation in Kenya places women at a higher risk of poverty than men due to cultural factors in decision making and allocation of resources.

“We are seeing unfavourable enrolment ratios in institutions, early marriages and low women exposure to digital financial inclusion. There is a traditional culture encouraged by society for women to go for courses of less masculine roles and technology that pay well. This in turn leads to fewer women enjoying a higher disposable income,” she expounds.

Both genders averaged almost 2.5 savings-related transactions per month, but women had a median value more than twice as high as men – Sh548 versus Sh219. However men remain more active on the platform, especially in the locked savings product.

Further, the study shows that Kenyan women are more likely to use low cost and low performing mobile phones, which serves as yet another barrier to effective use of financial services.

Cheap devices typically struggle to run multiple apps simultaneously, because they have insufficient free space to keep the apps installed.

“Unsurprisingly, women take a greater share of devices at costing less than Sh20,000. Those costing more are more likely to be owned by men,” says the study.

Ms Wanjiru sees this as a result of women being less exposed than men pertaining to the access of a wider range of financial services.

“There’s a need for increased financial literacy on women to increase demand for digital financial services aside from loans, such as micro lending and interest earning, fractional investments, fractional property ownership and alternative investments,” she says.

Most respondents are using lower-end smartphones costing less than Sh10,000 at 54 percent , and almost all of them, 92 percent, are using devices costing less than Sh20,000.

Respondents who can afford more expensive mobile phones transacted more frequently and for an average higher total value.

“Across all five markets, those with higher-end phones (defined as Sh20,000 retail pricing) had a total median transaction value of Sh1647 per month compared to Sh878 per month for lower-end device owners.”

They also transacted more frequently, at more than 7 transactions per month compared to 4 for cheap handset owners.

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