NIGERIA — Banking, especially online, is so common it hardly requires a thought for most people. In many developed countries, paying with the tap of a phone or the swipe of a card is practically second nature. This phenomenon is hardly universal, though, since bank account ownership is less common in developing economies. For Nigerian women, however, getting a bank account is now becoming a new road to true financial independence with the possibility of freedom from poverty. While the gender divide remains worldwide in bank account ownership, new laws and innovative companies are helping Nigerian women gain financial access so that they may thrive financially.
The Gender Gap in Bank Account Ownership
The World Bank Group recently reported that, while global bank account ownership has increased worldwide, the gender divide remains. Currently, 72 percent of adult males have a bank account compared to 65 percent of adult females. This divide is even worse in developing countries where the gap between men and women is 9 percent. More than half of all adults without a bank account are women, most of whom live in developing countries.
The World Bank report listed several reasons why these women remain without their own accounts: Lack of a nearby institution, concern that they don’t have enough money to put into an account or a family member already has an account. Although, some of these reasons are changing. Fewer women are arguing they simply don’t have the money to put into an account because women in developing nations are already saving their money. In fact, some women are saving 10 to 15 percent of their earnings. These women aren’t lacking in capital to put into a bank, they’re facing cultural or institutional biases or other barriers.
Nigerian Women Gain Financial Access
Understanding the untapped market of women and the need for financial institutions to bring about economic gain, Visa and Women’s World Banking has partnered with Diamond Bank and Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access to provide easy-to-open financial accounts for the 77 percent of Nigerian women who did not previously have access.
Diamond Bank’s BETA accounts allow Nigerians a variety of ways to manage their bank accounts through their mobile phones, ATMs, at physical branches or with the help of BETA agents. The accounts are easy to open and don’t require passport photos or difficult-to-obtain documentation. The accounts’ debit cards are instantly activated, but there are still fees associated with application and maintenance.
Changes in Nigerian law have made now it easier for women to open to open bank accounts without documentation that may be difficult to obtain without a husband or guardian. One Nigerian woman, Amaka Charles, is hoping to use her new financial access to grow her small business. Opening a Diamond Bank BETA account has given Charles the freedom to start saving and growing her funds rather than keeping money sitting in a drawer or risking local informal collectors running off with her money.
The collectors, common in Nigeria, hold money for their clients and keep track of deposits in notepads. There is little to no recourse if the collectors leave town with their clients’ money. That risk was too great for Charles. She deposits her money with local bank agents who collect deposits in person after which Charles receives official confirmations from her phone that a deposit was made. This system allows for face-to-face contact with the bank in conjunction with the best of mobile banking technology available. Charles currently sells crayfish, but she is hoping her new bank account will allow her to expand the business through a loan.
Alleviating Poverty Through Secure Bank Account Access
A recent paper for the Review of Development Finance found that access to financial institutions can often aid in poverty reduction in a meaningful way. The study found that “financial deepening” is the most powerful tool to reduce poverty, followed by “increasing physical financial access.” Financial deepening referring to the availability of financial services. Thanks to Diamond Bank, BETA’s program has provided almost 40,000 Nigerian small business owners, many of whom are women, a stable financial institution.
Avoiding cash is standard in developed nations, especially for millennials and younger generations, but it’s a way of life for many other countries. Bank account access is a way for workers and business owners in developing nations to protect their financial gains and pull themselves out of poverty. The power of financial access is a given for poverty reduction, and Nigerian women gain financial access by taking advantage of this. Women like Amaka Charles are opening their first bank accounts and becoming the masters of their own financial destiny.
– Sarah Stanley