Today, close to one billion women worldwide are unbanked, which offers a significant market opportunity for financial service providers. Salie Mlay, Dr. Tosan Oruwariye, and Dr. Dolores Torres join us to discuss innovative approaches to strengthen women’s savings and financial inclusion, and explore how financial institutions stand to gain by diversifying their customer base. Mlay, Dr. Oruwariye, and Dr. Torres are members of the She Counts initiative, a global platform that aims to harness the power of financial services to put savings and financial tools in the hands of underserved women. This meeting is part of the ExxonMobil Women and Development Roundtable Series.
VOGELSTEIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for prying yourselves away from CNN’s political ticker long enough to be with us today. (Laughter.)
I’m Rachel Vogelstein. I lead the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at the Council, which analyzes how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Our discussion this afternoon is focused on the role of the private sector in advancing women’s financial inclusion and how financial service providers can benefit from women’s access to savings accounts.
We know the research that tells us that close to one billion women worldwide are unbanked and that the gender gap in access to financial services is particularly pronounced with women at the bottom of the pyramid, 28 percent less likely than men to have a bank account.
We also know that numerous studies show that women’s financial inclusion offers a host of development benefits. So, therefore, we know what women and their families stand to gain from women’s financial inclusion.
But what does the private sector stand to gain by diversifying its customer base to include more women? How significant is the market opportunity posed by women who are unbanked worldwide? And how can financial service providers capitalize on this opportunity and best reach women who currently lack access to bank accounts or who don’t make use of them?
Today we are privileged to host three private sector leaders from around the world whose work is helping us answer these questions. They are all members of the She Counts initiative, a global platform to put savings and financial tools in the hands of women, spearheaded by ExxonMobil in partnership with Women’s World Banking and the Center for Global Development and launched here at the Council earlier this year.
Today we’ll talk with these leading financial service providers about the opportunities and the challenges in reaching low-income women with savings programs. And these insights that they’ll provide will help inform the private sector strategy and government policy related to the economic advancement of women.
So I’d like to begin by introducing all three of our panelists. First, we are thrilled to be joined by Dr. Dolores Torres, the vice chair of CARD Bank, a top microfinance bank in the Philippines, which was recognized as the financial inclusion champion of the central bank in the Philippines.
Second, we are very pleased to be joined by Dr. Tosan Oruwariye, the cofounder of a digital financial services platform in Senegal, focused on using digital technology and entrepreneurship to facilitate access to financial services.
And third, we are privileged to be joined by Salie Mlay, the acting business head of retail banking at NMB Bank, which is one of the largest commercial banks in Tanzania.
Thanks to all of our distinguished speakers for joining us.
Before we get started with our discussion, I want to welcome and thank two of the visionary leaders behind the She Counts initiative, first, Jim Jones, who leads ExxonMobil Foundation, including its catalytic work on women’s economic empowerment—thanks for being her today—as well as Mary Ellen Iskenderian, the president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, which is a global NGO devoted to women’s access to financial services.
Mary Ellen, I’d love to invite you up to offer some opening remarks, and then we’ll go ahead and get started. Mary Ellen, over to you. (Applause.)
ISKENDARIAN: Thank you, Rachel. And thank you for this wonderful event. And I couldn’t agree more, it’s such a wonderful distraction from everything that’s going on outside today.
So thank you very much to CFR more broadly for hosting this event today.
As Rachel mentioned, we were here six months ago. And I think I remember seeing a few of you around the room when Women’s World Banking and the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Center for Global Development announced the launch of She Counts. And we envisioned this as a global platform for best-in-class financial service providers serving low-income women specifically with savings, and that’s a really critical difference. And we’re so grateful to Jim and the ExxonMobil Foundation for having the farsightedness really to recognize the importance of savings and how important savings are to women and bringing women into the formal financial sector, because at Women’s World Banking we’ve been focused there for a long time. Because we know that whether women are saving under the mattress or in some other informal savings group, that’s a key part of their financial interaction. But as Rachel mentioned, not enough financial service providers are recognizing the enormous market opportunity that those women savers represent.
So when we announced She Counts, we had only just started a fairly rigorous process of due diligence. We, as I said, we wanted this to be best in class, so we were looking all over the world for really the best examples of sustainable and equitable solutions for low-income women to build the safety nets that allows them to build more secure and prosperous futures for themselves and their families.
And so I’m particularly excited to announce the first cohort of institutions that have joined both She Counts and we were thrilled they’ve also accepted the invitation to our global network, the Women’s World Banking Global Network of Institutions.
Each one of these institutions you’ll hear from today is showing that it is possible to build both a business and a social case for serving women well with savings products. Each of these institutions is working in a slightly different way with different models, in very different markets, and they’ve come up with different solutions.
So, again, to repeat Rachel, she’s introduced you already to Dorie Torres, who’s worked with us for many, many years from CARD Bank in the Philippines, the national microfinance bank NMB in the largest retail bank in Tanzania, and then I think we’re all particularly excited to hear the digital story that MaTontine will bring to the picture today.
So we will continue to build this—oh, and I’m sorry. We had—we had Diamond Bank with us by phone and I gather the hookup, the connectivity was perfect, so the team from Diamond was participating right along in the conversation this morning.
But we’ll continue to build this group beyond this initial cohort and really look forward to continuing to share what we learn about serving women well with savings, with the broader CFR community as well. Thank you so much for joining us. (Applause.)
VOGELSTEIN: Mary Ellen, thank you for those framing remarks and for reminding all of us what’s at stake here.
So let’s go ahead and get started with our discussion. I’d like to start by posing a question to all of you and asking you to define the market opportunity that’s at stake here. Tell us what private sector financial institutions stand to gain by, as we mentioned earlier, diversifying their customer base and ensuring women’s financial inclusion. How significant is the economic opportunity posed by unbanked women in the country in which you work?
Why don’t we start here, Dolores, and we’ll move down the line.
TORRES: Yeah. In the Philippines, we do serve the poorest of the poor and primarily women. Right now, we have 6.8 million clients, but the start—but the start was very difficult, you know, to convince women to go to meetings every week, to save weekly a compulsory savings. Now it’s one U.S. dollar equivalent weekly savings. So we started training them with discipline, because before, they don’t pay government loans, so that was a—that was a huge, huge barrier that we had to overcome in terms of assisting them. So we were able to train them with very good discipline.
After they are saving weekly, we provided the small loans also. We started with only less than a U.S. dollar in 1986. Now we have three banks in our organization, two rural banks and an SME bank. An SME bank is to graduate the microfinance clients to get more loans. And while they were very poor, they become good at managing their business, and now they are entrepreneurs, small and midsize entrepreneurs, and we are serving them in the bank.
While it was very difficult at the start, we did not give up on women. We said women must really learn how to save, and then we provided other services. But apart from that, we would like to bring them up from poverty. And through savings and then providing them with loans, now they own most of the institutions that we have (by card ?). We have twenty-two we call (card ?) mutually enforcing institutions, who are all helping to eradicate poverty in the Philippines. And the women clients who have proven to be good at managing their business and in saving every week are now the owners of most of these institutions.
The biggest of the twenty-two institutions that we have established is the insurance. So we started with savings, now it has grown to another major need of the women, which is insurance. And they own that company. We started with one company that provides life insurance, now we have three other companies that provide non-life, health, and other insurance needs of the clients.
So we started with, you know, sourcing funds, like from Women’s World Banking. We had a standby letter of credit available from here in New York—or, no, with a commercial bank here with a standby letter of credit, the Women’s World Banking. But now the entire twenty-two institutions are all sustainable and are all mutually enforcing our poverty eradication mission in the Philippines.
And we have, you know, partnership with companies also that do adhere to our mission. Like, we have a partnership with a commercial insurance and, you know, commercial insurance, they do pay claims in one year, three years, or five years. We made it one day, three days, and five days. (Laughter.) And that commercial company is now adhering to that. And they don’t use their adjuster, they use us to tell them it’s time to pay in one day, three days, and five days. But we continuously challenge it. Now we’re using eight/twenty-four, which means we pay in eight hours and within twenty-four hours. And ninety-nine percent of the claims are being paid.
And we’re insuring forty percent of the Philippines—the insured Filipinos in the Philippines, the largest so far, according to the insurance commission of the Philippines. So forty percent of our country with a bank card, that started with just believing that women, when trained to do disciplined savings and borrowing, can become a major economic mover in the country.
VOGELSTEIN: So a lot of different strategies and now you’ve expanded remarkably.
I wonder if we can turn to you, Tosan, to talk about the economic opportunity posed by unbanked women where you are.
ORUWARIYE: So we’re a fintech company about two years old and our mission is poverty alleviation. In Senegal, where I come from, where we have our core business, I’ll say about eighty percent of the population are unbanked or underbanked. We think it’s about a hundred-million-dollar business opportunity. And for the Francophone region, almost a one-billion-dollar opportunity.
So before I talk a little bit about MaTontine, I will talk about what tontines are for people that might not be familiar with it, because this is the core foundation of our business model. So tontines are savings groups and there are different kinds. There’s VSLAs, that are very common with the NGOs. But ours is called ROSCAs that’s a term used here, and it’s when it’s a rotating savings and credit association. And it’s when, like, say ten people come together and they decide, oh, we’re going to contribute ten dollars every month into a common pot. At the end of the month, one person in that group takes a hundred dollars. And then the next month, they come again together, like in February, they do the same thing. And this continues until all ten of them have received a hundred dollars. That’s the way traditionally the poor have saved.
Tontines are all over the world. In China, it’s called wi (ph), in India, chit funds, cundina in Mexico. So it’s used by the poor in many developing countries to save bulk money.
The problem we’re trying to solve is, how do you lend small amounts of money, a hundred-fifty-dollars, to the poor at scale where we come from? We found that in our region, the cost structure and the legacy systems of the banks and MFIs have made it unprofitable and a struggle to do that at scale and profitability because they have to have branches, loan officers, and things like that to make this work. And they use the same effort, whether they are loaning ten thousand dollars or just a hundred dollars.
Well, what we have done is that we have used technology, leveraged technology to digitize this traditional savings system and incorporate them into our business model, thereby reducing the cost of borrowing of up to seventy-five percent. So we do this through a basic mobile phone. So our members, who are in the rural areas where there are not branches, can, from their phone—if anybody has been to Africa, in every village they have people with an (umbrella ?) that gets them credit for their phones. And we use those—(inaudible)—networks. So they go there, give the money to the man, and it becomes mobile money, so they can save on the platform.
So the issue of mobility, of them traveling far to save in the banks, it’s gone because they can do this right from the privacy of their phone, in the privacy of their home. And they (feel ?) security, of having this money at home to get stolen, it’s gone, because it’s now in digital money. So that’s what we’ve done, we’ve leveraged technology to reduce this cost of borrowing.
But more importantly, in our region, seventy to eighty percent of the population are in one form of savings group or the other. And within this seventy to eighty percent, seventy percent are women. And that’s how we reach the underbanked, our target population, which are women that earn five dollars or less a day.
VOGELSTEIN: And digital financial services are a critical part of the strategy that you’ve employed in Senegal.
Salie, I wonder if you can talk to us about your work in Tanzania and what the market potential looks like there.
MLAY: NMB, I’m working with NMB. They are the largest retail bank in Tanzania with branches—with 2,220 branches across the network. So by being on every corner, now we see, through our branches, we see what is happening in society. And we came to realize women, according to our culture, are the ones who are managing the family most of the time. They are taking care of kids, they are—they are working very hard in the farms and in areas, different areas as to keep up the family. Yes, we have men, but men, they are meeting the basic things, like investment in house building and other issues. But women, day to day of the family they are dealing with it.
So by looking at this, we came to realize there is a very big potential in that class. And as my colleagues said, there is a way of traditional women, they come up as a—as a group themselves to save what little they have so that they can deposit and lend to one another or to help one another to solve their problems day to day.
But how to save, they need some kind of guidance, knowledge, because some of them, they think that they have little money, they cannot save. So by being everywhere, we thought that it’s our time to take this financial inclusion to women and be able to come up with a product. And we worked together with our partners to development a product known as pamoja. Pamoja means “together.” It’s a Swahili name, as to make them feel this belongs to them and, you know, buy the idea, because most of the women, they are frightened to come to the bank, they think the bank is for the rich people. So you might find it in some areas, in rural areas, where we are, sometimes we find the branches is just close to the community, but women, they are frightened to get into the branch.
So to build their confidence through education and be able to transform their savings into a bank account, which they can work together, we formed the product which is known as pamoja account. And we link it with a mobile phone, banking, whereby individual members, they can have the—they can have their private account where whatever they do they just put it, they just go to the small guys who have the agents, have, like, seven thousand agents of NMB, whom we have enabled them to receive and pay money into digital wallet so that they can transfer from one place to another, from one account from different banks can pay different services.
So what happened is pamoja account is the account they were supposed to send cash. They select one day a week or a month they meet together, they collect from members, and go and deposit in their account. Some of them, they used to put it in a—in a box, they put the box on top of the table, and everybody sent their money there, they recorded who brought their money, and they carry it and hide it at home. So some of them, they were—thugs comes and, you know, they rob them.
So we use the same concept to develop that account that they can put money together. We don’t charge them, they just put free of charge, and we encourage them to use the mobile phone to send the money to this account. And once they send money, the chairman and secretary of the group get the message that so-and-so member has contributed a certain amount of money.
So far, we haven’t been able to fulfill the need across the country. And that’s why currently we are trying to develop the—we are (on the stage ?). We have prepared a proposal, specific proposal that now the bank and the management, as long as it’s so committed on this group, will be able to make sure that we dedicate—we come up with the team, the dedicated team, to deal with women, to increase their knowledge and the way to attend their meetings and make sure that we give them different options of savings and benefits and even knowledge of finance, how to manage their finances. That’s the proposition that we are—we are about to conclude.
That’s what we’ve done.
VOGELSTEIN: So you’ve each talked a little bit about the models you’ve employed, some similarities, some differences. I wonder if we could dig into that. And also, if you could speak to not just the opportunity you’ve described, but also some of the challenges in reaching and retaining these women as clients.
Dolores, perhaps you can talk about the member-agent model that you’ve employed to support the acquisition and retention of clients. Has it worked? And what have the challenges been?
TORRES: Yeah. Actually, we just started with the digital transformation. We were, from day one in 1986, we were doing manual recording. And then in 1997, when we started the CARD Bank, that’s when we started computerizing. But only the loan monitoring system had been computerized at the beginning.
Now we’re embarking on the core banking system where the three—initially, CARD Bank will be online with all its branches. Right now, only about 35 percent of its branches are with the core banking system. And we started the mobile collection (shifts ?) wherein we don’t break collection (shifts ?) anymore for weekly meetings. Instead, they use mobile phone and—(inaudible)—for collecting.
And in the mobile money or mobile financial system, we hired an agent. The agent that we hired are clients also, members who have a proven, good track record with us and who know all the members in the village, so they will be—they are trusted already. We trained them.
And then we hired staff from operations, who have been with us for years, for some years, to work as the agent supervisors. What is very challenging is the acceptance of the women clients, especially the older ones, because they said they don’t have mobile phones, which is contrary to statistics, because the Philippines has one hundred million population, according to statistics we have one hundred twenty people with mobile phones. So some of them have two or three, so we don’t believe them.
So we don’t give up on that. We don’t give up on the alibis of the women. But we try to—we try to bring them back to how CARD started. So we started with only twenty pesos in 1986. We have grown this much, so we don’t give up on the growth that we have done, we don’t give up on the 6.8 million women clients that we have. But we would like to do digital transformation in order to serve more and to serve the next generation because the next generation are the younger people who will be using digital technology in their transactions.
So we would like the women to believe that if they apply the technology, then transactions will be cheaper. We will reduce the costs, we will reduce the interest rates when it becomes successful. So acceptance is a challenge.
In fact, I was telling this morning that because predominantly women in the Philippines are Catholic, so they say novena in order for CARD not to be successful in the digital transformation. Because they—because they really love CARD and when we say we have to do digital transformation, you know, they are very loyal to us, so they might follow, even if they don’t want to follow. So some of them, they said novena so that Jesus will hear them and will not make our digital transformation successful. (Laughter.)
But, you know, we didn’t give up on that one or those women who were there. We went there, we talked about the success that CARD has so far made and we don’t want to lose them, we don’t want to lose connection. We want to do the technology so that we’ll be able to reach more. Then they converted. They used the technology. And now in that village where they are saying the novena, all of them are using mobile technology.
So the central bank went there and asked, are there women we can now recruit as members? No, everybody are members and all are using mobile phones. So we don’t give up on the women. We realized that they will, because they are very loyal to CARD, they will follow what we’re introducing, although with some resistance. So what we’re doing now is really to do a lot of motivational activities, especially inculcating or transferring the culture and values that made CARD successful in its program so that it will go through generations.
So, yeah. And then especially the agents, the agents that we’re hiring, the staff who are supervising the agents must be the mirror of the culture and values that we—that we have at CARD. At CARD, the retirement is sixty, so in 2015 I retired from CARD. (Laughter.) I am just now advising CARD.
But it is very important that we leave behind the culture and values that we set for CARD. We call it—(inaudible)—with competence, discipline, family spirit, simplicity, stewardship, you know, and we would like to leave that behind.
And we are, so far, the only MFIs in the country that recruit the sons and daughters of our clients. Because we don’t have any secrets, you know, we’re very transparent, so ninety percent of our workforce of seven thousand today are sons and daughters of our clients. So if we retire, the sons and daughters of the clients will be managing CARD.
And then ownership is shared also to the clients, so we’re leaving behind the institutions that we have established. And we are working hard right now to ensure that the culture and values will remain through generations.
VOGELSTEIN: So a lot of different strategies to overcome some of the challenges you mentioned, persistence being one, meeting women where they are, and then, of course, this commitment to the values you articulated.
Tosan, can you tell us more about your use of data analytics to provide financial services for women, including but not limited to savings? How has that been important in your model?
ORUWARIYE: A really interesting question. For us, we do have a proprietary credit scoring model that we’ve overlaid on our basic savings platform, and so we do have a lot of data. But it’s important to note that the products we offer outside of savings are not necessarily based on the data analytics, they’re only based on what our members need.
From the beginning of when we started this company, (one of our researchers ?) with NGOs had gone to talk to—(inaudible)—to understand why, despite the fact that they’ve had VSLA programs for many years, there was still a struggle with adoption. And one of the things we realized and from our innovation testbed, which is part of our business strategy, and talking to the members was that some of the product did not—did not address their needs.
And so it was very critical for us to, in our—to, in our testbed, to co-create a product with our members. And when we did that, we found that the products we created were easily adopted. Also, we found a high issue of lack of trust in our region with the traditional FSPs. Many of them, they’re not very literate and so when they open checking accounts, you know how they charge them money for the checking account, they felt their monies were stolen, so they didn’t trust the banks, for those that could get to the banks. Then they were those that could never get to the bank because it was so far from them. So a lot of that initial research we did and in our innovation tests, but informed the kind of products we develop.
Now, when we have an idea of the kind of product that they want, they might not say, oh, I want a credit product or I want insurance. They might say things like, oh, when my child is sick, I lose all my money, so we start thinking you need something in terms of insurance.
Now, when they—when they talk about the products, we then bring them to our testbed and work with them to see if this product meets their needs. So we test the delivery, the interface, because everything is happening with the mobile phone, the interface, and then we look at the adoption and the usage. So that is how we decide what products we offer our members, not just savings.
So right now, we offer three core products on our platform. We offer a credit platform, which is unique to our members and was co-created. It’s called a tontine advance. And that product was developed because our members said we don’t want a standard loan. The last time we worked with the MFI to give us credit, I had to sell my cow to pay back. I don’t want that. So this product was developed with input on the rates and things like that.
We also have a micro health insurance product because many of them talked about illness. And we have a life insurance product that we offer currently on the platform.
We have an opportunity for various other products, but as a startup we have limited resources and bandwidth to do this. But we feel that the way for us to work with our members is to really work on their identified needs. Because with our products, we have a ninety-eight percent adoption and almost a hundred percent usage, which is unheard of, because they feel it’s their own and that trust coefficient has been built.
VOGELSTEIN: So in-depth market research, co-development to get at some of the trust challenge that you mentioned.
ORUWARIYE: Yeah. And we—and we use human-centered design principles when we do this.
VOGELSTEIN: Salie, much has been written about the promise of digital financial services to help reach low-income women. Can you tell us about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them?
MLAY: OK, thank you. Before I speak about the challenges, there’s something very important I forgot to speak at the beginning on the proposal of saving for women. As I said, most of the women are the ones who are taking care of kids. So in our savings proposition, we included—we have another phase connected, which is youth banking. We call it wajibu, “responsibility.” Wajibu is a Swahili name, it means “responsible,” “be responsible.”
And whereby, we need to help women by teaching or training or taking through kids in financial inclusion by saving the little amount of money they have. And if they don’t have, to go through a certain education because that proposition of young banking, within there’s a training, there’s a package of training that trains youngsters to know how to save so that they can help their parents. If their parents, their mother, they are saving a little, they can save even the little they get when they are being given pocket money to do different things, they can save a little amount of money of which they can use in their future. And by building that culture of savings, we’ll have the women in the future who have grown up in a saving culture.
So we have, like, we have divided that program into three levels. We have from one day kid to seventeen, which how we take them through the training and their product we have put up for savings. It’s different a little bit with the people who are—the kids who are starting from thirteen who are already on the street, they are doing their own things, but they are not in the family to seventeen again; and from seventeen to eighteen years where—in our country, where a youngster goes to university, they can stay on their own, they can decide to do anything with their—with their money. So from one year, to seventeen—to thirteen, when we open—to open this account, there’s no charges, we give interest, but they are managed by parents.
If the young one is aged between one to thirteen, parents is the one who is managing their account. And if it’s about thirteen—we call it—(inaudible)—that means—(inaudible)—who are coming up—the account will be managed by—will be transacted by the particular kid, but whatever he or she does into that account, their parent will be notified through SMS so they can question the kid, where did you spend the money and why? Yeah?
And then, from eighteen—these are the guys who go to college—they don’t need to be asked, but whatever they do, their account of savings is cheap, no maintenance charges. They get the interest.
The good thing about this one is that the age from five to thirteen when they go to primary school, we have designed the training program where we—where we talk—where we have—we have—we are talking to the headmaster, headmistress of the schools. They provide us an opportunity to go to the—to the particular schools, training them. The first meeting, we call parents and the kids in that schools. We tell them about why savings, how is it possible together so that they can buy the idea. So the second session, we sit with kids themselves because they’ve already got their confidence from their parents, parents they provide everything, they provide the idea. Then we talk to them. Then after this is when we open the account.
And in branches, we have provided a certain day we call kids’ day. That’s when the kids, they have been brought to the bank, although their parents can help them to fill the form, but, you know, they can—they can stand on the platform and give the money to the bank teller who can, you know—they start building.
All this, we are focusing on women because women, they are carrying the whole burden and want to bridge. So you see the whole program, at the end of the day, they come, they become one.
Now, the challenge of digital in this banking, savings banking. Because of the situation in our country, we have been fortunate to have—to have the program which is run through USSD and they’re the one in app. Because the young generation, they like smartphones and they can do a lot of things. But the old women, they need the simple one. And at the beginning, they were even afraid. So the issue of low level of literacy is our challenge, and that’s why our main focus is in education.
And we need to really push training about using—how to keep—how to save and how to use even simple technology to be able to transact. And we are looking forward, as I said, we are looking forward, it’s something to come, even the simple group lending through their groups that they have formed up.
So the main challenge is education. And we really need to educate people and reach more people at the village remote areas.
VOGELSTEIN: So the promise of mobile technology is great, but education, norm shifting, habit formation, incentives, a lot of what you’ve all talked about, also critical in order to capitalize on the potential of digital financial services.
Well, I’d love to open the discussion to questions. So please, raise your placard, state your name and affiliation, and we’ll get to as many as we can.
Q: Thank you. Pardon my ignorance, I’m not nearly as sophisticated in this field as all of you are. But Rachel made a very good point that there’s a massive commercial opportunity and economic opportunity in this field. And lots of Western financial institutions have made—have done vanity projects, like Goldman Sachs did 10,000 Women and they’ve paid lip service to this issue, but it seems like it lacks substance. What do you think the primary gating issue is, each of you, to having these institutions involved in a more meaningful way?
VOGELSTEIN: What do you think it would take for the private sector to reach the entire population you’ve described?
Earlier, Salie, you mentioned that you’ve reached part, but not all of the population. The goal is to reach all of the population as opposed to a small part. How do you get that done? What would it take?
MLAY: So it took us—it’s a journey, but I see the green light at the end. Because, for example, we have three thousand members of staff permanently employed by NMB Bank. And as I said, our bank has branches in all regions and district levels. And we have come up with NMB agents whereby we have, like, seven thousand agents so far. We started two years ago, now we have seven thousand agents scattered. And this year in the budget, we plan to add another six thousand agents. That means we need to be very close to the community.
And our slogan at NMB, we said, whenever you say NMB, our customer always responds “close to you.” We want to be very close to them. And we want to use the upgrade services that are being provided by agents to be able to open an account and even answer some quick questions to the people around them because, you know, they are scattered all over.
So it will take us some years, but I see every year we are moving, we are—we are—we are—we are spreading and bringing more and more customers who were not banking with us. And even the confidence, the level of confidence as you go to some villages, like when you go to the northern province or when you talk about Kilimanjaro or Arusha, you see now the level, there is a very big improvement. You go to the very remote area, you find somebody with a mobile phone, you ask do you have an account; they’ll say yes, I have an account with NMB and they transact. You say, how many times do you go to the branch? They say no, I don’t need to go to the branch. I get money. I just go to the (umbrella ?) down there, to the agent, I deposit the money. And if I want to pay for, let’s say, electricity bill, water, I just—I just call my phone, all those services are there, I can—I just pay.
So you see now more and more people are becoming aware of what is happening. So that’s why we are saying our focus is to spread more knowledge. And some of the parents, funny enough, we went one of the school just to inspect one of my branch, how do they do with the school training about the kids when they go to see the young banking, they go to the schools. I did some surprise visit in one of the branches. When I went to school, I just sit at the back and listen to the discussion. So one parent raised up a hand and said I didn’t know with what I have I can save two dollars a week, I didn’t know. So that gave me a notion that what was lacking is the knowledge about what is happening and how you can manage what are the priorities on day-to-day expenses out of what you are making. So I’m glad and I’m happy the top management of NMB is really willing and they are eager to see that we push on that side of educating the community.
And then in addition to that in our (CC area ?), where we take one percent of our net profit every year to return to the community, we focus on only three things: health, we help the hospitals, education. So part of it will go to the school, we busy desks so children can sit and be able to listen. And once we donate, we talk to them about—again we have the session where we tell them why we are here, and then we use that opportunity also to disseminate the education about the finance and savings.
ORUWARIYE: That’s a really complicated question you have asked. When you look at Africa, I think that sometimes there people use broad strokes to describe different parts of Africa. For instance, in Kenya, they have a high smart-phone penetration rate of sixty percent with an internet penetration rate of almost eighty-four percent. That means you can do a lot more with technology there and be more innovative, and opportunities for fintech and other bigger companies that want to use innovation and technology to reach the underbanked.
In our own region, our smart-phone penetration is five percent, so the technology is already limited. And now we have regulation in Francophone Africa, if anybody knows it—very inflexible, and it is behind the innovation curve. So you can’t use those strategies.
I think if any organized unit wants to come into Africa, it depends on the region. They ought to be thinking of coming in for the long haul. I see in our region for the next five years we’ll still be using USSD technologies and SMS just because it’s going to be a slow uptake. And any organization needs to understand that as they come in.
But the opportunities for them—your research, and She Counts, and Women’s World Banking, you’ve shown that women that save consistently are more profitable in their customer life cycle, so organizations that want to work with women know that. This has been studied for years.
We have also found on our platform that the best savers have the lowest default rate, who are able to upsell and cross-sell products, would include insurance, micro-insurance, and they will pay for these products which are the profit pools for the organizations as they think of coming into this market.
I say they need to come in with bundled services because, for us, we’ve found that savings alone wasn’t enough of a value proposition for our clients. Bundle services, but always try to get a sense for what the clients need. I always talk about members because for you to come into our business you have a part of a group. You can’t just come in because the group, which is our risk in terms of the savings. There I always talk about members but they are also our client.
TORRES: Yeah. I think I’ve shared an example of a private institution who becomes successful also in joining the—for example, the CARD. It’s when they are ready also to believe in what the micro-finance institutions believe, like we need to provide fast claims; no need to wait for one, three or five years if we can do it one, three, five days. Why not? So also assisting women sincerely needs time and dedication. We will not be able to create very strong values, credit discipline among women clients if we did not commit a lot of our time also. And in doing that, profitability has to be sacrificed at the beginning, you know, where we did it without, you know, even reaching break-even point, but we didn’t give up on it.
Now if we do it, and if we assist more women, then profitability comes and sustainability of what we’re doing comes. So if private institutions are willing to do that –
Also addressing risk like disruptive weather, climate condition, typhoons like in Philippines. We have experienced the strongest typhoon and, you know, we need to sacrifice a lot, and the private institutions that has—helping us also sacrifice their money so that we can help the poor on day one that they were affected by strong calamities.
Q: (Off mic)—really so very impressive. I also feel such sympathy for older people on the wrong side of the technological divide—(laughter)—but a question. Has there been concerted efforts to pull in high-net-worth women in these marketplaces? I have a lot of data showing that if you look at many growth hubs, the wealth that’s vested in women is vested in hands of people who very much want gender empowerment as part of their investment portfolio. In fact, they call it out. They want performance as badly as men, but they have a bigger basket of goods, and gender empowerment is right at the top of the list.
And one would think that that would be a huge opportunity because they particularly want to invest in their own communities. So I’m just wondering whether, you know, this is being tapped into in ways I don’t know about.
ORUWARIYE: Yeah, I can tell you from our journey that as a start-up you are doing something very new, and the finance industry, which have own sort of regulations, and so we had to spend the first year doing an alpha and a beta pilot, and trying to get the data that could attract the partners and tell the story we want to tell. So we did that, and we—I sort of insisted that we have a research on, and when you are doing research on the work you are doing it takes some time. We’re just completing our quasi-experimental study where we worked with the World Bank to sort of gather that data, and I think for us at this time the first two years was just getting the data, telling the story, and showing that track record.
And we have found it very difficult, and we’ve not actively gone out to look for financing because our strategy was to get the data because everybody asks you, what’s the traction? So our strategy was to really look for grants to get the data and tell the story.
Now we just got our partnership with the World Savings Bank Institute, and MasterCard Foundation, and COFINA Senegal, one of the largest MFIs in the country to serve fifty thousand women, and it’s because we did this groundwork that we can now go back now to investors and say, look, we now have this, we are ready to expand. We’ve seen the data, we’ve done the—this is the deal, and move forward.
We have found that talking—we’ve already started talking to some social impact investors, and we found that although they say they are social impact investors, they’re not quite as willing to give the rope we expected. They want the (ten Xs ?), the time to exit is shorter than we would like, so it’s just that it seemed that—so we just started that journey, and I’m sure we’ll expand our investor pool.
VOGELSTEIN: Other thoughts on investments by high-net-worth individuals?
TORRES: Come again?
VOGELSTEIN: Any other thoughts you want to chime in on?
TORRES: Oh, yeah. I remember an event that we had in Manila where Women’s World Banking helped us gather prominent women in the Philippines in order to support the early stage of microfinance, and that was very successful. A lot of women provided funding, technical support to the early stage of the microfinance operations in the Philippines, so that—yeah, that was done with the help of Women’s World Banking because we work with the poor, and it’s difficult to entice high-network women without the help of Women’s World Banking.
VOGELSTEIN: Jewel (sp)?
Q: (Off mic)—World Bank or with ExxonMobil to backstop some kind of a takeout so that you could attract high-net-worth women because I agree with Sylvia Ann (sp). I’m in the same—I’m in the investment business, and we see tremendous need for impact investing, especially from women. But as a financial advisor, we would not allow them to—or we would not recommend that they invest in a startup; otherwise, we would call that a contribution, not an investment.
But there is a structured finance here that could happen with your backing that I think would be quite powerful—just a suggestion.
VOGELSTEIN: Another good idea. I think we have time for one final question here.
Q: Hi. Rachael Wagner from Atairos Management.
I think for those of us sitting here in New York, it’s really interesting to hear all the work that you are doing, and it’s very admirable what your organizations are doing. Is there anything specific—you know, for those of us who are here who, you know, are sort of very far away from the on-the-ground work that you are doing—that we could do to be helpful to each of your missions? There may not be, but I’m just curious if there is.
VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great suggestion. We had one contribution here that Jewel made. Let’s broaden it out. What could folks do to support the mission that you are driving towards?
MLAY: Yeah, for example, I can say we are successful in this young generation banking, and we work with the world women in terms of research, product designing. We work with them very well. And what is coming, because we are looking forward after looking—(inaudible)—the women at the rural area and remote areas. Yes, they are saving, but they need a small amount to bridge them into small business. They have to give small, small loan that will match with their—what they currently do as to be able to generate more money. We are—what we can get, the kind of help that we may need is to start that proposition of group lending to women, and what kind of education that will help them to be solid and understand how to go about so that it can be sustainable because what we are looking for is to have their sustainable group lending to women, and it—and it’s a lot of work on the sense that as we—the issue of lending to women is very sensitive because of culture, the way they are born to the family and day-to-day responsibilities, so we need to design a kind of training that will help them to be able to balance their daily activity, managing their family at the same time they are being able to go with what is going on.
What I’m trying to say is that if you look at the African woman from morning to the evening, what she does, in every hour, she will be—she is busy. But again, she is busy in two folds: one, it’s family responsibility of making sure there is food at the home, it has been cooked, the kids have gone to school, you know, and the other side, she has to do some little economic activity to generate few dollars, something like that. Now to get education how to balance these things and be able to stay in the game properly, so it needs somebody on the ground to understand what is happening and come up with, you know.
ORUWARIYE: For us, as a startup for MaTontine, I think we need to—for me, two clear areas. One is that we need—(inaudible)—some financing to (only ?) lend our members. But despite the fact we have these partnerships with the MFIs, they are still reluctant to lend so much money, and the demand outstrips the supply. And we feel that for us to really make the impact we need more players in the field that are willing to lend.
And we had initially the challenges of partnerships, so strategically we did pilots; in fact, that’s how we gathered members. We said, OK, let’s do a pilot. Let’s call in, see what works—(inaudible)—scale. We can see what works to make you comfortable. But despite that, there still was division with the traditional FSPs. Nobody wants to lend to the poor. And when they do, the rates are just almost usury, and the poor can’t make any headway from those rates.
So right now we feel, as a fintech company and as a small organization, that area of being able to have some kind of structured finance and to (only ?) lend to our members, to increase and impact more women, is something we are really looking at.
And also another big area for us is really working in terms of designing products for the women. As a small company, it takes a lot of our efforts, trial and error, but we feel if we have some support in that area we can really impact them because when we go and do our research in the field, they tell us a lot about what they need, what will work for them, and we just don’t have the resources to do all of that at once.
TORRES: In the case of CARD, we are thirty-two years old, and fortunately the savings that we have generated is more than the loans that we have been in—outstanding with our women, but because we are embarking on digital transformation, if you can help us increase or improve the connectivity and the cost of the mobile phone to poor women, it will be a big help.
VOGELSTEIN: Well, it is clear that much more work remains, but also that the economic potential for women and for the private sector is significant. So thanks to all of our speakers for joining us here this afternoon, for your insights. We are grateful to all of you.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript