Digitizing high volume payments: The key to financially include women?
When it comes to digitizing bulk payments, scale is often considered the only thing that matters. No doubt scale is essential—but what if the obstacles to receive the payments are so significant that women can not readily participate? This major challenge loomed over the discussion of benefits of high volume payments for women in the break-out session that opened the #DFS4W event organized by UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in Kampala, Uganda, today. The gap between assumptions and reality on the ground is stark. Indeed, there is currently much hype amongst digital financial service (DFS) experts on how shifting one-to-many transactions to digital has the potential to drive down costs and increase efficiency. For policymakers implementing social protection programmes and aid practitioners rolling out cash transfer initiatives, digitizing high volume payments is a quick and efficient solution for transferring money in a high number of digital wallets at once. For DFS providers creating the infrastructure through which the payments are funnelled, bulk payments are a powerful driver for the adoption of more advanced products. Yet the emphasis on volume often eclipses the fact that not all recipients are on the same footing.
Gender is a major factor in defining the capacity to access and benefit from digital cash transfers. It is a kind of paradox: after all, the main goal of cash transfer programmes, rolled out by either governments or non-governmental organizations, is to smooth consumption and sustain the livelihoods of precisely the most economically vulnerable citizens. In low-income countries, women largely feature in this category. Discussing access to financial services in India, Kenya and Mexico, for instance, Julie Zollmann found that women’s incomes are generally smaller than men’s. Also, women go through many different life transitions as they leave their paternal household, marry and have children, and face greater risk of sudden pauperisation, for example if widowed. This situation is compounded by legal, cultural and economic restrictions, such as applying for a national ID or getting a loan from a bank, that women face in 155 countries, according to a study by the World Bank. DFS have a smaller gender gap than banking, and opening a mobile money account is a more viable option for women than opening a bank account. However, barriers are still there. And they hinder the possibility for cash transfer payments to have a real impact on women’s livelihoods and for DFS providers to reach out to a sizeable, yet neglected, segment of the market.
These limits emerged from discussion triggered by the presentation of two experiences of high volume payments through mobile money during a break-out session: (1) a Bulk Payment Initiative for farmers in Uganda, designed and implemented by Yo! Uganda, a Kampala-based fintech with the support of UNCDF; and (2) the Programme National de Bourses de Sécurité Familiale (PNBSF), rolled out in Senegal by a partnership of Orange, one of the country’s most popular mobile network operators, and the Senegalese Government.
To understand both projects, it is necessary to have a look at the broader picture.
Let’s begin with the Bulk Payment Initiative for farmers. It targets the workers of Kyagalanyi Coffee Limited, a coffee producer and exporter in the Mount Elgon area of Eastern Uganda. The importance of this agricultural sector for the Ugandan economy is hard to underestimate. Indeed, coffee is the country’s main cash crop. Its value chain benefits around 1.7 million people, making for a huge amount of payments regularly flowing between farmers, traders and coffee export companies. Cash is king in this market, but in September 2015, UNCDF signed an agreement with Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and Kyagalanyi to pilot digital payments for coffee farmers in the Elgon area. Yo! Uganda, a company with experience as an aggregator of digital payments, was then contracted by Kyagalanyi to design a comprehensive mobile bulk payment platform. The Bulk Payment Initiative for farmers was launched as a pilot project with a two-fold aim: on the one hand, it digitized payments to increase security by reducing the volume of cash; on the other, it enabled recipients to keep track of their transactions and thus create a credit score to apply for loans. The company provided low-cost mobile handsets and distributed the payments by household. However, Yo! Uganda soon realized that, since households are mostly headed by men, the payments failed to reach women, despite the fact that they constitute over 50 percent of the workforce. As it is heading towards the second phase of the project, Yo! Uganda is using the lessons learned to modify its approach and target women as individual workers, rather than members of household.
PNBSF is based on different premises and uses a different approach. It is a social protection programme in which Orange facilitates government-to-people payments to 35,000 beneficiaries across Senegal. The main challenge in this case was to disseminate information in remote areas of Senegal, with no network coverage and low literacy. The strategy used by Orange was to have agents travel to rural communities where, with the help of local leaders, they presented the service and assisted the beneficiaries, most of whom were women, to open an Orange Money account on their mobile phones. There, cash also dominates the local financial landscape. Beneficiaries tend to cash out when they receive the payments (for instance, to pool money in saving clubs); therefore, the quarterly delivery of e-cash must be supported by a periodical distribution of cash to local agents. Orange is currently enrolling merchants accepting digital payments for basic goods and thus laying the groundwork for the construction of a digital payment ecosystem. However, the company is aware that, for the time being, cash is here to stay. And DFS providers that want to cater to the needs of women have to take this fact into account.
October 2016. Copyright © UN Capital Development Fund. All rights reserved.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.