The 2018 budget of the Government of India has taken a number of initiatives to empower women in the country. These include increased gas connections through subsidies to 80 million women under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (from the earlier 50 million) and a 37% increase in loans to women Self-Help Groups (SHGs).
The agency banking channel, which has been the backbone of financial inclusion efforts in India, is yet to succeed in serving as many women as men. As per the ANA India Wave II study1, women comprise 43% of the customer base of agents. The study highlights a vast gender imbalance in the agency banking channel with only 8% of agents being women2.
|As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranks 87 out of the 144 countries on its overall global index. The rank is dismally low at 136 for the sub-index of ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity’ for Women. There is a high unmet need for women entrepreneurs in India to get adequate access to finance for their business. However, various studies across the world have established that women make ‘good banking customers’ with lower risk.|
The Financial Inclusion Insights Wave IV India report reveals that only 6% of Indian women are advanced active account users3. This indicates that in India, women with bank accounts do not utilise them to their full potential. Women find female agents easier to approach, more trustworthy, and better at maintaining confidentiality as compared to male agents. ANA data shows that half the customers served by a woman agent are women, while two-fifths of customers that male agents serve are women. This shows that a woman agent is more likely to have women customers than a male agent. Clearly, more women agents on the ground are likely to boost the agenda of financial inclusion.
Women Agents in India – Current Status
The ANA Wave II study finds that women agents have a mean age of 31 years. More than half have a bachelor’s or a higher degree. Predominantly, it is women agents who serve rural areas, with a presence of 71% as opposed to 54% male agents. Approximately 65% of these women agents are dedicated solely to agency banking 4 as opposed to 44% male agents. The ANA Wave II findings also reveal the following:
a) Women agents perform at par with the male agents in terms of running the business
1. More research will help us get granular data on women agents and the advantages they bring to the industry. There is a need to understand this space to create a more effective business and support case for women agents.
2. SHGs in the country offer value in terms of outreach and have a history of financial inclusion. Digital finance channels can make use of the SHG model, at scale, to get more women agents in villages. GIZ’s Rural Financial Institutions Programme’s (RFIP) and NABARD’s Bank Sakhi pilot has indicated positive results. However, neither initiative has scaled the engagement and management of SHGs as banking agents.
3. Policymakers can set gender-centric criteria to define an “adequate number or share” of women agents.
4. To bring parity in terms of onboarding efforts, monitoring, and support offered to male and female agents, we could think of introducing soft skills on gender sensitivity through agent training sessions imparted to male agents.
5. We could develop a model to approach women entrepreneurs from other sectors and motivate them to manage the agency business as non-dedicated agents. A classic example of such a model is the initiative by Karandaaz and Unilever in Pakistan, in which Unilever’s retail agents (Guddi Baajis) serve as agents,
6. It will be crucial to understand how we can utilise various government programmes that focus on women, such as ASHA, Anganwadi workers, and scholarships, to expand the base of women agents in the country.
1The State of the Agent Network India 2017 report, based on the Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) Wave II survey, is a nationally representative study of the business correspondent (BC) agent network in India.
2Agents who offer digital financial services are known as business correspondent agents in India. We have referred to business correspondent agents (BCA) as agents and women BCAs as women agents.
3 Advanced active account users: Users who use a financial account for services other than basic or P2P services. In the FII study, in the case of mobile money, airtime top-ups are not considered an advanced use.
4 Dedicated agent – An agent who solely conducts agency banking business
5 The commission income from G2P facilitation is lower than CICO charges; MicroSave analysis and review of commission structure of providers in public domain.
6 The team conducted qualitative interaction with women agents during the fieldwork for ANA India Wave II