Women and financial inclusion

The urban poor in the Global South lack access to banking and financial services, and women are disproportionately affected. They are less likely than men to hold a bank account, to take out a loan, or to borrow money. This is a detriment to development, since women are more likely to spend extra funds on their family, thereby improving food, education, and health.

The reports presented below profile approaches to bridging the financial inclusion gender gap in São Paulo, Mexico City, Nairobi, Bangalore, and Dhaka, Read on to learn more, and then join the discussion in the comments below.

São Paulo
Mexico City
Catalina Gomez

Bolsa Família e sua contribuição na inclusão financeira

Catalina Gomez, Coordenadora da Rede em São Paulo


Segundo a Confederação Nacional da Indústria, mais de um terço da população brasileira acima de 16 anos (mais de 50 milhões) não possui conta bancária nem acesso a serviços financeiros de empréstimo e poupança. A maioria daquela população afetada tem baixa renda e pouca escolaridade. Tereza Campello, a Ministra de Desenvolvimento Social tem explicado varias vezes que "ao contrário do que se pensava, os desafios da inclusão financeira não são de distância, de acesso a rede, ou de falta de correspondentes bancários. Na realidade, a população está desinformada com relação ao seus direitos". Campello também explicou que "muitas pessoas acham que para abrir uma conta corrente é preciso um depósito mínimo, evidenciando seu desconhecimento sobre a rede bancaria".

Tendo em conta a situação descrita pela Ministra, uma das principais prioridades do governo brasileiro durante vários anos, tem sido a redução de barreiras de informação e o desenho de produtos financeiros adequados para a população de baixa renda. Um dos principais mecanismos de promoção da inclusão financeira, especialmente para mulheres, tem sido Bolsa Família, o programa de transferências que beneficia a 13 milhões de famílias. O programa transfere mensalmente dinheiro para todas as famílias dependendo de seu nível de pobreza e número de crianças. O 93 por cento dos beneficiários direitos são mulheres, o que contribui no seu posicionamento e influencia dentro do núcleo familiar.

"Bolsa" tem uma contribuição importante na primeira etapa da inclusão financeira ao abrir uma conta bancaria e entregar um cartão para cada família. Com o cartão, os beneficiários podem retirar o dinheiro transferido mensalmente pelo programa. Para muitos beneficiários, especialmente mulheres, esta é a primeira vez que tem aceso a uma conta bancaria, contribuindo a seu conhecimento básico do sistema bancario. Infelizmente, muitos beneficiários ainda retiram a totalidade de sua transferência a cada mês e não utilizam a conta como uma verdadeira conta corrente ou de poupança.

Uma pesquisa recente sobre inclusão financeira dos beneficiários de Bolsa Família aplicada nas áreas de maior concentração de benefiarios, incluindo São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, achou que a grande maioria dos beneficiários ainda não compreendem adequadamente as regras e procedimentos do sistema bancário precisando de maiores informações e educação sobre a matéria. A pesquisa também reportou que 65 por cento dos beneficiários têm celulares e embora o celular seja utilizado para encaminhar atualizações sobre o programa, ainda poderia ser utilizado para administrar o dinheiro e fazer pagamentos de serviços.

Caixa, o Banco de apoio na execução do Bolsa Família esta desenvolvendo uma serie de pilotos nas cidades mencionadas com vídeos educativos sobre planejamento financeiro para multheres e suas famílias e para a operação de pequenas empresas. Também está expandindo a educação financeira das crianças para que elas estejam sensibilizadas sobre a importância da poupança e da administração responsável do dinheiro.

Foto: Ministry of Social Development



Hi Carlin, I really liked reading about Samasta's work regarding the diverse financial products targeted to various needs of women and their families. I would really like to learn a little more about how each one of these products operate in practice and how women access such services. Is Samasta a bank with branches or how do women access its services? Specifically, it will be interesting to learn what are the requirements to access and how are women’s profiles assessed and confirmed as beneficiaries.

Katy Fentress's picture

Catalina it sounds like Bolsa Familia is a very ambitious program, there are so many questions I would like to ask you about it!

I suppose it would be interesting to get a better feel for the reach of Bolsa Familia. Is it a country-wide scheme? Are the 13 million families mainly urban or does the program target rural communities too? What kind of problems has it encountered so far (sorry that might be a long one)?

The phone aspect is indeed a shame. Phone banking schemes like Mpesa in Kenya (which started as tools for women to pay back MF loans) have largely demystified the whole concept of banking. Even though they are not savings accounts per se, it is increasingly normal that even in the remotest of villages there will be a few people with a phone and mpesa on it.

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

Hi, Katy, yes, Bolsa Familia is a very ambitious program. But more than just a program, it is the backbone of social protection in Brazil. "Bolsa", with its 13 million beneficiary families is the largest conditional cash transfer in the world. It is definitely a country- wide scheme that is present in ALL 5565 Brazilian municipalities, both rural and urban. As 85 per cent of Brazil's population lives in cities, there is a strong concentration of beneficiaries in urban areas.

When you ask about the program's problems, which I would call challenges, many things come to mind. This year “Bolsa” turns 10 years of implementation, so imagine all the lessons and accumulated experience from putting in place a program of this dimension. The most relevant challenges have been related to expanding the capacities of each municipality to register beneficiaries and follow up on the program’s conditionalities. Another enormous challenge has been keeping the registry system and all supporting technology up to date so that program management is efficient, transparent and accountable. A final and relevant challenge is to keep the search for poor and excluded families that still the program doesnt benefit. This requires great mobilization of social workers at the village level.

Regarding the use of mobile phones, yes it is indeed a shame it isn’t more spread out in Brazil or elsewhere in Latin America. I don’t know if it is a matter of insecurity (phone theft is pretty common) or which other factors have prevented mobile technology to be more actively used as it is in Kenya.

Jorge Bela's picture

Hi Cata, it is an interesting point that people take their money out of the bank as soon as they can. I wonder if Caixa charges any commissions for services. High costs, often hidden, and general mistrust are a barrier to bancarization. Phone banking is a tricky issue for poor people. Basic phones are good for basic services, but still are cumbersome and scary to use. Most successful cases, as far as I know, are in Africa (you point out Kenya). Smartphones are still out of reach for the poor. An used, older generation Iphone costs close to one minimum monthly salary in Bogotá. Although free wifi spots are becoming more and more available, data plans are too expensive for most. And theft is a real problem. Mobile banking is growing at extremely high rates in Colombia, but still the numbers are low, and growth is mostly in people already bancarized.

Jorge Bela's picture

Hi Katy, I was fascinated by the Chamas ability to turn a traditional way of sharing into a way of financial inclusion. Once again, it is woman that keep and evolve this traditions in order to serve new needs. You mention high interest rates in the micro-loans they issue. I do assume that they are non-profit and the high costs are required just to keep the system running.

Katy Fentress's picture

Jorge that I know of the credit institutions are for profit. They too borrow the money they lend out from banks and private investors and seeing that they are operating with high-risk loans they also have to pay quite significant interest rates. Let me see if I can get Sadiq to answer this question for you in greater detail (I cannot claim that finance is my area of expertise!).

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

Carlin Carr's picture

Catalina, good questions...actually, Samasta follows the Grameen model of lending. The profiles of its target beneficiaries are women who have an income from some sort of livelihood or have the ability to start an income-generating activity. Like with Grameen, joint liability groups are started so that the group bears responsibility for the repayments, increasing the likelihood of full recovery of the loans. The members all repay on a weekly basis, and a Samasta loan officer comes to the areas where the women live and work to collect the money at the group meeting. Because this tight-knit group is formed and a close relationship is developed with a weekly visit from the loan officer, Samasta gains the trust of the women, and vice versa, opening a door for more initiatives, including the women's empowerment focus. This often works well in rural areas, where women in the villages are already close; however, it's interesting to see it happening in an urban setting, where neighbors may be from different communities, castes, religions and states.

María Fernanda Carvallo's picture

Catalina, igual que Bolsa Familia, Oportunidades es uno de los pilares de políticas sobre desarrollo social en México. De la misma manera a las mujeres se les da una cuenta en BANSEFI para que tengan acceso a microcréditos y ahorros; en el apoyo específico de Jóvenes con Oportunidades el apoyo mensual está condicionado a que los jóvenes asistan y permanezcan en la escuela, por lo que al finalizar la secundaria pueden acudir a BANSEFI para que con su ahorro puedan invertir en un seguro de gastos médicos, un pequeño negocio o la apertura de un crédito y para continuar con sus estudios de bachillerato. No obstante el programa se ha topado con obstáculos operativos, puesto que para que las personas retiren su dinero de BANSEFI necesitan cumplir con documentación y requisitos que muchas veces no tienen a la mano, o en su defecto las personas de BANSESI no están capacitadas para dar respuesta a las complicaciones que presentan los beneficiarios de Oportunidades. Me parece que tanto Bolsa Familia como Oportunidades presentan problemáticas de operación debido a su alto alcance y coordinación de actores, por lo que es necesario involucrar a las partes a través de capacitaciones de atención y seguimiento al beneficiario; pues bien muchas políticas públicas se caen y pierden su impacto en la operación.

Hola Maria Fernanda, traes puntos muy importantes referentes a los programas de transferencia condicionada. Tienes razón que muchas veces el personal de los bancos no sabe cómo atender a los beneficiarios de este tipo de programas y por ende se requiere más capacitación para mejorar su servicio. También es importante que este tipo de programas tengan bien montados sistemas de reclamos, quejas y retroalimentación para que puedan reportar cualquier anomalía del programa y contribuir a su mejoría.

Hi Maria Fernanda, you bring very interesting points about the operation of cash transfer programs. It’s true that many banks need to better train their personnel to provide beneficiaries with more adequate services. It is also important that cash transfer programs have grievance and report systems in place, so that beneficiaries can report any relevant problem and provide feedback to contribute to its improvement.

I am doing research for my undergraduate dissertation on financial inclusion in Kenya, in particular the financial inclusion of women through cooperatives and micro financial institutions. I will be visiting Kenya in August/Sept this year to gather data through surveys and interviews. I was wondering whether you could help me by providing more information on the work you do in Kenya and maybe even by providing me with access to some of your women groups in Kenya. I will be working with WOCCU (World Council of Credit Unions) and would love to include the inspiring work you are doing in my dissertation and my blogs that I will begin once I get to Kenya.

Katy Fentress's picture

Hi Evie, thanks for writing in.

As Nairobi community manager I spend a lot of time writing about many different aspects of poverty alleviation in Kenya. The nature of the job does not allow me to spend long periods of time on any one topic, so unfortunately I do not have extensive information to share with you regarding different women's chamas.

If you would like me to put you in touch with any of the people or groups I mentioned above I would be delighted to. I can also see about putting you in touch with someone who might be better placed than me to answer your questions. Feel free to write to me here or on my twitter account @whatktdoes

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

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