Mind the gap — Is fintech closing the gender gap in access to finance?
Equitable access to financial services: A policy prerogative
Fair and equitable access to financial services is a prerequisite for economic security and prosperity. It can improve individuals’ employment outcomes, wealth accumulation, and propensity to start a business. Yet, women all over the world remain unbanked or underbanked (Demirgüc-Kunt et al. 2017). Hopes are high that new financial technology – or “fintech” – can enhance financial inclusion and finally close the gender gap in access to financial services.
But does fintech help to close the gender gap? To find out, we looked at 27,000 adults in 28 major economies (Chen et al. 2021), who shared their use of and attitudes toward fintech products and services provided by fintech entrants and traditional financial institutions. The sample is representative along the age and gender distributions and contains detailed background information on the respondents.
The fintech gender gap
Our findings suggest that fintech is not (yet) making good on its promise: there is a sizable “fintech gender gap.” While 29% of men in the survey use fintech, only 21% of women do — a gap of 8 percentage points (pp). The gap is present in almost all countries in our sample (graph 1). Individual characteristics, such as age, income, education, marital or employment status, or a proxy for financial literacy only explain 30% of the gap, and country-specific characteristics only 8%. In other words, even among individuals of similar age or income living in the same country, women use fintech by around 5 pp less than men.
Source: Chen et al. (2021).
How does the fintech gender gap compare with the gap in bank account ownership? Demirgüc-Kunt et al. (2018) report that 72% of men and 65% of women have a bank account globally. The unconditional gap in bank account ownership (7 pp) is thus smaller than the fintech gender gap (8 pp). Scaled by average adoption rates, at 69% for traditional bank accounts and 25% for fintech, the difference is even starker: 10% versus 32%. These findings suggest that fintech entrants have so far not closed the gender gap in access to financial services.
What explains the gap?
Does it matter who offers fintech products? In our sample, 49% of the respondents use novel financial products and services that are offered by traditional financial institutions, compared with 25% for fintech entrants. Still, men are more likely to use fintech products irrespective of the provider. The gender gap averages 8 pp (32% of the average adoption rate) among services provided by entrants and 9 pp (18%) among those provided by incumbents (graph 2). The difference across providers is statistically insignificant, which implies that the gender gap is not influenced by who provides fintech products or services, but rather the products themselves.
Graph 2: The fintech gender gap is similar among traditional financial institutions and entrants
Source: Chen et al. (2021).
These fintech products, however, differ greatly in scope. For example, some products tend to complement existing financial services, such as online budgeting and financial planning tools or aggregators, while others tend to substitute for these, such as peer-to-peer payments or digital-only branchless banking. When we examine differences at the respondent-product level for 19 narrowly defined product categories, we find that the gender gap is around 50% smaller for products that complement existing services than for substitutes. Yet, it is present for both types of fintech products.
To check whether traditional gender roles cause men to make more financial decisions and lead to higher adoption rates, we also looked at single adult households. There we found that female-led households were still less likely to use fintech than male-led households. This result suggests that arguments that try to tie the gap to traditional gender roles within households fall short.
However, gender differences in attitudes toward privacy and technology could explain the gap. In the survey, women report being less willing to adopt new applications, such as digital banks, and they are less willing to share their personal data for cheaper offers or lower rates. And more than men, women report that they worry about their security when dealing with companies online. Accounting for these differences in attitudes reduces the gender gap significantly, to around 2.2 pp.
Policy support for equal access
What determines the differences in these attitudes remains an open question. They could be explained by differences in preferences across genders, for example, in risk aversion (Croson and Gneezy 2009), or differences in the costs and benefits that consumers attach to the use of these new products. The differences could also result from gender-based discrimination, for example, if women have had bad previous experiences with financial institutions (Brock and De Haas 2021). Finally, the gap and differences in attitudes could arise from social norms or laws that affect the cost-benefit trade-off differently across genders (Hyland et al. 2020). As factors related to attitudes toward technology and price sensitivity explain a sizable part of the overall gap, future research focusing on the determinants of these factors could be particularly promising in understanding the fintech gender gap.
What are the implications for public policy that aims to foster financial inclusion? Financial technology alone probably cannot close the gender gap in access to financial services. Instead, the fintech revolution may need the support of targeted policy initiatives. These must take into account differences in attitudes by gender and encourage innovation that fits the needs of all.
The design of these policies will depend on the cause of the gender gap. If differences in adoption rates are based on differences in individual preferences, then the scope for interventions may be limited. Should the gap be the result of discrimination or social norms and laws that disadvantage women, then policy that addresses and remedies these factors could help to promote financial inclusion through innovation and education. Further research can help us to understand the causes of the fintech gender gap and inform the appropriate policies.
Brock, J. Michelle and Ralph De Haas (2021), “Discriminatory lending: Evidence from bankers in the lab”, Working Paper.
Chen, Sharon, Sebastian Doerr, Jon Frost, Leonardo Gambacorta and Hyun Song Shin (2021), “The fintech gender gap”, BIS Working Paper no 931, March.
Croson, Rachel and Uri Gneezy (2009), “Gender diﬀerences in preferences”, Journal of Economic Literature, vol 47, no 2, pp 448–74.
Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli, Leora Klapper, and Dorothe Singer (2017), “Financial inclusion and inclusive growth: A review of recent empirical evidence”, The World Bank.
Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli, Leora Klapper, Dorothe Singer, Saniya Ansar, and Jake Hess (2018), “The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring ﬁnancial inclusion and the ﬁntech revolution”, The World Bank.
Hyland, Marie, Simeon Djankov, and Pinelopi K. Goldberg (2020), “Gendered laws and women in the workforce”, American Economic Review: Insights, vol 2, no 4, pp 475–90.