Agent Gender Matters
Evidence is mounting that there is a positive relationship between cash-in cash-out (CICO) network quality and gender inclusiveness, due both to the performance of women as agents and the potential for women customers to increase transaction volumes for agents of any gender. However, there is still an ongoing debate about whether the gender of the agent matters for business performance and for women’s financial inclusion.
This blog post explores the evidence on whether the gender of the agent matters for business performance, which is of paramount importance to financial service providers. Performance is measured in a variety of ways, most commonly through number of transactions, amount per transaction, number of customers and net income, as well as client service and business management.
Women agents out-perform men on a number of indicators
Although research on women’s economic participation as financial sector agents is limited, the evidence that exists suggests that women do perform as well as men, and may even out-perform men, particularly when dealing with women customers, thus generating better business for providers. , such as number of services provided, number of customers, transaction amounts, number of transactions, average commissions per transaction and overall income.
In India, we’ve seen the following results:
- Women agents provide more services on average (7 services, compared to 6 for men) and are less likely to incur losses (33 percent vs 34 percent).
- Although only 10 percent of agents in the Indian government’s program, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), are women, women agents successfully signed up 50 percent more customers than male agents.
- Jeevika Bank Sakhi agents (who are all women) signed up slightly more customers on average compared to male agents (53 vs 50).
- Jeevika Bank Sakhi agents also have a slightly higher number of monthly transactions than men agents (486 compared to 440), as well as higher transaction amounts.
- Most Bank Sakhis are able to achieve higher average commissions per transaction compared to men and most earn an overall income of at least USD 62 a month within six to nine months of starting their activities, which makes being an agent a viable livelihood opportunity.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a quantitative study led by Mastercard Foundation and IFC, which used data from FINCA, also suggests that women agents perform better. When controlling for external factors, they find that female agents are more efficient and profitable than male agents, transferring higher volumes per transaction, and reporting a higher number of transactions per month (12 percent more), even though they may operate for shorter hours than male agents.
Rural access, greater continuity of service and better customer service
comprehensive review on the role of digital financial services in promoting access to finance has highlighted that women are more likely to work in rural areas, and tend to continue working as agents for longer than men, which allows them to provide continued access to the local community.A
A number of studies also suggest that women agents provide better customer service. Two studies in India (including one in West Bengal) revealed that customers felt that women agents were more patient and willing to help customers to respond to queries or offer financial advice. In Rwanda, women agents for Tigo Cash were found to offer better customer service than male agents, and this was reported by both men and women customers. These findings have led Tigo Cash to launch the Tigo Women Entrepreneurship Fund, to increase the number of women agents.
Performing well in spite of an unlevel playing field
In DRC, even though women agents are often operating in locations that are commercially more difficult (further away from other businesses and banks), they are overall more successful, with an average net profit that is 16 percent higher than male agents. Importantly, women customers tend to transact amounts that are 66 percent higher with women agents than they do with male agents.
The fact that women can perform well as agents, and in some cases even better than their male counterparts, despite a playing field that is tilted against them, suggests that a deeper understanding of women’s business performance will be crucial for the sector moving forward. Looking only at business performance, however, is reductive of women’s experiences. It is crucial to consider that women may face additional structural and normative barriers to entering and growing businesses as financial agents, and these also need to be better understood.
A study in India, for example, highlights that male agents receive more support from the finance provider, despite the fact that women need support with a range of skills, including finance and marketing. Lessons learned from a program supporting women agents in Jordan suggest that women agents needed more guidance than originally anticipated, and that capacity gaps were in both technical and soft skills.
Women also face other barriers to entry and growth, including dependence on male family members to carry out their business, reduced time availability due to unpaid household responsibilities, and limited access or ability to grow informal professional networks.
In Pakistan, where very few agents are women, only half of agents believe that women agents are able to do their job, and this is primarily because of perceptions around commercial places being appropriate places for women to work. Other reasons cited were security risks in public spaces and women’s lack of confidence. Encouragement from others is key: women agents interviewed in seven countries reported that they had not planned or aspired to take this career path, but they were convinced to try by others.
What does all this evidence tell us?
What does this mean for women customers? In our next blog post, we’ll look at whether the gender of the agent matters for women’s financial inclusion, in what contexts, for which women, and why!