Banks in LAC Discuss Women’s Market Opportunity

Wednesday 13th November 2013

GBA and FOMIN hosted the panel “The Women’s Market: Are You Overlooking The World’s Largest Emerging Economy?” at FELABAN’s Annual Assembly, Latin America’s largest and most prestigious international gathering of senior bank managers.

Banks in Latin America discuss the Women's Market OpportunityInez Murray, CEO of the GBA described the demographic trends in Latin America that are driving this tremendous market opportunity for banks: female participation in the labor force has doubled in the past two decades to 65% amounting to 100 million women with a significant and growing number of women entering the professions. These facts combined with the region having one of the highest concentrations of women entrepreneurs in the world means that the Women’s Market is huge and growing. Yet, as IDB’s WeVentureScope study found banks finance only 21% of the working capital needs and 22% of the investment needs of women-owned SMEs in the region. While many factors drive the low percent of women SMEs with loans, as Tomas Miller, Chief of the Access to Finance Unit of the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund pointed out in his opening remarks at the panel, the latest FELABAN survey found that just 49 percent of banks have their customer data disaggregated by sex so they can tell how many women owned SMEs they have in their portfolio while just 14 percent think that women SMEs are underserved or unserved. The disjoint between what women are experiencing and what banks are thinking is why the GBA brought senior bankers from its membership to highlight their banks’ rationale for serving the Women’s Market.

Four senior bankers took the stage from Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Westpac Banking Corporation, Itau Unibanco and BLC Bank representing distinct regions of the world and shared best practices on profitable and innovative models that have led them to successfully target the women’s market. “It was natural for us to think of women as a market segment – they represent 50% of customer base and 60% of staff” said Larke Riemer, Women’s Market Director at Westpac, whose program reaches 2.3 million women primary account holders in Australia, representing $97 billion in footings and bringing over $1.6 billion in revenues to Westpac. Tania Moussallem, Head of Strategy of BLC Bank, Lebanon mentioned that in a competitive market like Lebanon, targeting the women’s market has proven to be an excellent differentiator for the bank, achieving a 30% IRR calculated on a conservative basis.

How are banks targeting this segment? “It’s not about treating women differently, it’s about treating them with respect.” mentioned Tania. GBA bank members across the globe have found that offering a holistic value proposition that includes access to information, education, networking, and markets is the most effective way to impact women customers successfully. Eduardo Ferreira, who is leading the Women’s Market initiative inside Itau Unibanco, noted that while the bank reaches 20 million women and 1 million women-owned SMEs currently, they are now in the design phase of setting up a Women’s Market program “to deepen the value proposition to women and exploit one of the biggest demographic shifts in human history.” Eduardo went on to say that research was an important first step in setting up a Women’s Market program. “Getting to know your customers more, does not mean spending more, it means spending better.”

Marcela Navarro, Head of Customer Innovation in the Corporate Banking Division of Royal Bank of Scotland Group discussed the importance of having an internal Diversity & Inclusion agenda as an essential piece in targeting the Women’s Market. “It’s about consistency: if we are promoting a sector, we must do so internally as well.”

The panel concluded with helpful advice for banks thinking of entering the market: develop a deep understanding of women’s needs and create a meaningful value proposition, make sure you measure what you do so you can prove success, and don’t reinvent the wheel: organizations like the GBA can support member banks to learn from each other and radically reduce the costs of this innovation.

Click here for additional coverage on the panel, including 5 ways banks can engage women.