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Data Norms are Shifting Fast – Will Gender Data Shift Too?

Thursday 30th July 2020

If anyone still doubted the enormous power of data to shift perspectives and policy outcomes, the COVID-19 crisis might change their minds. In recent months, measuring economic activity in real-time has become a top priority across the private and public sectors. Many institutions are making granular, high-frequency data publicly available and participatory for the first time. Riksbank, the central bank of Sweden, recently opened up a web application to facilitate real-time data sharing from academics and private companies. And in June, The Federal Reserve Board and Banca d’Italia announced a joint conference on nontraditional data and statistical learning, with a call for papers from researchers across universities, central banks, and the private sector.

The rapid shift towards a more open, participatory and intersectoral data landscape lends a new sense of urgency to our goal of normalizing gender data in the financial services sector. Right now, we have the opportunity to embed sex-disaggregated data into the fabric of global financial sector analysis. This will be a key topic at our Annual Summit this October, as women’s financial inclusion data is integral to this year’s theme, Shifting the Paradigm: The Female Economy 2020 and Beyond.

Again and again, we’ve seen how data-driven gender insights allow FSPs to produce savvy customer strategies and measure their progress. TymeBank-—the first digital and first black-owned bank in South Africa—is a great example. TymeBank realized that women are time poor and need financial education support. Based on these insights, they expanded customer acquisition in supermarkets through in-store kiosks, meeting women where they are. Despite being a digital-only bank, they found that 85% of new accounts were opened at kiosks. And, by sex-disaggregating their data, they found that 57% of them were women. TymeBank has attracted almost 2 million customers since its launch in February 2019, and its gender-intelligent strategy was an important aspect of its rapid growth.

But TymeBank is not the norm. And so, in order to increase the use of supply-side data by financial institutions, last year, the Alliance—in partnership with Data2X—held a series of roundtable discussions that convened professionals from across the financial services, insurance, wealth management, and data sectors, as well as academia and international development. These roundtables yielded unparalleled insight on the use of data to drive financial inclusion, including best-in-class examples from six of our members, discussions about the risks and benefits of leveraging sex-disaggregated data, and perspectives on challenges such as machine bias, human bias, and legislative hurdles. The full learnings and recommendations gleaned from these roundtables are summarized in our recently published white paper, “A Data-Driven Path to Women’s Financial Inclusion : Insights from Financial Providers.”

In addition to synthesizing insights and best practices, we also work to fill gaps, particularly gaps in supply-side data—data from the FSPs themselves—which tends to be less readily available than demand-side. We do this through our annual Female Economy Analytics Survey, which generates aggregate anonymized results from our members. We saw an increase of more than 40% in reporting this year, a clear illustration of members’ commitment to leading on data Initial results show that in 2019, Alliance members from 30 countries served approximately 40 million women customers, holding US$127 billion in deposits, and receiving US$130 billion in credit. We look forward to sharing the full results with you at the Annual Summit.

Increased focus on nontraditional data is part of the new normal, and gender data could shape the increasingly digital future of FSPs. However, the collection and analysis of women’s financial inclusion data is not yet the norm—either for established FSPs or startup fintechs. With your help, we hope to change that.