Tuesday 29th September 2020

The Alliance welcomed Davivienda as our first member from Colombia. With a market share of more than 15%, Davivienda is the second largest bank in terms of its loan portfolio. More than 54% of its 14 million clients are women and more than 61% of its staff is made up of female employees. The bank has a strong commitment to gender equality inside and outside the institution. The Alliance interviewed Maritza Pérez, Executive Vice President of Personal Banking and Marketing, about the successes and gender gaps in Colombia, Davivienda’s role in closing them, and its vision of the impact of the pandemic on women.

Alliance: What are Davivienda’s core mission and objectives?

MP: At Davivienda we exist to enrich life with integrity. We work every day to generate prosperity, well-being and happiness in people, families, communities, and businesses, and be able to promote financial inclusion and sustainable development. By focusing on digital transformation, we constantly innovate to help people manage their money, achieve their dreams and goals, build household assets, develop small and large companies and finance projects.

Through technology, knowledge, and best practice, we support our more than 17,000 employees in Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Miami, to benefit more than 16 million clients in the region.

Alliance: For a global audience, how have Davivienda’s beginnings as a savings and housing corporation impacted its current mission?

MP:  We have always defined ourselves as a human-oriented organization marked by closeness, warmth, and simplicity. We have built an organizational culture based on solid principles and values that underpin the work of our employees. Thanks to this, today, after 48 years, we are on the way to becoming a 100% digital bank that makes life easier for people and supports families and companies. We have come a long way through continuous learning, without losing the legacy housing business of our origins. Today, we can continue to proudly affirm that “en la Casita Roja de Davivienda está el ahorrador feliz” (in the Red House of Davivienda there is a satisfied saver). 

Alliance: According to the Global Economic Forum (WEF), Colombia has remained in position #22 out of 156 countries in terms of gender parity for the last 14 years. How has Colombia maintained such a high position compared to other countries in the region and the world?

MP:  In 2019, Colombia launched its first Gender Parity Initiative to close gender gaps in labor participation, remuneration and leadership through collaboration between the public and private sectors. But this has not been the only initiative to empower Colombian women. In the last three decades, national governments have developed a number of policies for women: in 1992, the Comprehensive Policy for Women was formulated; later, in 1994, the Participation and Equity and Women’s Policy (EPAM); in 1999, the Plan for Equal Opportunities for Women; in 2003, the Women Peacebuilders Policy and in 2013 the Gender Equity Policy for Women. Since then, these policies have been led by entities responsible for the issue of gender equity. The country is currently #1 in the world in terms of women’s participation in ministerial positions. In addition, it is the first time that the Vice Presidency of the Republic is led by a woman.

Although this is a high position compared to other countries in the region, challenges remain and the government and private sectors are increasingly working together to advance gender equity. Through the financial sector we have the opportunity to promote women’s access to finance and empowerment for their businesses, to support in managing their household budgets and to advance their leadership within communities.


Alliance: However, the Global Economic Forum also indicates that in terms of women’s economic participation, Colombia’s position has dropped from # 39 in 2006 to # 42 in 2020. Why is this, and what kind of efforts are necessary to help Colombian women increase their economic position?

MP: Despite the advances of the last decades, Colombian women are still at a disadvantage compared to men in the labor market. Their participation in the labor force is 27% lower than men’s, the average unemployment rate for them is 71% higher, their income is 17% lower, and they work 17% more hours per week on average. Likewise, 38% of their working hours on average correspond to unpaid work, such as housework and care of children, the sick and people with disabilities. And while their median hourly income is only 2% lower than men’s, their median monthly income is 17% lower.

Necessary efforts to increase the economic participation of women include practices that prevent discrimination in human talent management, reduce stereotypes in communications, promote women’s training in STEM careers, encourage their participation in leadership and senior management roles, and of course, guarantee access to financial services so they can fulfill their dreams and build their wealth. Financial empowerment in their businesses, managing their families’ budgets, and in community leadership will boost equity and their economic position in our region.

Alliance: According to the World Bank’s Global Findex, only 42.5% of Colombian women had access to a bank account, a gap of 7 points compared to men. What types of barriers do women face in accessing financial services in Colombia?

MP: Although Colombian women’s access to financial services has increased considerably in recent years, significant challenges persist. These differ depending on age, location (urban-rural), etc. Banks still have a long road to ensure the financial inclusion of female entrepreneurs, and to maintain equality in services across both genders.

In relation to the age gap, younger women are even further removed from the financial system because they have the highest unemployment rate and lowest participation in the labor market. The problem is that savings accounts, the financial product most used by Colombians and the gateway to the financial system, are opened (in more than half of the cases) at the suggestion of employers. However, at Davivienda, women hold more than 50% of savings accounts as well as traditional investment products.

Regarding the urban-rural gap, connectivity problems, geographic dispersion and low population density in rural areas are barriers to financial access. While 82% of women in cities and surrounding areas access formal financial services, only 55% do so in rural municipalities. 

Alliance: Davivienda created DaviPlata in 2011 to increase the banking of the Colombian population. What has been the impact of DaviPlata on Colombian women?

MP: We started our path to bring women closer to the financial sector and empower them to manage their finances by creating the Women’s Card a few years ago. The card included offerings, partnerships and opportunities for them. After learning from this experience, today we know that our digital platform DaviPlata is undoubtedly of great relevance to women in Colombia. Not only is it the first mobile solution in the country which has allowed more than 11 million Colombians to easily access financial products and services from their cell phones at no cost, but through DaviPlata, the government is able to make subsidy payments through its MAS FAMILIAS EN ACCIÓN program, which has benefitted more than 2 million mothers heads of households.

Today, 60% of DaviPlata clients (6.6 million) are women. For many of them, DaviPlata was their first financial product. We also know that through DaviPlata, a wide variety of businesses in sectors with high participation of women, such as flower crop workers and coffee pickers, are able to access digital payroll payments.

DaviPlata also enables communities by developing digital ecosystems. For example, in Usiacurí, the second largest artisan municipality in Colombia, we supported women artisans by encouraging them to adopt DaviPlata as a means of payment and savings. As a result, we have not only encouraged these entrepreneurs to grow and develop their businesses, but we have also enabled them access to financial education to boost their financial empowerment.

Alliance: What type of non-financial services does Davivienda offer to the entrepreneur market? What has been your “business case” for offering these types of services?

MP: Many of our value-added programs are based on digital enablement and financial education to help SMEs and individuals. Some examples include:

· Emprende País: Through the Bolívar Davivienda Foundation, this program strengthens companies with high growth potential by providing business mentoring and support.

·  Social Skin: This award, presented by the Bolivar Davivienda Group annually, supports young entrepreneurs to develop new skills and strengthen their ventures.

·  Mis Finanzas Para Mi Negocio: A portal that can be accessed by entrepreneurs and/or managers who want to be trained in management and digital strategies and tools.  More than 65% of user visits to the My Finance for My Business blog this year were women.

·  PY+: A free content and tools portal for SMEs, with a special focus on helping companies take advantage of new technologies for their business.

·  Cultivarte Family: A program that provides opportunities, closeness, entertainment, and financial inclusion to families and communities in public housing, with women as a large part of the beneficiaries.

·  StartUps Unit – Innovation: A unit that identifies disruptive solutions in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, some of them led by women, to improve our clients’ experiences.

Alliance: Davivienda, always keeping its little red house, is one of the most loved and remembered brands by Colombians. How has Davivienda built such a solid brand? Have you seen any kind of differences in brand perceptions between men and women?

MP: The red house, the consistency in communication, the closeness, simplicity, joy and empathy in everything we say, has allowed us to have one of the most beloved brands by all Colombians. We take care not to present gender stereotypes and maintain the same level of representation for everyone.

The brand was based on our culture and is consistent with what we say and what we do. It is reflected throughout our client touchpoints, products, and experiences. Humor is part of our DNA and this has allowed us to be perceived as an approachable organization people of all ages and backgrounds can identify with. Thanks to our memorable advertising campaign created in 1994, today the phrase “Estar en El Lugar Equivocado” (Being in The Wrong Place) is part of the Colombian culture.

Aliance: Why did Davivienda decide to develop a program that specifically targets women as a strategic priority?

MP: For Davivienda, achieving equity means creating a society in which everyone can advance. Women are the center of families and communities. They manage the budget and family finances, and they play an essential role in society. By empowering them, we are multiplying the opportunities for the country to progress.

55% of personal banking products are held by women compared to 45% by men. Thus, we see opportunities to close gender gaps by designing inclusive products and services that help women to achieve objectives.

Alliance: What is your vision for the program going forward?

MP: We aim to continue developing solutions that enable women’s access to financial services and empower them to achieve their goals through equity and investment. In families: to manage their budgets and help them build assets so they can own a home. In the rural areas: to help their farms grow. In businesses: to boost their income. In education: to achieve financial well-being and other goals.

Alliance: Davivienda also has a very important commitment to sustainability. How have you incorporated the gender issue into this approach?

MP: As part of a commitment by senior management, we participate in the Presidential Advisory Council of Colombian Entrepreneurs led by the Vice Presidency of the Republic and the Presidential Council for Equity for Women. One of the objectives of this Advisory Council is to provide broad regional representation of leading female entrepreneurs from all 32 Colombian states so that women leaders are able to support other female entrepreneurs in their region and across the country. 

Alliance: Less than a month ago, Davivienda announced the issuance of the first social bond with a gender focus using incentives linked to objectives, structured by IDB Invest. Why did Davivienda decide to access the capital markets with a gender bonus?

MP: Through its operational model, Davivienda seeks to generate innovative and sustainable value propositions for customers. Its programs and projects are aligned with shared value, addressing social and environmental problems based on its business model. This is how Davivienda, together with IDB Invest, decided to issue the first social bond with a gender focus in the country. 

As the bank’s president, Efraín Forero, explains, “this is part of the strategy to continue promoting women SMEs and their financing through VIS (housing) loans. The bond aims to expand the customer base with a full value offer, and, as part of our women’s banking strategy, it will seek to finance the homes of a greater number of women and generate added-values to meet the needs of this segment.”

Alliance: What kind of adaptations to your products or processes have you had to implement as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on women? What have been the most important learnings from this period?

MP: Davivienda is committed to supporting communities, families, clients, employees. We have offered credits, relief, digital innovations and contributions in food, health and subsidies throughout all of Colombia.

·  Municipalities and communities: Grupo Bolívar Davivienda delivers food to 1,000,000 affected families, makes donations to 31 health institutions to strengthen their PPE, and insures 2,184 employees of our suppliers.

·  Customers: We have changed the loan conditions with exemptions, grace periods, payment extensions, and restructurings, which are easily accessed from home, without impacting the client’s risk or risk rating.

·  Business: We granted more than US $242 million in commercial and personal loans backed by the National Guarantee Fund to 8,000 small businesses and 26,000 self-employed clients, with the objective of financing payroll payments, working capital needs, or personal expenses (for independent workers). Independent workers are able to apply, get approved and receive their fund disbursement in 5 minutes.

·  Women Entrepreneurs: The OPEC Fund for International Development Fund granted Davivienda a subordinated loan of US $50 million that will be used to support women entrepreneurs with small and medium-sized enterprises and promote home ownership and sustainable projects.

·  National and local governments: DaviPlata has lent its platform to deliver more than 9 million subsidies and aid payments to the most vulnerable populations. Most of the beneficiaries are single mothers or mothers across 1,100 municipalities.


Alliance: What have been the most important lessons of this period (Covid-19)?

MP: The world changed with the pandemic. The way we relate to banking and money is no exception. Firstly, mobile banking and digital wallets are critical to meet the needs of people in this new reality. Digital transformation in our countries is well underway. People, regardless of age, are increasingly managing their payments, purchases and credit.  

We have been working for some years to break down the barriers between banks and money  by strengthening our digital offerings, Davivienda Móvil and DaviPlata. We seek to refine our mobile offering so that all Colombians, including women, become active and independent users with the ability to acquire and manage financial products, and ultimately to meet their objectives in terms of asset-building, daily needs, and effective financial management.

During the pandemic, we have had the opportunity to support government delivering subsidies, helping to bank and manage the finances of a significant percentage of Colombians during these difficult times.

We recognize the importance of using technology and innovation to support society. As such, Davivienda financed and contributed to the development of the “Doctora Julia” app: an effective complement to COVID-19 diagnostic and severity-level classification. The app uses chest CT scans of possible COVID-positive patients to provide results in just 5 minutes and with a high degree of certainty. This platform, free and open access, was created by Davivienda’s in-house innovation and AI experts, whose knowledge of financial solutions was the basis for the algorithm that supports it.


Alliance: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated “future of work” trends in many parts of the world – trends that can benefit or create obstacles for women. What is Davivienda’s vision regarding the “future of work”? How are they adapting to this new reality?

MP:During the pandemic, we reinvented ourselves to ensure the care, closeness and well-being of our employees and their families. We developed tools for remote work: VPN access and laptops to promote connectivity and use of collaborative tools (G-Suite). We helped our employees and leaders to carry out their work in this new reality with protocols, leadership tools, training, and more, in order to encourage productivity and a healthy work-life balance.

We are developing different initiatives that seek to capitalize on learnings from the crisis. A special team is designing a work modality for the medium-term once the pandemic is over, which will include face-to-face, remote and flexible options depending on risk exposures, strategies to help employees strengthen management skills in different work modalities, adapt employees’ alternative work spaces, and adopt of flexible hours.

Alliance: As a woman leader in the financial sector, what recommendations could you provide to women interested in advancing their careers in the sector?

MP: We who work in the financial sector can contribute to the economy, as well as enable companies of all sizes, local governments, and families build their wealth. One can use knowledge, technology and proximity to understand how businesses and countries work.

A woman can contribute to the sector with her ability to see and understand things holistically. That is precisely what is needed in a sector that supports all actors of an economy and a society to achieve their dreams of wealth and value creation.

Women have the ability to see life holistically – we have the ability to learn, listen and put things into practice. As an engineer, I see the opportunity of leveraging STEM-related training courses and careers to combine knowledge, science, and the financial world to develop solutions to help make people’s daily lives easier and support projects and companies that make our country stronger.

My recommendation for all those women who want to advance themselves professionally is to have passion for what they do and be part of a sector that has a very important role in society.

Alliance: How did you hear about the Financial Alliance for Women? Why did you decide to join the Alliance?

MP: Through some of our partners, we learned about this great initiative. A group from the bank had the opportunity to participate in the All Stars Academy in Ecuador, where we learned about the impact, the best practices, and the members.

Being part of the Alliance represents a great opportunity for Davivienda  not only to learn global best practices and incorporate them into our strategy; but also to be able share our experiences in a way that allows us all to close the gender gaps. 

In the Alliance and the mentoring relationships it provides, we see a great path that will lead us to learn from experts who have already had a long journey, allowing us to leverage Davivienda’s strategic gender approach as a fundamental pillar in our development and contribution to the country.


At a glance                                 As of December 2019

No. of Employees:

% of employees that are female:

No. of Clients: 14 Million 

% of clients that are female:  

Loan portfolio (retail banking and SMEs): 
US $15 billion

Loan portfolio (women): 38%

Deposits (retail banking and SMEs):
US $7 billion

Deposits (women): 35%