Wednesday 13th March 2013
Among the most satisfying aspects of my new role as the Alliance’s CEO is the chance it gives me to see the value of our members’ collective wisdom through others’ eyes. Last month I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Small Business Banking Network in Tanzania, a market where, like much of East Africa, women business owners face serious barriers to financial access. The conference participants for the most part were executives from banks with good capacity to serve the small and medium enterprise segment but lacking expertise in the women’s market. First they listened as Tanzanian women SME owners, who might otherwise have been valuable customers, spoke about the barriers created by banks who insist upon a property title — an asset women are often barred by law or by custom from possessing — as collateral.
Then fellow East African bank dfcu of Uganda presented some of their creative workarounds, including a land loan designed for women under which the bank itself holds title to the land until the loan is paid off. This elegant solution to the woman-specific collateral problem was of course already familiar to the many Alliance members (see below) in the audience – you may remember that dfcu’s presentation at the Sydney 2011 Annual Summit (password required) had included mention of their woman’s land loan. But it was news to most of the others, and the experience served as a reminder of the leadership position the Alliance occupies in our field — and of our collective power to fuel the female economy by sharing what we know.
As noted, the Alliance had a major presence at the SBBN conference. Along with myself and dfcu, Tanzania Women’s Bank, New Faces, New Voices, Selfina, Diamond Bank, BLC Lebanon and Royal Bank of Scotland all attended, the latter three presenting their own women’s market strategies. Programmatic details vary from market to market, but among the universals: a successful women’s market program is rarely a product fix. All programs need to offer access to information, education and networking opportunities for women. And perhaps most important, there must be absolute buy-in from the top leadership of the bank.
That buy-in should grow in size and strength as the business case for serving women is becoming ever clearer. En route to Tanzania, I stopped in Istanbul for the Sustainability Day conference hosted by Alliance sponsor IFC. The female economy was a topic of great interest at the Istanbul conference, and several prominent banks from the Middle East and Gulf regions expressed interest in joining the Alliance to help them launch or strengthen women’s market programs.
Selin Oz from Alliance member bank Garanti also spoke at the IFC conference, and my time in Istanbul gave me the opportunity to meet with her and the rest of the Garanti team who will be hosting this year’s Summit (see related story). We could hardly ask for a more vibrant setting than the city of Istanbul itself and Garanti’s SALT conference center, with its architecturally and historically significant structure combined with state-of-the-art modern technology. We will be launching on-line Summit registration in the next two weeks, and I encourage you to make your travel arrangements early to take advantage of the preferential rates Garanti has secured at hotels close to SALT.
We are expecting strong and enthusiastic turnout and that’s important not least because we will host a policy forum under the G20 initiative to support access to finance for SMEs. While in Africa, I was able to meet in person with the leadership of our newest member, Uganda’s Centenary Bank (see related story), with the top leadership and advisory council at dfcu, and with Bank of Africa-Uganda who are poised to launch a new program specifically aimed at woman SME owners this year. All of them, like all the network members I have met or spoken with in recent weeks, are planning a major presence in Istanbul.
The Summit will also provide the venue for the official launch of Winning Women’s Wealth (working title), the Alliance’s first-ever “how-to” guide for banks interested in capturing greater share of the female economy. Some of the valuable material in Winning Women’s Wealth will be reserved as a benefit of membership in the Alliance, and some of it will be made publicly available. But this book represents a milestone in the Alliance’s evolution, and will contribute substantially to the global state of practice — and towards reinforcing the Alliance’s leadership position.
See you in Istanbul, if not before.
Inez Murray, Chief Executive Officer
Global Banking Alliance for Women