Network News: June 2020

Every month, the Financial Alliance for Women publishes a roundup of the latest updates from network partners and members. Take a look at what’s new below:

Business Response to COVID-19

Members of The Financial Alliance for Women across the globe have stood out in their regions for their readiness to cope with COVID-19 since they already had non-financial services, digital solutions and flexible working initiatives in place as part as their women-centered strategies. Here’s a glimpse of how our members are taking bold action to support their customers, employees, and communities during the global pandemic.

Members continued to offer financial solutions designed to support their customers through the pandemic, and in several cases, they’re extending existing measures. For example, as a sign of solidarity towards its client, Banco Nacional in Costa Rica carried out a second stage of extensions on loans until December 2020 as part of its Together at Sunrise program.

Similarly, under a Central Bank of Lebanon initiative, BLC Bank, Lebanon extended a number of measures to support SMEs and women in business, such as rescheduling existing loans and granting new loans with a period of up to five years at zero-percent interest to finance salaries and operational expenses of affected companies.

Itaú in Brazil developed a Financial Health Plan that includes initiatives such as an emergency credit line for payroll, postponing maturities of loans, new conditions of payment for individuals and enterprises, and partnerships for early transfer of receivables to bars and restaurants.

City Bank, Bangladesh provided special discounts on services for cardholders and partnered with electronic companies to allow cardholders to purchase electronic products at 0% interest rates.

Adapting Non-financial Services for the “New Normal

Alliance members have moved their non-financial services offer to virtual channels, added new formats to try to re-create the best of in-person experience and changed content to help their customers thrive through these difficult times.

Banistmo in Panama has focused on topics such as finance, economy, innovation, marketing and negotiation and has trained more than 700 women since April.

Similarly, RBS/NatWest, UK launched a series of webinars called “Survive & Thrive Through COVID” in collaboration with its partners and regional experts on a range of topics including financial management and adapting business models.

City Bank knowledge-sharing topics included “Digital Marketing and Social Media” aimed at sharpening women’s skills in digital marketing, while their “Fighting COVID-19: Experiences and Lessons from Survivors” featured three women who shared the stories of their battles with COVID-19.

Bank al Etihad in Jordan is turning the tables with the launch of their ‘Meet the Expert’ series in which five female entrepreneurs sit in a virtual room with an expert on a particular topic.

Itaú has ramped up its on-line mentoring program for small businesses and offered content to support female entrepreneurs through its Itaú Mulher Empreendedora program.

BanRegio in Mexico adapted their mentoring program to an ‘express’ version, reducing the number of sessions from 14 to 3; moved their in-person trainings to virtual sessions and are supporting eNetworking through their newsletter to clients.

Members have also made extra efforts to listen to their customers’ needs during this time, with lots of surveys to test the pulse and understand how to adapt their value propositions going forward. For example, to help employees understand clients’ challenges, RBS/NatWest invited their business-women customers to share their stories with employees of the bank in a series of meetings.  

Banistmo ran a virtual survey with 50 businesswomen to better understand their changing needs due to the pandemic. The bank plans to extend the survey to SMEs led by women. And Bank al Etihad is currently surveying business-women customers to understand their needs going forward.

All members report a ramp up in both internal and external communication efforts as key to mitigate the pandemic.

BLC Bank created an awareness campaign around COVID-19 across its network.

G&T Continental, Guatemala reinforced its internal communication to support the health and well-being of all employees and their families.

Itaú also raised awareness on safety via internal and external communication channels, as well as guidelines for customers to request emergency assistance from the government. The bank also held daily live sessions for business owners through its social media channels and provided incentives for consumers to buy from small companies.

Banistmo supported female-owned businesses by promoting their products and services on its communication channels, including special offers for its clients.

And, of course, the health and well-being of employees and customers continued to be top of mind for Alliance members.

City Bank provided a health card and discounts at selected hospitals and diagnostic clinics across Bangladesh to its customers. The bank also upgraded the life insurance policy included with its City Alo savings accounts to cover deaths due to COVID-19 and has provided video consultation services with doctors (telemedicine).

AXA in France has also supported access to telemedicine services in a number of countries through strategic partnerships. This modality significantly reduces transaction costs for both the client and the provider, increases affordability and is more responsive to the immediate needs of the client.

As with all members, G&T Continental put hygiene and social distancing measures in branches and offices and launched its Contigo Program with a panel of mental health experts addressing issues related to managing emotions in times of COVID-19. The voluntary program extends online live sessions to all employees and their families, accompanied by a sign language interpreter. It also provides psychotherapy sessions for specific situations in groups or individually, according to need. Topics include emotional alerts for issues such as domestic violence. 

Many members are looking after their communities, for example, Itaú set up the Todos pela Saúde (All for Health) initiative with a R$1 billion initial donation for COVID-19 relief efforts in Brazil.

Supporting Women Business Owners In the New Normal

Members have shared great progress in their women’s markets programs and are creating new programs and partnerships to adapt to the new normal. Here are some examples.

BLC Bank launched two new partnerships to help accelerate women’s access to finance: Lebanon Enterprise and Employment Program (LEEP) and Lebanon Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Finance Facility (LEEREFF).

The bank launched LEEP alongside the UK Embassy in Lebanon, the Department for International Development (DFID) and Palladium to support SMEs in growing their businesses. Through this program, the bank reached more than 90 SMEs (about 18% women-owned), dispersed USD$1,4M, and created more than 260 jobs.

The bank joined the LEEREFF program launched by the Central Bank of Lebanon with the support of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Agence Française de Développement (AFD) to provide credit facilities at low cost to enterprises willing to invest in sustainable energy projects.

Access Bank in Nigeria introduced its W Cares program, a dedicated women-only help desk that caters to enquiries from female customers and provides feedback on all women-focused products and services.

Access’ Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton Africa, is in its second season, is designed for budding women-owned SMEs in Africa who desire to grow. Businesses that successfully pass the screening will qualify to attend the exclusive Mini-MBA program developed with International Finance Corporation (IFC) and have a chance to win grants from Access Bank.

Women-owned SMEs also now have access to discounted website creation from Access Bank. For as low as $50, the bank can create a fully functional website to expose a business to e-commerce solutions and new markets.

Access Bank reports that more than 8,000 female entrepreneurs and professionals have attended business development webinars through their partnership with the IFC and the Affirmative Financial Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA).

Meanwhile, Santander Argentina reports that their Santander Women initiative has reached over 6,000 women to-date through networking events, financial products designed for women, a financing line with a preferential rate of 29 percent for SMEs, discounts on trainings, digital marketing and exclusive promotions on their Women credit card.

The bank also provides tools such as Aula Virtual Women, a web platform with training and business tools for entrepreneurs and professionals.

#ComunidadWomen is the bank’s virtual space dedicated to female entrepreneurs on its digital channels. The bank has a reach of more than 615,000 followers on Facebook and 134,000 on Instagram, where female entrepreneurs can promote their projects and boost their sales.

Gisela Babbaro, Product Manager at Santander Argentina’s Product and Segment Management Department, highlighted the importance of taking advantage of the Bank’s networks to provide visibility to clients. “We want to accompany women and be their bank, and we seek to enhance their businesses so that they grow financially,” she said.

Most recently, on June 23, the International Day of Women in Engineering, Santander Women joined the National Technological University (UTN) in the launch of the Ada Byron Awards to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs in technology and reduce the gender gap in the STEM sector.

Banco Nacional recently launched an SME Fan movement to support and give exposure to local businesses. The initiative included an advertising campaign, “Pyme Fan Challenge,” on social networks, with posts by influencers promoting purchases from SMEs, client videos, and sponsored appearances on television and digital.

The movement also has a dedicated website offering information on the various supports available for SMEs. It also allows users to find SMEs through a directory and buy products and services from them online through the Pyme store using the Banco Nacional payment gateway.