Monday 10th September 2018
GBA recently welcomed Banco Delta of Panama as a member. Founded in 2006, the bank is a leading lender and insurance provider for micro and small businesses in the country. In this interview, Gina Marissa González Espino de Sáenz, Executive Vice President and General Manager, spoke with the Global Banking Alliance for Women about trends in the Women’s Market in Panama and how the bank is supporting women business owners.
GBA: When you started to look into the trends related to the Women’s Market in Panama, what did you find regarding the role of women in the economy, both as business owners and as employees? How does this compare to men?
When we started to look into the data, we found that the trends were quite alarming. Two out of every three Panamanian students are women; however, women’s participation on boards of companies is less than 10 percent. If women are becoming more educated, why are they not better represented in these important positions?
Digging a little deeper, we found that in the Panamanian labor market only one woman is hired for every three men that are hired. In January 2018, for example, 24,000 employment contracts were registered, and only 25 percent of them were women. There seems to be an alarming disparity in the labor market, where it is easier for men to get a job than for women. Women constitute 70 percent of the non-economically active population, which means that the level of unemployment for women is also higher.
The causes of this disparity are complex. First off, the cultural component is very strong: Women have certain obligations around caring for their children and fulfilling household responsibilities, so even though they may be making strong efforts to become more educated, those skills are staying at home. For women who do become employed, there are very few organizations that have flexible work schedules, and transportation is a great challenge in Panama. The time required to commute to work and back home is excessive, so between the working hours and transportation time women must spend many hours away from home, which can be a problem given other obligations. These things affect not just women’s ability to get jobs but also their potential for promotion.
GBA: Over the past 12 years, Banco Delta has become the leading bank in the microenterprise segment in Panama. How did you achieve this success? What kind of financial products do you provide to micro and small businesses?
Our approach for micro and small businesses is specialized and comprehensive. We seek to fulfill the needs of our clients in a holistic way – not only with traditional credit and savings products, but also with other types of financial services such as microinsurance, funeral assistance and health services.
In terms of savings, for example, we found that this segment tends to save either at home or with different organizations for different purposes. We therefore designed a savings product that allows the client to save against goals they establish.
I think it’s also important to note that our employees contribute to our ability to serve this segment. We place great emphasis on finding personnel that reflect our market: We are humble people serving humble people. We hire people who come from the same segments we are serving and who have been able to work their way up.
GBA: What types of non-financial products do you provide to your customers?
We offer a large number of non-financial products. One of the most successful programs we have developed is the Micro/Small Enterprise Consultation Plan, which offers advice for business owners. We also have an alliance with Minimed, a popular network of medical clinics, and for US$5 per month they provide unlimited consultations to the client and two additional beneficiaries. In a context where many of our clients do not have social security and do not have the economic capacity to go to a private clinic, this type of service is extremely valued by our clients. This program has been so successful that Minimed consults us before opening a clinic to see how many clients we have in certain neighborhoods.
We also have several training programs for micro and small businesses that have been developed in formats that are accessible to clients. We developed a three-module training course delivered via booklets on: how to develop a family budget, the importance of savings and responsibility when obtaining a loan. People appreciate the training very much, and we see that women in particular are interested in it. We also give informational talks on several topics relevant to micro and small businesses, such as marketing, how to choose a place to sell, how to exhibit products, customer service, sales topics, social networks, etc.
GBA: According IFC’s Enterprise Survey, 44 percent of MSMEs in Panama are owned by women, but only 4 percent have access to financial services to meet their working capital needs. Why do you think there is such a wide gap?
When we analyzed our database and looked at data from local women-focused institutions, we found that the barriers to financing that women faced were largely due to a lack of collateral. Generally, most collateral is registered to the man of the household, so only he can use it. Credit guarantees are usually not in the woman’s name because, for cultural reasons, financial transactions are typically handled by men.
Another hypothesis that we validated was that women are sometimes more cautious about making these types of commitments. In many cases they are single parents, and they do not want to risk their home’s equity or their children’s quality of life. Because of this, however, they will lack a credit history. This has a snowball effect, making obtaining a formal loan even more difficult.
GBA: How did you find out about the Global Banking Alliance for Women? Why did you decide to join the Alliance? What are your expectations as members of the Alliance?
The IDB told us about the GBA when we first started to look at the Women’s Market. Our main objective is to learn about practices that have already been successful in other institutions. Access to those experiences, and then being able to share ours, is extremely valuable.
We believe that a program with a gender focus will have a great impact on the community and will be of great help for women. I have worked in this sector for 12 years, and it has been an immense change from my prior experience in traditional banking. This area gives you a lot of personal satisfaction, and you know that what you do has a significant impact on the community. With the support of GBA we hope to increase that impact.