Tuesday 13th August 2013
GBA: How would you describe the current state of financial services for women in Brazil? Any difference in access, quality, or customer experience from that of men?
EF: I would say “state of the art.” At the legal and regulatory level, men and women are completely equal, and similarly, at the institutional level, both men and women are simply regarded as valued clients. That said, we at Itaú know that we can and should “go beyond” for our women clients. They are equal but they are not the same. Even though Brazil does not generally suffer from gender stereotypes or prejudices that may hold women back, our culture is very complex – and women’s lives are much more complex than they were even 50 years ago. Women of my mother’s generation, for example, spent pretty much 100 percent of their time focused on the home. Women today still have the domestic responsibilities but are also pursuing demanding careers and are engaged in the world completely. When your life changes that dramatically, what you need to sustain and support it changes too, including what you need from your bank.
GBA: What kinds of “beyond” products or services does Itaú deliver or plan to deliver to its women clients?
EF: We are currently refining our value proposition for our women clients, but it will stress non-financial services. Itaú has a strong commitment to customer research – we have an in-house department that is also regularly supplemented by outside expert consultants. And we are fortunate as well that IFC and IDB both conduct excellent research which they share. For the past four months, Itaú has been conducting intensive focus group discussions and client psychometric profiling. All of this research, both the field work we are carrying out and the third-party desk research, clearly indicates that our women clients want more. They want advisory services, financial education, networking, and relationship banking generally along with good savings and credit products. On the credit side specifically, we are designing a new model for our clients. This model will be tested for women and men, and from this, we intend to find out if there is any difference between genders related to the score. It is designed to take into account the fact that even though men and women are equal, men have more of a head start just because, as noted, women really only entered the business world in critical mass less than 50 years ago. So the new credit analysis model will look not only at credit history and collateral, but also at the details of the business plans of our women business owners, statistical models of the repayment histories and success rates of comparable small and medium enterprises and also traits such as intelligence, ethics, character, attitude and beliefs.
GBA: Speaking of women-owned businesses, how would you describe Brazilian women’s rates of entrepreneurship? As you probably know, the World Bank ranks Brazil among the top 10 countries in terms of female business ownership. As well, among the top countries with the greatest equality between women and men in establishing new ventures, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor notes that many Latin American countries, including Brazil, now have a gap that is smaller than in the U.S. or anywhere in Europe. Is this reflected in Itau’s experience?
EF: Absolutely. Fifty percent of Itaú’s customer base is women. But women represent 60 percent of our microenterprise owners, and one-third of our small and medium enterprise owners. To put that in absolute terms, since Brazil is such a big market, that means that one million of our bank’s three million total SMEs are owned by women. We have definitely noticed an increase in women’s rates of business ownership and are committed to being their bank of choice: over the next three years, Itaú plans to extend credit lines totaling BRL 1 billion (approx USD 445 million, ed.) to our women business owners. This makes good business sense for Itaú, because again, women are not a niche market: they’re half our total base and one-third our SME base. But it also advances our social goals. When women launch businesses, they are thinking about the social impact both in terms of their own families, especially children’s education, and also community impact, things like good conditions for their employees. For Itaú, in general, it’s “both/and.” Women and men; social return and financial return. There is no room for “either/or.”
GBA: What else can you tell us about Itau’s corporate social responsibility, especially as it relates to women?
EF: As the largest private bank in Brazil, we take seriously our responsibility to the country and to the communities we serve. And we understand that men and women have equal opportunities only when they have the same access to education, culture, and sports, and when the communities where they live offer better services and quality of life. So the four pillars of our Corporate Social Responsibility program are education, culture, sports, and mobility. With Funda‹o Itaú Social and Instituto Unibanco, we work together with federal and local governments to expand the educational system in Brazil. Through Itaú Cultural we support the arts and culture, and work to ensure that more segments of the Brazilian population have access to cultural activities. We invest in sports with partnerships with the Brazilian Soccer Confederation, FIFA and a series of tennis events. And we promote bicycle-sharing programs in four of the countries’ state capitals. Internally, we have programs specifically for women employees’ health, such as an optional two-month extension on maternity leave; a series of talks and psychological follow up for mothers; and a place where mothers can dedicate some time to their children during work hours.
GBA: How about workforce policies? Itau has been ranked one of the best companies to work for in all of Brazil as well as “young people’s dream company.” How do you approach workforce issues, especially in terms of gender equality and women’s advancement?
EF: We treat men and women equally because equality is in the bank’s DNA. For example, along with our deep commitment to gender equality, Itaú today is one of the largest employers of people with special needs in Brazil. In 2008, after the merger between Itaú and Unibanco that gave birth to Itaú Unibanco, there was a large process to establish the new institution’s culture. The result was 10 core values that have helped make Itaú, for men and women equally, a place where people are proud to work.
GBA: What specifically are your hopes for your new membership in the Alliance?
EF: Itaú, from our top executives all through the ranks, has a big commitment to building a successful Women’s Markets program. We have known for some time that we need to do this, and are very excited at finding the Alliance as the vehicle to help make it happen. Along with learning from other banks who have already started down this path and are reaping the rewards, we are looking forward to sharing what we know, too. Brazil is a big and diverse country: we have a huge range of socioeconomic classes, lots of immigrants from all over the world, a strong economy, and a commitment to social progress. So I like to think that Itaú brings a lot to the table. In an industry like banking, where so much of the emphasis is on competitiveness, I think models like the Alliance, that stress joining forces and working cooperatively towards a common goal, are really the way of the future. We are looking forward both to learning and also to sharing what we know.