Data-Rich, Gender Data-Poor: Why Financial Service Providers Need to Use Gender Data

Stephanie Oula June 26, 2019

It is not yet lunchtime on a Monday and a quick glance of my recent financial history in the last twenty-four hours shows that I have paid two utility bills from my checking account; ordered tea at my usual coffee shop on my debit card; split a wedding gift with a friend on a mobile payment app; and received a credit card refund on a dress I returned over the weekend. I know this all happened and my financial service providers (FSPs)—from my banks to my payment platforms—know, too.

We live in an information-rich era—where companies, including FSPs, increasingly have vast amounts of detailed data on our behaviors, preferences, and incomes, including when and where we work, travel, shop, and eat.

Paradoxically, while they might know all this granular information about me, they may not know whether I identify as a woman or a man.

Having data—but not gender data—about me makes it more challenging for FSPs to take a gender-responsive client-centric approach and develop and offer products and services that meet my specific needs, preferences, and behaviors.

Gender-neutral banking has resulted in high levels of dissatisfaction among women due to gender differences and gaps in access to financial services. It is only by collecting and using gender data that FSPs and policymakers have been able to address these gaps.

In some countries, the lack of gender data is due to:

  • A lack of awareness of the importance or utility of gender data;
  • Challenges with management information systems;
  • A perception that collecting gender data about clients could be perceived as potentially discriminatory.

Naturally, we do not want data to be used in discriminatory ways—data privacy and ethics are of the paramount importance.

But how will FSPs actively promote gender-inclusive finance and understand the performance of their women’s market portfolio if they are not disaggregating their own data by sex? How can FSPs create tailored products and services that meet women clients’ needs without the data?

These are the central questions that Data2X’s Women’s Financial Inclusion Data (WFID) Partnership is posing in a series of closed-door roundtables with financial service providers, called the Data Driving Action for Women Dialogue Series.

Emily Courey Pryor addresses financial service providers at the first roundtable in March ’19.

This roundtable series showcases how financial service providers can use gender data to target and expand the women’s market—a potential US $450 billion opportunity. The first roundtable looked at the business case for serving women and took place on the sidelines of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2019. It featured a rich discussion with twenty-five senior representatives from global financial service providers that have made demonstrated commitments to inclusive finance.

The roundtable report captures how participant institutions are reaching and expanding their female client base and using data to do so, from sex-disaggregating data and comparing rates of product usage between women and men to launching dedicated services for women small business owners. Key themes that emerged from the discussion include:

  • Lower-resourced institutions can still be data-informed.
  • Data is most useful as a driver of strategy and to track results.
  • High-level advocacy within the financial services ecosystem can change norms and expand women’s financial inclusion.

The second roundtable of the series took place at the Financial Alliance for Women’s (formerly the Global Banking Alliance for Women) Annual Summit in Paris last week, and  focused on Solutions to Advance Gender Data.

Participants reviewed the importance of sex-disaggregated data for FSPs to target and better serve the women’s market and explored what supply-side data is needed. The discussion examined the challenges that FSPs faced in collecting and using sex-disaggregated customer/portfolio data and looked at potential solutions in overcoming these challenges. A roundtable report with more details is forthcoming.

The Data Driving Action for Women Dialogue Series will continue throughout 2019 with the hope that these catalytic conversations on gender data will ultimately lead to concrete action to advance inclusive finance for women.

Perhaps then, the paradox of the data-rich yet gender data-poor financial services industry can finally be resolved and used to improve women clients’ financial growth and empowerment—including my own.

Want to learn more about the roundtable series? Contact Stephanie Oula at

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