In a bid to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the financial sector, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) introduced the ‘Banking on Equality' initiative on Friday.
Pakistan President Arif Alvi in his address said women empowerment cannot be achieved without financial and digital empowerment, adding that no society can make progress until disparity is removed.
Expressing satisfaction over the contribution of the banking sector, Alvi said more efforts are needed.
Banking on Equality is SBP's attempt to reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion. It aims to transform the banking sector through the adoption of women-friendly business policies and practices.
“Today is a very historic day for the State Bank of Pakistan and for the financial institutions that we regulate,” said SBP Deputy Governor Sima Kamil in her address. “I hope and pray that this proves to be a historic day for the women of Pakistan as they move towards financial inclusion and the realisation of their potential.”
Talking about the reasons behind the program, the deputy governor said that financial inclusion is a right of every Pakistani citizen and “it's also very important if we want to progress and overcome challenges”.
Kamil said that while progress has been made the general gap is sadly growing rather than narrowing. Sharing some figures, Kamil said that in January 2020, 29% of adult women in Pakistan had bank accounts compared to 81% men. “In December of 2020, 33% of women had bank accounts while the percentage of men grew over 90%, so the gap is growing and we have an issue and it is a problem”.
She said that as per the central bank research the reason is not that women do not want to open bank accounts. “Looking at our research, both domestic and international, what we have concluded is that being gender-neutral is simply not enough.”
The former UBL CEO said that banks do not discriminate between men and women while offering their services and products, “but is that proven to be enough? Clearly not.”
“As a regulator, we have decided to be gender intentional and we will have to find ways and we have to compel a focus in the banks to provide women the financial services which suit their needs, and make their environment conducive to women customers.”
Kamil said that there are five key pillars of the said program -- gender diversity in financial institutions and access points i.e. branches, call centers, etc to encourage women towards formal financial services; Women-centric products that cater to women‘s financial needs specifically while increasing financial literacy and awareness about women-centric product offerings; Women’s champions and specialised resources at all customer touchpoints for better customer experience; Robust collection of gender-disaggregated data and target setting for informed policy interventions and post launch monitoring & evaluation; Policy forum on gender and finance to prioritise women’s financial inclusion, drive the agenda forward, and increase buy-in from multiple stakeholders for added momentum.
Kamil added that women are willing, but are not part of the banking sector.
“I believe that there are three reasons behind it, first of all, we should welcome the women customers, second, value the women customers as they can boost your business and will improve the atmosphere and lastly respect the woman customer,” she concluded.
Sharing his thoughts on women's financial inclusion, SBP Governor Dr Reza Baqir said that “it is the right of a human being as far as financial inclusion is concerned.”
Comparing the statistics regarding the percentage of adult women having bank accounts in different Muslim countries, Baqir said that in Saudi Arabia the figure stands at 70%, UAE it is 76%, Turkey 54%, Iran 92%, and Malaysia 82%.
He said the central bank held several consultative sessions with both local and international partners involved in the area of promoting women's financial inclusion.
Baqir added that advancements in branchless banking have played a significant role in improving access to finance for people from various socio economic backgrounds, without the added cost of setting up brick and mortar structures. As a result, as of December 2020, 62% of adults have a bank account, showing a significant growth from 45% in 2017. Under the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), a target was set to ensure that at least 20 million women must have active bank account by 2023.
However, despite overall growth in financial inclusion, the gender gap has continued to persist.
The SBP governor showed confidence that this initiative would also help in achieving SBP’s financial inclusion objectives by bringing the excluded segments of the society in the formal banking sector.