Engaging Women in Mobile Money Markets

Women are underrepresented as providers and as users of mobile money services in Bangladesh: there are almost no female agents and as of 2017, the gender gap in account usage stood at 29%. Vandewalle, Giné and Goldberg will conduct an RCT to evaluate two interventions that interfere with the supply and demand of mobile financial services for women. The project has three specific objectives. First, the researchers will estimate the differential economic impact of hiring male and female mobile banking agents on workers and on business development. Second, the project allows studying the effect of experiencing female employment on attitudes towards female labour force participation. Finally, they will test whether limited access to female agents forms a gender-specific constraint to being a mobile money customer, to account usage and to taking up loans.

At the supply side, the researchers collaborate with bKash - a major provider of mobile money - to increase the number of women working as mobile money agents. To do so, businesses will receive a subsidy to hire an employee to manage the bKash transactions. The stores will be randomly allocated to one of three groups: control, male employee, or female employee. On the demand side, they will collaborate with BRAC to study the digitisation of microfinance loan repayments by female clients. To do so, BRAC will identify 90 branches that will be randomly allocated to one of three arms: control, voluntary digitisation or mandatory digitisation. Microfinance groups covered by branches in the voluntary digitisation arm will decide whether to reimburse loans in cash or whether they prefer to repay their loans using mobile money. The groups in the control arm will continue reimbursing in cash, and those in the mandatory arm will be required to repay their loans using mobile money. The cross randomisation of these two interventions lets us test whether female agents increase access for female customers.

Improving the effectiveness of financial services targeting women and female micro-entrepreneurs in particular is a key policy question. This reseach can contribute to policymaking in this area in several ways. First, the digitisation of loan reimbursements will naturally increase the pool of women who have mobile money accounts and who gain experience using them. This will positively influence account usage, which the literature shows is economically empowering. This may also impact loan usage by women and influence female led businesses in particular. Second, encouraging the wider employment of women as mobile money agents may create opportunities for other women – and not only for BRAC clients - to use mobile money. Third, the direct employment of women in this project may change attitudes and reduce barriers to female labour force participation.


Lore Vandewalle

The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Xavier Giné

World Bank

Jessica Goldberg

University of Maryland