Globally, the role of women in economies is on the rise, requiring a specialised response to their financial service needs. The challenges in Africa in this regard are even more pronounced, with many economies still grappling with development and cultural issues, such as the belief that women’s financial needs are the same as men’s.
A global Boston Consulting Group (BCG) inquiry of more than 12 000 women throughout 21 countries and socioeconomic classes refutes the above misconception; it found 73% of women were unhappy with current levels of financial service and would switch to providers that understood them better.
This raises a powerful argument for organisational shifts to retain and attract female customers. According to BCG, one billion women participate in the global workforce today and this is expected to increase to 1.2 billion over the next five years. Unfortunately, levels of female financial inclusion into formal economies are not increasing fast enough; over a billion women worldwide are still excluded.
An African-focused Standard Bank study conducted in 2015 reflects this trend: the percentage of female business ownership declined the bigger the business. Among smaller businesses (below R10 million turnover), women owned a stake in as much as 60% of these businesses. This dropped to 46% in the bracket up to R300 million, and again to 27% among businesses with a turnover of up to R1.2 billion.
While some countries are making strides towards promoting women leaders, progress remains generally slow on the whole. A 2017 Oliver Wyman study placed South Africa fourth globally at 27% executive committee membership of women in the financial services sector. However, in most countries, women representation at the top remains below 25%.
As the bank committed to Africa’s long-term growth, we acknowledge the significance of this challenge. As such, at a group-wide level, we support women and their businesses, while encouraging the appointment of more women leaders internally. Externally, we’re involved in numerous initiatives that facilitate women’s success at a corporate, entrepreneurial and financial level.
For example, our involvement in the Top Women Awards is an extension of our support for female-led businesses and businesswomen throughout all sectors. Likewise, the Standard Bank Business Incubator supports various female-focused initiatives, the main one being The Lioness Lean In Programme. By sponsoring “Lean In” events, we encourage entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs to reach for their full, inherent potential. Through panel discussions and talks hosted by financial experts, participants at our Women’s Wealth Academy not only learn the fundamentals of investing and raising money-wise families, but discover their personal strength.
Bolder and more far-reaching structural solutions are needed to close the gaps in the provision of financial services for women. While there is still a long road ahead, it’s incumbent on all businesses to set realistic targets to make changes in the provision of their services.