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Best Practice: the IFC and Westpac

04 July 2012

Patience Marime-Ball works for the IFC and is based in Washington DC. She describes the organisation she works for as a sort of “cross between JP Morgan and McKinsey: money and advice”. 

More specifically, the IFC describes itself as: “a member of the World Bank Group, the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in developing countries. The IFC creates opportunities for people to escape poverty and improve their lives by providing financing to help businesses employ more people and supply essential services, by mobilizing capital from others, and by delivering advisory services to ensure sustainable development.”

Patience leads the IFC’s efforts to increase investment in financial institutions that are increasing their investments in women owned businesses and in women’s markets in general around the globe in emerging markets. 

Her job, she explains, is to ensure a solid strategy exists to identify institutions that want to move in the direction of connecting with women’s markets and to engage those institutions with the right offering. 

The IFC has been involved in the strategy since 2006. Westpac has a 15-year history with successfully targeting and engaging the women’s market segment. They were always going to meet up and discuss what they have in common and what they do differently.

In Australia as part of the IFC delegation putting together a ‘best practice’ guide for financial institutions that may be looking to target women in emerging markets, Patience had this to say: 

“By analyzing and hearing the stories of the institutions that have been involved with women’s markets, including ourselves, we hope to uncover the key success factors around what it really takes to make a difference. We will then be in a position to help those at the initial stage of their engagement to skirt the mistakes others have made, to address challenges in a more considered way and even perhaps circumvent them.”

There are, according to Patience, three very strong pieces of rationale driving the strategy: the business, the demographic and the social. 

In markets Patience defines as emerging, the reality exists for Financial Institutions to both differentiate themselves as well as take advantage of a market that hasn’t been properly tapped.

The business reasoning

“Our numbers show women entrepreneurs globally own 30-40 percent of the small medium enterprises. 

“If you look at how many of these enterprises have adequate access to finance, you will find they either have none at all or it’s inadequate access. For example, female owned businesses might have a credit-card whereas what they really want is a more long-term style of financial instrument.

“The global average for access to finance for women owned enterprises is about five percent. The opportunity to increase your footprint in this market and make money is huge.”

Demographic reasoning

Around 50 percent of the population is female. Why would an institution ignore half of any population if it wanted to be profitable? 

Social reasoning

“When women have greater control of the finances and are involved in the economic activity of a community and the country, there is more sustained growth of GDP. Women spend money on things that are really important for economic activity. They spend it on the education and the health of their kids. A healthier more educated population provides you with a population that is more able to participate successfully in economic activity.”

Female involvement in economic activity is a development imperative, one that allows economies to grow and better sustain themselves through crises such as the last financial one.

The participation of women in the economy in a strategic, holistic way has a significant impact on a country’s viability not the least of which is the direct relationship between female participation in economic activity and social stability. 

Getting the information out

According to the IFC findings so far, if you are going to provide women with financial opportunities and tools then you must also provide them with the education and information around making the best decision for their business and or family.

Interactive networking sites such as Ruby are fantastic initiatives and at the advanced end of the spectrum. Other tools, Patience explains, include such innovative ideas as using the Telenovela in Latin American countries as a teaching medium.  Telenovela are daytime soaps broadcast 5 or 6 days a week and they have long been used to introduce socio-cultural messages to their audiences by incorporating them into the storyline. The introduction of financial literacy concepts is no different. Of course, the medium is much less interactive than an online networking site would be, but the novel approach is having its impact.