This article is part of our coverage of Net Impact 2012. To follow along, visit this page.
By Erica Schlaikjer
Her company, currently working in India, is trying to change that with a product called InSight, an accounting tool that works through SMS to help low-income individuals and business owners do basic accounting and financial tracking. Within 15 days, the tool creates a unique credit score and links qualified users to various financial institutions to help them obtain capital, such as personal loans or insurance.
Instead of merely pitching the standard benefits of accounting, like driving sales or increasing savings, inVenture goes a step further and links customers to other consumer products, in hopes of improving “financial inclusion” for entrepreneurs seeking a way out of debt and poverty.
“It’s about empowering the user to do this themselves,” Siroya said. “It gives people a choice of financial products and creates a competitive and transparent financial ecosystem.”
She shared her observations about revolutionizing the financial services sector in a panel discussion on “Mobile Technologies in Development: Opportunities to Engage the Private Sector” at the 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore.
With her company’s SMS tool still in open beta, one thing stands out so far: “Women are getting the product much faster than men,” Siroya said.
She noticed marked differences between the men and women in her company’s “ecosystem:”
1.) Buy-in. Women perform fewer errors when learning how to use the tool, so much so that inVenture has organized separate follow-up trainings specifically for men.
Siroya attributes this to greater buy-in and ownership. “When we’re doing trainings for new users, women with children are often there, so they’re learning together,” Siroya said. “Because the tool is improving the household, I think women take more initiative to actually pay attention and learn.”
2.) Openness. The tool tracks daily revenue and expenses to help people manage their money. “Women are more likely to be open about it,” Siroya said. “They don’t necessarily think, oh, ‘this could make me pay higher taxes,’ or ‘I’m unlicensed or unidentified.’ They think, ‘If this is going to get me from Point A to Point B to help my family, I will be willing to use this tool.'”
3.) Motivation. “For men, it’s more about recognition,” Siroya said. inVenture sends periodic text messages to users, giving them a countdown of when to expect to receive their credit score, and providing them with a certificate of completion at the end. Men responded with higher usage rates, whereas women didn’t seem to care.
4.) Connection. inVenture develops its own sales teams, relying on local sales agents to go out into the community and acquire new customers—a skill that seems to come more naturally for women. Nearly all 100 of inVenture’s local agents are women; five men were just recently hired. The company adjusted its payment models to appeal to both groups differently. Women are commission-based, receiving commissions for every sign-up, plus additional bonuses based on retention rates. On the other hand, men are salary-based, with 80 percent of their fee fixed, and 20 percent on commission.
Closing the gap:
Despite inVenture’s appeal to women, there is still a significant gender gap in the use of mobile technology in developing countries.
A woman in low- and middle-income countries is 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, according to the report, “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity,” by GSMA Development Fund, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Vital Wave Consulting. In these countries, there are 300 million fewer female than male subscribers, representing a $13 billion revenue opportunity to mobile operators. In India, specifically, less than 30 percent of all Indian women own a mobile phone.
Innovative companies like inVenture may help fill that void, showing how a phone can be a lot more than just a device, but rather, an entry point into financial literacy, independence and wealth.
Erica Schlaikjer, based in Washington, D.C., is the founder of Benevolent Media, a media and events company dedicated to celebrating storytelling and design for good. You can follow Erica and ask her questions on Twitter: @eschlaik and @benevolentmedia
Image courtesy inVenture.