Building an Inclusive Digital Ecosystem: Designing Digital Financial Services Products with Women in Mind.

Building an Inclusive Digital Ecosystem: Designing Digital Financial Services Products with Women in Mind.

Women in Nigeria often face unique challenges and barriers when it comes to accessing and using financial services. The percentage population of women in Nigeria as at 2021, was around 49.47% according to studies by the World Bank. Designing products with women at the center helps bridge the gender gap by catering to their specific needs, preferences, and constraints as It can enable greater financial inclusion and empower women economically.

In 2022, the Digital Kaduna Lab launched a Gender Report highlighting findings on the use of Digital Financial Services by women in Kaduna State and one of these findings revealed the need to adopt a human-centred design approach while developing digital financial products for women. To see the full research, you can find this here.

With this in mind and as part of the Lab’s mission in building an inclusive digital ecosystem in Kaduna State,  we organized a  Developer Meetup, on the 29th of April 2023 which brought together stakeholders across the value chain of creating products or services that promote the use of digital financial services. From developers, UX designers, product designers, representatives from financial institutions and policy enthusiasts, this diverse group met to discuss and highlight the importance of designing with a gender-inclusive lens, particularly considering women’s usage and needs. This blog post will cover the key events, discussions and findings from the meetup. 

The meetup featured a keynote speech and panel discussion with; Dave Nnamdi – Cofounder of Yaada & Software Engineer, Katherine Igiezele – UI/UX Writer at Toptal, Miracle Agada – Product Designer & Founder at Gova, Mudia Imasuen – Product Designer & Founder at ShareSell (Virtual) as panelists and Fatima Polit – Gender Expert & Manager at UBA, who delivered the Keynote Address. 

Sanusi Ismaila, the founder of CoLab, who has been actively involved in driving the adoption of digital financial services among women across Kaduna State, gave his opening remarks illustrating the ease with which women are excluded when financial products are designed without adequate consideration for their circumstances. By incorporating women’s perspectives and requirements into the design process, Sanusi emphasized the potential for financial products to make a transformative impact on their lives, ultimately improving the overall quality of the economy—an objective closely aligned with the activities of DFS Lab and CoLab.

Fatima Polit, the keynote speaker and a  Gender Expert and Manager at UBA  stated that the financial needs of women significantly differ from those of men. Backed by compelling data, she emphasized that women constitute 49.5% of the Nigerian population and often hold the primary responsibility for managing household finances. She also highlighted that women comprise 23% of SME business owners and 40% of Nigerian entrepreneurs. Speaking on the challenges faced by women seeking to enter the formal financial system, Fatima highlighted, that many of these women do not possess personal bank accounts, and the mere notion of owning one seemed beyond their reach. Sim card ownership, a crucial component of Know Your Customer (KYC) documentation was also lacking among these women.

The subsequent session featured an engaging panel discussion with Dave Nnamdi, Katherine Igiezele, Mudia Imasuen, and Miracle Agada, all of whom have played integral roles in the development of financial products in Nigeria, The panel’s objective was to address a series of compelling questions:

  1. What gaps have they identified in DFS (Digital Financial Services) products that impede easy access and usage by women?
  2. How does the pursuit of financial inclusion inspire their creative process when designing financial services?
  3. Can they share design best practices that have facilitated the seamless accessibility and usage of DFS by women?
  4. As developers/designers, have they conducted any research specifically aimed at driving women to use financial services? If so, they were asked to discuss their findings. If not, they were asked to explain the reasons behind this decision.
  5. Platform livelihoods, particularly through e-commerce and social commerce solutions, have been pivotal in empowering women economically, enabling them to engage in digital transactions such as receiving payments. The panel was asked to elaborate on how they have designed their platforms to target women and identify any challenges encountered in onboarding women to their platforms.

 

Mudia, the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Sharesell, a marketplace platform connecting suppliers and resellers mentioned the initiatives carried out by his team to actively assist women in launching businesses on their platform with zero capital whilst relying  relying solely on internet access rather than bank accounts. Sharesell is also striving to provide enticing services to women, such as the ability to purchase health insurance using profits earned on the platform, and subsequently facilitating the seamless opening of bank accounts and also utilizing feedback by these women to build women-oriented products. 

Miracle, the co-founder of GovaHQ, which focuses on alternative payment networks for Africans utilizing biometric identifiers and technology, explained that, similar to Mudia’s business model, their platform relies on BVNs (Bank Verification Numbers) or NINs (National Identification Numbers) to create accounts. To make the process easier for women, Miracle’s team is implementing Agency banking (Ajoor) to target more women and assist them in creating accounts on their platform. He also mentioned the work his team is doing to identify areas where women require assistance such as , partnering with microfinance banks to provide access to loans while using their platform, thereby creating opportunities specifically tailored to women within the platform.

Katherine, a UX Researcher and Writer at Toptal described her role in conducting comprehensive research to understand how DFS solutions impact women in various aspects, including demographics, psychology, culture, and socio-economic characteristics. This research enables product designers to make more informed decisions when designing for women. Some of the best practices Katherine has adopted include thorough research and the creation of simple interactions tailored to women’s needs, translating product languages into languages they understand and speak, introducing simpler KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements such as biometrics and voice recognition instead of utility bills, and investing heavily in customer support to aid women in utilizing financial products.

Dave, the co-founder of Yaada, a company at the forefront of revolutionizing the finance industry through technology, highlighted that his company has developed exclusive products for women, leveraging simplicity and other advantageous features. 

 

In order to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach in co-creating and sharing insights on best practices to consider when designing products with women in mind, we engaged the audience in a live-survey exercise to understudy their contributions.. Out of the 30 attendees, 14 people responded and shared their thoughts on inclusivity when building for women. 

On Design Flaws that Hinder women from using DFS: Three people cited cultural differences, three people said that there was no exclusivity when designing for women, and one person did not know much about design flaws. Other responses included limited accessibility, lack of awareness and technical knowledge about digital technology, technical terms used and complexities of the products, and designs with no option for the local language of the women.

On Design flaws that could be improved: Two people said that more research should be put in place to study how women use these products. Other notable responses were reducing clicks and improving the user experience, using multiple agent networks, setting up proper PR on fintech, reducing the barrier to entry, simplicity when designing products, taking into account the culture of the target users, using biometrics as sign in/sign up methods, and giving them access to financial needs e.g access to loans and other incentives to encourage them to use the products.

On Features that should be taken into account when designing DFS products: The respondents also shared the opinion  that certain features should be taken into consideration when designing for women such as a callback feature, the thumbprint feature, adding options to translate services into local languages, customer service features in their language, rewards and incentives.

On Limitations or practices employed by existing DFS products that hinder easy access to DFS by women: respondents listed assumptions made by DFS providers that women know how to use their products without conducting proper surveys, limited or poor internet in rural areas, tedious onboarding processes, product features are not granular, the use of Android/ios to access DFS when most of the women do not have access to smartphones, replacing local best practices with global best practices, and features that require mostly details from men.

 On design practices that product designers and/or developers should consider when designing DFS solutions that target women: the major responses were ease of use, interface design, accessibility, simplicity, empathy, colours, instilling trust, personal verification such as biometrics, reducing required details, and incorporating feminine graphics.

In conclusion, It is clear that there is a growing need for more inclusive and gender-sensitive approaches when designing financial products or services, especially in Nigeria.

To improve DFS for women, product designers and developers need to take into account the unique needs and preferences of women. This can be achieved by conducting proper surveys to understand how women use these products. Designers should also ensure that DFS products are easy to access and have mass adoption by women of several backgrounds with a lot of referrals. Furthermore, having more women as product designers will help in designing DFS solutions that target women. Product launch and marketing are also crucial in ensuring that DFS products are accessible by women and designed with women in mind.

The discussions and presentations made by all the stakeholders highlighted the importance of understanding the unique financial needs and challenges faced by women, and the potential benefits of designing products and services that cater to their specific needs. By working together, these different groups can leverage their respective expertise and resources to create more effective and impactful solutions for women.

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Graph showing the Gender Distribution of Respondents

Graph showing the distribution of the various roles of the respondents

Graph showing the respondent roles based on gender

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