The latest round of Global Findex data show that two particular groups – women and youth – consistently than adult and youth males. Zambia is one sub-Saharan African country that exhibits this trend: according to the 2017 Global Findex report, despite a doubling of financial accounts access since 2011, the gap between men and women in accessing financial services remains at 12% (in favour of men); that of the youth population is half of the gender gap. This underrepresentation of Zambian women and youth in the financial sector represents a massive loss of output and potential for the economy.
Under a grant provided by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Canada, the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) – an economic policy institute headquartered in Accra, Ghana – partnered with AfriqInsights in Zambia to undertake a study in 2018 to access the effectiveness of financial sector initiatives in advancing women and youth financial inclusion in Zambia. The emphasis of the study was diagnosing the state of financial inclusion of adult women and youth in Zambia to draw lessons for policy makers, regulators, and service providers with a view to increasing entrepreneurship and job opportunities for women and youth.
The study uncovered a number of latent issues confronting Zambian women and youth with respect to accessing and using financial services:
Ecosystem factors such as low mobile phone penetration, limited infrastructure, weak network signals and low population densities in rural areas collectively serve as leading indicators of low transaction volume and hamper the business decision of deploying services and products for underserved communities – of which women and youth dominate.
These factors increase the cost of delivery in rural areas for the provider who naturally looks to maximize returns among competing alternatives.
There is a great opportunity for the private sector to leverage gender- and age-disaggregated data and its concomitant insights to inform the development of financial products and services that speak to their needs. Despite recent efforts by the central bank to collect this segmented data, very little disaggregation of data on women and youth exists in the private sector, limiting a deep understanding of their behaviour, preferences and needs.
Adapting the school curriculum to incorporate financial education
Zambia has incorporated financial education in the national school curriculum and works through the Financial Education Coordination Unit in the central bank to use school and media initiatives to improve youth financial literacy. The approach taken is to inculcate financial discipline and knowledge into young minds and continually reinforce this approach in subsequent years. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also organises and sponsors investment competitions in schools to stimulate interest and reward proficiency in financial education and practice.
The report concludes with a number of policy and strategic recommendations for the regulatory and supply side of the market.