Commentary: Empowering women with mobile money, the Kenya report

Commentary: Empowering women with mobile money, the Kenya report

This article is part of a five-part series exploring the role of mobile financial services in developing countries and is based on work being done by the GSMA mWomen Programme, Visa Inc. and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. The research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach underserved women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Exploring what users want from mobile money in Kenya

The Kenyan mobile financial services market is one of the most mature in the world. A large number of people send and receive money, giving us an opportunity to learn first-hand what users like and dislike about these services.

Younger women generally valued the ability to use mobile money to send money to their mothers, whom they considered more reliable and likely to save for the good of the household than their fathers. Married women also appreciated that mobile money provided them the facility to save money separately from their husbands. This pattern of “secret savings” was discussed repeatedly, with several different motivations.   As we conclude our research, we will be more closely examining whether this pattern is consistent across Kenya, as well as diving deeper into why women do this.

Significantly, women appreciated the convenience of mobile money services. For some users, convenience is a powerful means of improving their security. A striking illustration of this came from one woman, who first learned about mobile money when she had been mugged of all her cash in a different town. She was stranded and used her mobile phone to call her brother to seek help. Her brother told her to register for M-PESA – and as an agent was nearby, she was able to do so immediately. Her brother spoke with the agent to set up the account over the phone and send his sister the money she needed to return home safely. 

Women had ideas for several services that are currently not offered, including loans from operator providers. In their words, “If we can trust the operator with our money, why can’t they trust us with theirs?” Others wanted to earn interest when saving on the phone, and all users asked operators to ensure that their agents have enough cash in stock to enable them to withdraw cash from their account when they need to. In a response to concerns about fraud, users felt that the “SMS balance update” was useful, as enabled them to be more aware of how much was in their account at any one time.

These conversations occurred in 12 focus groups and will be supplemented by a quantitative survey of 1,000 Kenyan men and women. Together with the work being done in other countries, this will provide additional insights into what services are currently valued by underserved women and what opportunities there are for mobile money providers to further serve the needs of resource-poor women. 

Michelle Hassan, Research Manager for Digital Divide Data and contributor to Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Kenya. A video of BFA Director Daryl Collins discussing related experiences in Rwanda is also available.


Topics: Card Brands, Mobile Banking, Money Transfer / P2P, Region: EMEA


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