Supercharging Financial Inclusion: Can Digital Technologies Break the Gender Divide?

Globally, only 65 per cent of women have an account with a financial institution, compared to 72 per cent of men. What is even starker is the sheer number of people that make up these percentages. Some 1.4 billion adults across the world still remain unbanked – more commonly women, people who are poor, and those living in rural areas. Climate change and the pandemic have further pushed back any progress made over the years and women continue to be disproportionately affected. This is especially true in Asia where women represent two‑thirds of the poor and a greater proportion of workers in the informal sector. These people are the hardest to reach and something needs to change now to create a more equitable future.

We, at ADB Ventures, believe that technology could be the game changer.

Digital platforms can open up greater access to employment, economic opportunities and financial security. It has the potential to generate unprecedented change and enhance the prosperity of women in developing Asia. Innovative solutions can empower women to enhance their financial stability and build resilience to withstand economic shocks both from unexpected climate as well as health disasters.

ADB Ventures portfolio companies, such as Wagely, Fairbanc and Packworks, are at the forefront supporting women through technology‑driven products and services.

Wagely: Expanding financial resilience of Indonesian Workers

“Over the past year, we have seen how low-to-middle-income working mothers have been using our platform to relieve the financial burdens that arise from the waiting periods between paydays. Being able to withdraw a portion of their already-earned salary through Wagely helps them pay for their children’s educational needs, buy groceries, and meet unexpected expenses on time.” 

– Tobias Fischer, CEO Wagely

Wagely, a fintech company operating in Indonesia and Bangladesh, is resetting the traditional “payday” paradigm with a service that allows employees of local companies to have their already-earned salaries quickly transferred to their bank account or e-wallet before their next payroll date. 

“Originally, we started a kasbon or loan initiative. Kasbon wasn’t effective as it was unable to provide immediate access when our employees needed financial support as quickly as possible. So Wagely is helping our staff with that,” said Stefani Hutabarat, HR Lead at HONU Group – an Indonesian company turning to Wagely’s solution to address the financial stress their employees are facing. Stefani added that she was surprised to see the number of employees who are interested in the earned wage access benefit and the positive feedback she received.

“I was quite relieved when HR introduced Wagely to me because I could withdraw a portion of the salary that I’ve already earned even though payday hasn’t come yet”,  said Abadi Musa Putra, F&B Store Manager at HONU Group who accessed Wagely’s service when their child got sick. 

This solution provides on demand credit for essential expenses for workers and reduces reliance on predatory high-interest emergency loans.  This solution resonates particularly well among women who constitute ~72 per cent of the users in Indonesia and ~38 per cent of the users in Bangladesh. ADBV made an equity investment in Wagely in 2021. The company already has more than 65,000 low and middle-income workers registered on its platform over the last two years with 65 per cent of the users using early wage access for emergencies. This has also been largely made possible by its employees who have been driven by a common cause. Wagely has doubled its female workforce from last year and around 30 per cent of its employees are women.

Wagely was also named a global winner of the  2022 Inclusive Fintech 50 (IF50) for its work towards supporting the financial inclusion of low-to-middle-income workers in Indonesia and Bangladesh with its earned wage access solution.

Fairbanc: Enabling Credit Access for Indonesia’s Small Business Owners

“What makes Fairbanc so unique compared to other fintechs is that it plugs into large consumer brands like Unilever’s vast merchant networks through integration into its distribution app to offer “Buy Now Pay Later“ credit to tens of thousands of merchants without requiring any loan applications, or smartphones.”

– Mir Haque, Founder and CEO Fairbanc

Fairbanc, a fintech company operating in Indonesia, partners with fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms, including Unilever, L’Oréal, and Danone, to provide the unbanked or financially underserved MSME owners, mostly women, with short-term credit for inventory purchases. 

Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) form the backbone of the Indonesian economy, contributing to more than 60 per cent of the GDP.  The country also hosts the third-largest unbanked population in the world.  However, women business owners, that make up approximately 60% of such MSMEs7 lack access to bank loans and tend to be treated differently than men. Fairbanc utilizes advanced data science and machine learning to underwrite credit and grow merchants’ sales, in some cases by 35%, while keeping loan defaults and operation costs low.

“Back when I borrowed money (from the loan sharks), they will curse and shout at you if you don’t return money in time,” said a woman micro-merchant and user of Fairbanc’s solution in Indonesia.

“It’s not complicated at all. You just need to provide your identification card and sign a form to join (the platform),” added another woman micro-store owner.

Fairbanc has provided microcredit to over 100,000 MSMEs over last 2 years of which 70% are owned by women. ADBV made an equity investment in Fairbanc in 2021.

Packworks: Streamlining Supply Chains and Increasing Resilience for Filipino Retail Store Owners

In 2017, Ana Liza, having been handed over the baton by her father, was having her fair share of difficulties in manning the sari-sari store. She had to shell out capital, out of her former army husband’s retirement fee, to buy new supplies for her store to continue operating. She then discovered The Pack: SuperStore App, an all-in-one store management app designed by Packworks specifically for sari-sari store entrepreneurs. The app provided her significant help in processing customer orders, keeping track of transactions, managing store inventory, and even facilitating customer deliveries.

Packworks, operating in the Philippines, is a B2B technology platform that connects micro-retailers with FMCG clients on its platform. In the Philippines, nearly 90% of micro and small businesses are owned and run by women, but they often lack digital inventory and sales management tools. Packworks’ solution allows real-time inventory and sales data collection at the last mile, providing micro-store owners with point-of-sale, inventory management, and online procurement tools.

  “Witnessing firsthand the challenges brought by limited access to sari-sari (small neighborhood) store owners, especially in far-flung places, we promised to share our technical know-how and inspire them to shift from analog processes to using technology,” said Ibba Bernardo, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Packworks

By optimizing deliveries and reducing the number of trips required, Packworks consequently reduces petrol consumption and lowers CO2 emissions. It also helps the small businesses increase sales. Last year, Packworks catered to more than 70,000 women businesses and aims to increase this to 250,000 by 2026.

Technology-driven solutions such as those outlined above tackle barriers that women face by providing access to financial resources, enhancing financial literacy, bridging the digital gender divide, and streamlining supply chains. With better access to capital and credit, women entrepreneurs can grow their businesses faster with reduced financial stress. With real-time inventory oversight, women store owners can increase their sales, manage their deliveries more efficiently and save more money. As these solutions expand into new markets, their impact will continue to grow across the region.

ADB Ventures aims to power such innovation, scale up proven solutions and foster a more gender-equitable and resilient Asia. Our financing reduces the risk for investors – crowding in additional capital and lowering barriers to pilot and invest in new and inclusive solutions, unlocking the true transformative power of digitization.