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With mobile banking, women around the world can change their lives

Particularly in developing nations, smartphone banking can help women survive and thrive.

For most women in the U.S., mobile banking is a convenience, but not a necessity. But for many women across the globe, it’s a real privilege that they may not have access to. According to data from a 2014 study by The World Bank, the gender gap in bank account ownership is stagnant even as bank ownership rates increase across the globe. Only 50% of women globally had a bank account, either through a phone or in person, as compared to 59% of men. In South Asia, those numbers drop to 37% and 55%, respectively.

Another study done this year by the Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project showed there are both personal and national benefits to women gaining access to bank accounts. On a basic national level, having more people who are making financial decisions and investments adds to the economic prosperity of a country.

“There is a clear business case for serving women, who tend to save more relative to their total income than men, repay loans at a higher rate, buy more products per capita, and be more loyal to their bank,” the report says.

On a personal level, banks allow women the ability to save up money securely — whether to help cushion the blow in case she faces a financial emergency, or to start a small business or expand her educational opportunities — to take advantage of interest, and to send money securely over international borders. Financial inclusion can transform women’s lives.

What makes mobile banking so much more important in the developing world? It can literally protect both their money and their lives more effectively. For many people in under-developed countries, it may be a long trip to the bank, and carrying money there puts them at risk of being robbed, according to John Villasenor, one of the authors of the Brookings study.

For many who live in nations with low bank enrollment rates, not owning a smartphone prohibits the simplest and safest form of banking. Luckily, sometimes private companies fund campaigns to provide new access to cell phone services (such is the case in Vietnam), and sometimes governments take on similar roles (like in Bangladesh). Phone companies are also increasingly targeting women as a demographic to add to their customers, especially in Indonesia, Rwanda and Turkey, according to BuzzFeed News. These increases in smartphone use could make access to online banking platforms simpler.

The study breaks down the data about developing countries by country, but also does comparisons to see which regions were most successful in increasing mobile banking since 2015, when the study was first founded. The data showed that Latin America, Asia, and Africa were the areas where women were most underrepresented in the financial world. Kenya, however, claimed the highest amount of female representatives among its bank users. And other African nations like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania also boasted high numbers of new users of mobile banking services.

Although studying the same topic in both 2015 and 2016 allowed researchers at Brookings to see how the 26 nations that they studied grew and changed over the course of a year, the institute admits that there are a number of other angles that it should study to get a clearer idea of the current mobile banking use. Focusing in on gender-specific data may help researchers to gain a better idea of what they should recommend for the case of each country.

Another relevant area of research would be about financial access and decision-making of refugee groups. Villasenor, one of the authors of the study, told BuzzFeeed News that immigrant groups are very similar to the disadvantaged groups that he had already studied and likely to use similar unsecure measures of passing money, which are complicated by international borders and differing legal systems.