Written by Cherie Blair

This week I’m speaking at the Financial Inclusion 2020 Summit, an event that is promoting a global campaign to bring ordinary financial services – banking, credit cards, pensions, etc – to more than 2 billion people around the world who are currently excluded from these everyday services.

It’s an issue that is particularly important to me and my Foundation for Women, which promotes women entrepreneurs in the less developed parts of the world, and through which I’ve learned how hard it is for women to run a business without banking facilities. More than that, everyone needs financial services to manage their day-to-day lives and prepare for a better future. But very few in middle-income and especially low-income countries enjoy the access to quality services from formal financial service providers that many of us take for granted.

In wealthier countries, nearly 90% of the population have basic bank accounts. Most middle-class people are supported at every turn by financial services – such as credit cards for everyday purchases, mortgages to buy a home, quick and easy payment services, insurance or pensions. But in low and middle-income countries, the story is different.

More than 2.5 billion people lack access to quality financial services and at least half of that number will include women. If we want to make an impact on financial inclusion, that effort has to include women. Recent research findings from my own foundation, Visa, BFA and GSMA show that not only are women missing out on access to mobile financial services, they are also missing out on the retail opportunities related to these services.

In partnership with Visa, my foundation aims to address this gap, with a focus on Nigeria. Our project will result in 2,500 women becoming agents in the retail network of a leading financial services provider. As retail agents, they will bring branchless banking and mobile financial services to tens of thousands more women in Nigeria. Alongside the retail agent opportunities, the women involved will also benefit from training and capacity building support.

Our primary aim is to enable a greater number of women entrepreneurs to enter the electronic payment value chain in Nigeria – a sector that is set to grow tremendously in the coming months and years.

Why start in Nigeria? Women in Nigeria experience cultural, social and systemic barriers to entrepreneurship including poor infrastructure, lack of connectivity and other barriers. Three times as many men as women have the benefits of being registered as self-employed in the country, and while there are women entrepreneurs in Nigeria, the majority of them are forced to operate in the informal sector. This collaboration would offer opportunities for women to set up registered businesses in a growing sector.

There is a commercial opportunity as well. With only 30% of Nigeria’s population (84.7 million) using banking services and with more than 159 million mobile phone subscriptions, there is great potential for agent banking and other models which enable remote access to financial services in the country. This is as yet an untapped market representing a multi-million dollar industry.

This partnership is a significant step forward towards financial inclusion for women in Nigeria. Economically empowering women by giving them access to the same financial services as men, is not only a smart way to raise the status of women and their quality of life but also brings benefits to the families and communities of the women who succeed. My foundation is looking forward to developing this project further and driving financial inclusion for women in Nigeria.

Find out more about Financial Inclusion 2020