Fiji’s banks have the potential to address the unmet credit demand within Women-owned Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (WMSMEs), an estimated $250 million gap, as highlighted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
In its recent report titled “Opportunities and Challenges for Private Sector Financial Institutions: Women-Owned Businesses in Fiji Face a $USD111 Million Credit Gap,” ADB emphasized that the WMSME sector presents a significant untapped opportunity for financial institutions in Fiji. While existing initiatives cater to women-owned businesses, there’s ample room for other private sector financial institutions to adopt a strategic and gender-intelligent approach to support and profit from serving women entrepreneurs.
The evaluation examined numerous financial institutions focusing on women in Fiji. According to the assessment, among these institutions, FDB stands out as the sole provider of a customized loan product. As a member of a consortium, Fintech Pacific is currently testing a digital wallet and payment acceptance platform tailored for micro and small businesses led by women. Additionally, South Pacific Business Development and ANZ contribute to business and financial upskilling through their Fiji Bloom and MoneyMinded programs. Furthermore, Westpac endorsed the Women in Business ‘Aspiring Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2022, a step to promote women’s entrepreneurship within the country.
As per the ADB’s analysis, Women-owned Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) make up 19 percent of the overall MSMEs in Fiji. Additionally, “more than 5500 registered WMSMEs, 18,742 self-employed women and 4650 engaged in handicrafts.”
The report also pointed out that on a global scale, financial institutions have observed that women, once incorporated into the banking system, demonstrate robust saving habits and responsible borrowing behaviors and exhibit loyalty as customers.
ADB’s suggestions to financial institutions for capitalizing on the credit gap within WMSMEs include:
While categorizing MSMEs, it’s essential to recognize that women-owned businesses typically have smaller annual sales turnover than men to ensure that women are not unintentionally overlooked. For instance, findings from this assessment reveal that 55 percent of the surveyed women-run businesses have annual sales turnover of $50,000 or less.
Gather data that breaks down MSMEs by gender and utilize it to construct a solid business rationale that guides strategic choices. The initial action in harnessing the potential of the women’s market is comprehending the financial institution’s present engagement with women. Financial institutions should assess their portfolio to gauge their existing support for WMSMEs (baseline) and establish growth objectives. The proportion of women ownership (e.g., 19 percent of Fiji’s MSMEs are owned by women) can serve as a reference for establishing these targets.
Determine crucial performance metrics for monitoring to bolster comprehension of the portfolio and clientele, enabling financial institutions to improve activities such as cross-selling, direct marketing, and risk-based pricing.
Conduct thorough market research to identify specific obstacles WMSMEs face when seeking financing and address these challenges in a targeted manner. This shift is vital in moving from a gender-neutral to a gender-intelligent approach. For instance, (a) explore alternative collateral options since women in Fiji often lack access to conventional collateral like real estate, and (b) gather non-traditional data to evaluate creditworthiness—although over 90 percent of surveyed women in this assessment did not participate in e-commerce, 45 percent of them utilized mobile money accounts.
Expand into various economic sectors involving WMSMEs. Presently, SME lending is focused on the transportation and wholesale sectors. Begin by concentrating on registered WMSMEs and crafting an approach to engage them. Broaden involvement in sectors where WMSMEs are prominent and explore potential in areas such as food stalls and restaurants, cleaning services, information and communication technology providers, and professional services. Additionally, evaluate economic sectors with robust WMSME value chains, such as tourism, fast-moving consumer goods, and telecommunications.
Explore the informal sector where WMSMEs predominate, presenting a sizable pool that includes 18,742 self-employed women and 4650 women engaged in handicrafts. To serve this segment, financial institutions should contemplate facilitating pathways to formalization. For instance, they could systematically aid WMSMEs in registering businesses and obtaining licenses. This can be effectively achieved by collaborating with suitable entities such as the government, non-governmental organizations, and business associations.
Forge alliances with like-minded organizations to offer digital literacy, financial literacy, and capacity-building for business and financial management. There’s a significant reliance on cash and in-person interactions between MSMEs and financial institutions. As Fiji’s financial sector embraces digitalization, financial institutions must enhance the capabilities of their customers while striking the right balance between advanced technology and personalized interaction. This approach will cater to the needs and preferences of the target segments effectively.