High street remittance providers and banks, on which a disproportionate number of women depend, need to reduce their fees, says Dora Ziambra, Chief Operating Officer, Azimo.
Financial independence is the cornerstone of equality. When women have access to financial services and can generate income on their own terms, they are free to choose their own path through life. Remittances are an essential source of financial independence for women around the world - and for reasons that may surprise you.
The stereotypical migrant worker is male. He’s an Uber driver, a construction labourer, a waiter. These stereotypes are patronising and inaccurate for two reasons. Firstly, they do not represent the entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers who move overseas to live and work. Secondly, half of all migrant workers are women.
Not only do women seek work abroad in equal numbers to men, but they also send half of all global remittances, despite earning 20 per cent less than men on average. According to the UN, women are also less likely to have a secure source of income, and so are forced to send remittances more often and in smaller amounts. As a result, they pay around 20 per cent more than men in fees.
The same UN report found that female migrants have limited access to secure, affordable remittance services because they are less likely to have access to the internet and other telecommunication technologies. Worse, women are also less likely to have a bank account and are forced to send remittances in cash.
Women are therefore more likely to send money with expensive high street providers, banks or unregulated local dealers. The net result is that, after accounting for pay inequality, taxation and higher fees, remittances cost women 25 per cent more than men.
Think about that statistic for a moment. Imagine if your weekly shop was 25 per cent more expensive, just because you’re a woman.
This additional cost doesn’t only affect the woman sending money home. It affects her family both in her country of residence and her country of origin. By reducing economic efficiency, it affects the economy of those countries. By extension, it affects you.
If you think this impact is trivial, consider that remittances are now the single largest flow of capital into developing nations, dwarfing aid and surpassing even foreign direct investment as of 2019.
Imagine if we gave women access to that additional 25 per cent. Instead of lining the pockets of giant corporations and black-market money traders, we could give true economic independence to women. Further UN research shows that women are more likely to spend their money on the welfare and education of their children, unlocking even more potential in the next generation.
Three things will make this happen. The first is equal pay. The gender pay gap is slowly improving, and government action is helping. Since 2017, it has been compulsory for UK companies with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap figures by the end of every financial year. But more must be done across the EU and beyond.
The second is to give migrant women access to the same jobs and opportunities as men. Again, government policy can help. Education in financial literacy should be available to all, but we should make extra effort to reach out to women in migrant communities who may be unaware of their rights and their potential.
The third is for the high street remittance providers and banks, on which a disproportionate number of women depend, to reduce their fees. According to The World Bank, the average cost of a digital remittance is less than half that of its high street counterpart. As more women connect to the internet and discover faster, cheaper financial services, those who don’t lower their prices now may soon be forced to.
This is not just about fairness, it’s about progress. As the world recovers from the social, political and economic shock of COVID-19, we need all the economic activity we can muster. Giving women, and women migrants in particular, an equal opportunity to play their part, will benefit all of us.
Dora Ziambra is Chief Operating Officer at Azimo. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.