Bringing Women into the Financial Inclusion Discourse - Begin with Data!
The economy has swung back on most fronts, and India is officially out of the technical recession, induced by Covid-19. However, growth estimates will be impacted by sharp revisions as cautioned by the government in its press release. It is better therefore to look at trends emerging from high-frequency data to get a sense of what is happening in real-time – Markit PMI manufacturing, GST and E-way bill collections, exports, imports are flattening after the spurt, while Markit PMI for the service sector rose to one year high in February. CMIE data shows a dramatic fall in the urban unemployment rate in February, though rural areas saw a small uptick. Going forward, two key developments are expected. First, Covid-19 mortality figures are expected to fall significantly as highly susceptible senior citizens are vaccinated across the country. Second, the country is looking at record food-grain production this year post rabi harvesting, which will boost rural incomes.
While economic data are normally spliced for states, geographies (urban-rural) or sectors, the gender angle stays out of common discourse. Analysis of CMIE-CPHS data by researchers at Azim Premji University showed that women were seven times more likely to lose their jobs during lockdown last year, and 11 times more likely to not return to work. While the government was quick to announce and transfer Rs. 500 per month for three months to women through PMJDY accounts, the seamless transfer of benefits was possible with the phenomenal DBT-PMJDY linkage. The lack of gender-disaggregated banking data has however prevented many other deserving women from receiving this benefit – a Yale University survey found that while 78% of poor women respondents reported having a bank account, just 23% owned a PMJDY account. From the Indicus Centre for Financial Inclusion, we have been making the case for gender-disaggregated data in banking and financial sectors as the first step towards closing the gender gap in the country ( Indicus Brief, June 2018). It is time the RBI pushes for this at the earliest.
The digital payments space is heating up – as the number of UPI transactions balloon, with multiple hops in a transaction, failures also are increasing. According to NPCI data, failures due to consumer errors are more than those due to technical snags. MicroSave has put out an excellent analysis of the digital payment systems in 2020, tracking usage of various modes across the year. Looking ahead, the RBI has now put in new rules for digital payment security, which are stringent for card payments and select categories of banks; UPI and payment gateways have not been included ( RBI, February 2021). Meanwhile, the NPCI has to gear up for the competition - the RBI extended the deadline for applications for NUE (New Umbrella Entity) by a month and reportedly many major firms are in the race. The year ahead will see new players in the system and it will be interesting to see the impact of such competition on the consumer experience with digital payments.