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Women entrepreneurs overtake men in fintech adoption

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Despite having to contend with gender disparities, women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) lead the way in fintech innovation.

Around 81% of surveyed women entrepreneurs in the region have implemented digital payment solutions in their businesses, compared to 68% of their male counterparts.

This is according to the Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index, which shows high digitalisation among women-owned businesses as an opportunity for broader SME recovery and digital economy growth.

The research is based on telephone or face-to-face interviews with 1 533 SME decision-makers in seven countries, including SA.

According to the survey, confidence levels around digital transactions are high, with 30% of women entrepreneurs in MEA experiencing no challenges in accepting more payments digitally versus cash payments – especially mobile payments (62%), online payments (57%) and card payments (45%).

While there is still a revenue gap between male- and female-owned SMEs, for many small women-owned businesses, reducing their dependence on cash through digital payments acceptance has played a major role in being able to get paid and maintain revenues, it notes.

In SA, the study found that 79% of women entrepreneurs have an online payment method in place, with almost half using card payments (45%) and 41% using mobile payments.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent nation-wide lockdown played a major role in accelerating the shift to contactless tap-and-go payments and mobile payment solutions among consumers.

When asked about the biggest benefits of a cash-free economy to their businesses, women entrepreneurs highlighted the increased efficiency of transactions across multiple channels (90%).

They also appreciated having a more convenient way of paying suppliers and employees (89%), faster access to revenues (83%), the ease of not handling cash (79%), credibility with banks and government (79%) and less potential for fraud (76%).

“Women small business owners are showing resilience and incredible adaptability, despite having to navigate lockdowns, and restricted supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Suzanne Morel, country manager for Mastercard, South Africa.

“While several challenges remain, it is encouraging to see how women-owned SMEs are transforming the way they do business to benefit from the digital tools, including safe and convenient electronic payments solutions that are currently shaping commerce.”

Globally, women-owned businesses are well-represented in the entrepreneurship space, yet it is estimated they only access between 2% and 10% of commercial bank finance. This reflects the huge potential SME women entrepreneurs have when they have access to financial and digital tools, which will enable greater gender parity in the business ecosystem, notes the study.

Furthermore, women-owned SMEs in South Africa identified ‘better data, analytics and insights‘ (54%) as the top area that offers the highest growth potential for their businesses, closely followed by ‘upskilling staff for the future’ (51%) and ‘accessto training and development support’ (49%).

When asked about what keeps them awake at night, 43% of women SMEs in South Africa mentioned being ‘able to maintain and grow their business’, while 24% are worried about staying in business or going bankrupt.

Looking ahead at future concerns, more than three-quarters (77%) identified the rising cost of doing business, 61% cited red tape and regulations, and 50% mentioned getting access to capital as their biggest business concern.

“Last year, Mastercard made a global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025, by providing them with the tools, training and solutions they need to survive and thrive now, and in the future,” says Morel.

Through its partnership with Junior Achievement South Africa, Mastercard says it has empowered over 3 000 women to gain entrepreneurial skills, start their own ventures and create new jobs.

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