How Finance Trust Bank caters the needs of women and girls

Finance Trust Bank is a commercial bank in Uganda that was establishes 32 years ago and started as an NGO. It aims to empower women and youth economically and socially. Today, Finance Trust Bank has 36 branches in the country and serves more than 470,000 customers of whom 50 percent are women and youth. Flavia Nakamatte has been working for the bank for 6 years as a Projects Manager. In this interview, she tells us how the bank specialised on financial service for women and girls.

  1. Can you tell us what Finance Trust is doing and how the bank was set up?

Finance Trust is a local bank with a focus on women and youth (with special emphasis on adolescent girls). The bank has been in existence for more than 30 years and aims to support women and youth to fulfil their personal and family goals through financial independent. Originally, the bank started as an NGO that served women and transformed into a microfinance institution lending to women only. It later turned into a micro deposit taking institution serving both women and men and finally into a microfinance bank, that puts women first.

  1. What does your business offer to your clients?

Finance Trust Bank designs loan and savings products customized to women, youth (minor and adult youth), adolescent girls. It is important for us to reach girls as well, because they are our potential future clients. As we design our financial products, we try to address the specific needs of each target market segment. We go through market assessments/market research, concept testing and pilot phases. There is, for example, the Girls Choice Savings Account that specifically targets adolescent girls both in and out of school aged 10 to 19 years (at entry phase) as well as Women’s Choice which target women in agriculture, business among others coupled with the women health

Also, our branches provide Mama Safe Corners that help women feel more comfortable in case they come to the bank with their children to make transactions.

Furthermore, we provide financial education and reproductive trainings for adolescent girls. Over time, delivery of these non-financial services have transformed from women’s workshops to training curriculums, work book, diaries and now an application to deliver the messages using mobile phones.  Information is power and the girls and the women are able to make informed financial decisions upon implementing and practising sessions such as having a savings goal, budgeting, control spending among others. We usually offer workshops for women per region on an annual basis and financial education sessions for girls. We teach them how to deal with savings or how to come up with a budget; just the basic information that someone needs for the practical daily life. We aim to empower women and adolescence girls financially, give them saving opportunities, and access to loans. The loans for women in our bank have a lower interest rate compared to other services. 

We also aim to empower them socially.  Our experience working with adolescent girls and women in villages is that, at first, they do not have the self-esteem to go to a financial service provider, to find out what is on the market, and to even explain what they want or select what best suits their financial needs. We support them to develop the self-esteem to apply for and use financial services that in the end, they can use in their day-to- day lives around their homes.

  1. How do you measure your impact on girls and women?

Talking about the measurement of social impact, the bank tracks the amount of new female, youth and adolescent girl customers on a monthly basis. This is compared to the monthly targets for each of these products.  

Secondly, under the loan products there is the special focus on loan products for women. Therefore, we assess how many women are actually able to access those loans.

Then, we have case studies on the number of women that receive loans and follow-ups on their financial activities to adjust the services. For example, initially a woman might want a loan to start her own business, then she wants a loan for school fees and so on. That means as people grow with the bank, we are able to address their specific financial needs .

Finally, undertake social performance tracking, which means that we look at the deposits that the women are able to bring in.

  1. What are the challenges you have faced as the business has developed and how have you overcome them?

As for any other bank, our biggest challenge is customer retention. Especially, given our focus on women: The costs to reach out to one women or adolescent girl equals the costs of acquiring three men. Why is that? Because, with adolescent girls, you have to involve many stakeholders whose consent is very crusial and wait for parents to give a permission, but by the time, the girls get their consent several of our meetings might already have taken place.

Another barrier is the bad reputation of banks and financial institutions in local communities because other financial service providers collapsed. This resulted in people losing trust in banks and asking themselves: Is it safe for me to deploy my money with a bank?

To operate as a bank specializing in financial services for women, Finance Trust also needs to hire qualified women. The bank targets to have a ratio of 60/40 but roughly has 50/50 men and women working here. This is another area where we try to put women first.

  1. Do you think having an NGO background makes it more difficult for you as a bank to achieve financial sustainability?

I do not think so. It is more about understanding the business. I think growth is a part of life. We started as an NGO and then realised that there is a need for financial services and we have therefore gone through several stages to reach where we are. As you grow with your clients and as they grow with you, you will realise that their needs change and they have new preferences. So, it is a mutual growth process and at some point you have clients that have been with you for more than ten or twenty years. Finance Trust really developed through natural growth whenever there was a need for a new service.

  1. What is the five years’ trend in financial services in order to empower women?

Providing information, training and financial education to women are strong empowerment tools. They enable women to make sound financial decisions. Some would say that they are already making financial decisions. Yes, they are, but they still need help to seek extra returns and savings, which they are not doing now. They need trainings in financial education but also on topics, such as, reproductive health, because these are the key things to know, especially for adolescent girls. If they have the right information, it can save them a lot.

Another trend is discounted pricing. When you look at our products for women and girls, the interest rates for the loans are a bit lower, compared to the general products. Loans of this category with lower rates should be targeted for projects on water, sanitations, hygiene, especially in remote areas. Since many household burdens fall under the responsibility of women, access to such facilities can make a huge difference to them.

Another trend is technology, which is playing a big role if you look at how people can access money, safe money or access loans. Nowadays, you can apply and access a loan via your mobile as long as you meet the criteria, but developments in this category also have to develop along the needs of women and girls.

Customer relationship management with special treatment and priority to transact on arrival at the banking hall for pregnant women and women who come to the banking halls with children below 5 years. 

  1. Do you have any advice for businesses looking to have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls?

You need to understand women, girls, and their specific needs. If you talk about girls, you can have minors, adolescent and adult adolescent girls and their needs vary. You have girls in school and those out of school. Talking of women you can have singles, single parents or single mothers, then you have those who are married, those working in the formal or informal sector. The basic thing for me is to understand how these segments cut across and then to identify their needs accordingly. You need to engage communities or all the stakeholders that work with women and girls.



This blog is a part of the September 2017 series on Empowering women, in partnership with SPRING.

Read the full series for insights on business models that empower girls and women, a new analysis of gender impacts of value chain interventions, tips on gender-lens investing and many inspiring personal stories from women.

Carolina Zishiri
Carolina Zishiri
Carolina is involved in the social media communication and online dissemination of inclusive business knowledge at the Inclusive Business Action Network. Before joining IBAN, Carolina has worked with civil society organisations, including...

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