There is a need for a policy framework to mandatorily recruit at least 30 per cent of the total workforce as women Business Correspondents (BCs), particularly in locations where access and usage of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) accounts by women is low, according to an economic research report by State Bank of India (SBI).

Referring to the findings of the Global Findex report 2017, which revealed that majority of women PMJDY accounts remain inoperative, the report “Ecowrap”noted that while of the total 45.2 crore PMJDY accounts opened till date, a whopping 55 per cent of the account holders are women, women agents consist of less than 10 per cent of the total BC work force today.

“The problem is more accentuated in northern, eastern and central states, accommodating the bulk of population bulge as also harbouring close to two-third share in total BC network but falling quite short in better representation of women agents,” said Saumya Kanti Ghosh, Group Chief Economic Adviser, SBI.

If more women find foothold in BC ecosystem, they can alter the socio-economic fabric of these areas considerably and meaningfully, he said and added that there is a need to pitchfork women as torch bearers of Banking Correspondents (BCs).

PMJDY beneficiaries had a outstanding balance of ₹168,138.78 crore in their accounts as on April 13, 2022. BCs are retail agents engaged by banks for providing banking services at locations other than a bank branch/ATM.

PMJDY seeks to ensure universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household, financial literacy, access to credit, insurance and pension facility. In addition, the beneficiaries get RuPay Debit card having inbuilt accident insurance cover of र 1 lakh. The plan also envisages channeling all Government benefits to the beneficiaries accounts and pushing the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme of the Centre.

The SBI report noted that “When considering the ability of BCs to positively impact the financial inclusion of about 25 crore (and, counting upwards) women PMJDY account holders, the “gender” of the agent, the face connecting the myriad world of finance to doubtful, hesitant and low on even basic tenets of skills beneficiaries...becomes a decisively important factor to proliferate and deepen the financial inclusion drive.”

Better representation in the South

Per Ecowrap, the southern states fare better on the “representation of women agents” parameter, reflecting the better digital literacy proliferating to bottom of the pyramid, now being leveraged at grassroot levels.

“Women BC agents bring more transparency into the system, build more rapport with diverse customer groups, and promote a demand driven incremental revenue while giving a push to small savings scheme and social security offerings,” Ghosh said.

SBI’s economic research department (ERD) emphasised that women BC agents bring more transparency into the system, build more rapport with diverse customer groups, and promote a demand driven incremental revenue while giving a push to small savings scheme and social security offerings.

Better response for women BCs

The ERD suggested that Bank Sakhis hired under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) may be considered for appointing as BCs, as they are well versed with routine bank operations and possess mandated IIBF (Indian Institute of Banking and Finance) certification.

Further, a central pool may be created containing details of all such Bank Sakhis. As an enabler, provisions to be made in NRLM/National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) website for uploading Bank Sakhis information which may be accessed by banks and BCs for engaging as Customer Service Points CSPs).

The ERD team opined that reserving at least 30 per cent of BCs for women in future can have three profound implications for the banking system apart from bolstering the women participation in labour force.

First, all customers feel that female BC agents have more patience and are more willing to address queries or explain product features. In addition, female customers are willing to share their family’s financial needs more openly with female BC agents.

Second, women BC agents bring similar or more business and might serve more of the underserved. Female BC agents play a critical role in deepening financial inclusion. They are more likely to serve customers in remote areas, elderly customers, and other underserved customers.

Third, women agent networks could offer a mix of advantages, such as encouraging savings among women, onboarding more first-time female users, low-value but high-frequency transactions, and doorstep delivery of financial services