About 1.7 billion of the world’s population are unbanked, and more women are unbanked than men. While the most common reason people cited for not having an account is “not having not money,” other factors include accounts being too expensive and too far away.
Jefa, a challenger bank focused on Latin America, wants to address the issues preventing women from opening and managing their own accounts. While South America does have a handful of digital banks for its citizens, most challenger banks are focused on European and North American markets.
“Globally, one billion women are unbanked,” the bank explains on its website. “That equates to 42% of all women around the world. This means that they lack access to essential financial services. For example, 74% of women lack access to a savings account and 90% of women lack access to formal credit. Without access to financial services, women face difficulties managing, earning, saving and spending their money.”
CEO Emma Smith explained that women’s needs are often neglected in the banking industry. Many accounts need a minimum amount to open, even though women tend to earn less than men and be the primary caregivers in their families. The financial institutions themselves are often far away and require accounts to be opened in person. For people with limited transportation options, the hassle to open an account might not be worth the effort.
As such, Jefa is completely digital, allowing anyone to open an account for free from the comfort of a smartphone. A debit card will arrive at the user’s house a few days after opening an account.
“It’s for all those reasons that we thought we need a fully digital solution that is branchless,” Smith told TechCrunch. “We have no minimum balance requirement; all you need is a government-issued ID and you can sign up in three or four minutes.”
The platform has a savings feature to help users set goals. Users can send and receive free peer-to-peer payments through the app. Jefa will also offer a rewards position that will offer cash back and points to be redeemed towards purchases.
The bank will first launch in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama, followed by Belize, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, México, Ecuador, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua and Peru. So far, 50,000 people are already on the waiting list. While the company is targeted towards women, men are also free to sign up for the service.