Pakistan’s Fintech Revolution: Hope for Women-Led SMEs

Pakistan’s fintech sector has witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, revolutionizing the financial services industry and offering a lifeline to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Notably, female-led businesses have reaped substantial benefits from the digital financial transformation, democratizing access to vital financial resources and capital for expanding ventures. Exploring the country’s fintech landscape sheds light on how it has empowered women-led SMEs, simplified loan access, and nurtured an entrepreneurial culture, all while prioritizing financial inclusion, seamless payments, and customer convenience.

Financial Inclusion for Women Entrepreneurs

The primary aim of this fintech revolution is to increase financial inclusion for all business segments and customers, especially those marginalized by traditional banking services. This includes women, enterprises geographically based away from urban main centers, the absence of formal documentation held by entrepreneurs, and the lack of other resources such as cellular connectivity and the internet.

Fintech companies continue to bridge this gap by providing accessible and user-friendly financial services to the masses. Financial inclusion is a game-changer for female-led SMEs since these businesses have historically struggled to secure capital through traditional means.

The socio-cultural environment in which women entrepreneurs have to operate their businesses is challenging – women are not culturally encouraged to be financially independent and with that comes limited exposure on how to manage accounts or even family businesses. Banks/DFIs have rarely offered any structured women-specific products, due to insufficient interest, and have rather rebranded and offered the existing SME products to their female business clients as well, albeit with a few relaxations in requirements.

On the other hand, fintech platforms, like Paymob, offer an opportunity for entrepreneurs to join the formal financial economy by opening digital bank accounts, conducting and collecting digital payments, and accessing financial products and services without the need to visit physical bank branches.

Paymob has successfully onboarded and empowered various female-led SMEs to grow their businesses by accepting digital payments. These include merchants operating in diverse work environments such as home kitchens, e-commerce, retail clothing, cosmetics, and jewelry.

Loan Access for Female-Led SMEs

Access to capital has been a significant challenge for SMEs, particularly those led by women, with many opting to utilize their personal savings to finance their businesses. According to the W-SME survey conducted in Bangladesh back in 2016, approximately 15% of the female-led operating enterprises availed loans from financial institutions with the financing gap for women entrepreneurs estimated at 60% of the total demand. This holds true for Pakistan as well, where the majority of the women entrepreneurs remain dissatisfied with the loan application process. This includes facing challenges in meeting collateral requirements, the type of formal documentation required, and also needing to visit the bank repeatedly to formally conclude the process.

However, fintech companies have streamlined the once inefficient loan provision process by eliminating unnecessary requirements.

Conventional loan application processes are length and require a significant amount of paperwork. Applicants are required to gather numerous documents, endure long waiting periods, and navigate a complex maze of bureaucracy. Fintech has revolutionized this experience by simplifying and expediting the process via initial screening completed online. These user-friendly forms often require minimal documentation and short processing timelines, thereby reducing the burden on applicants and enhancing the overall experience. Improved accuracy through algorithms and fairness in credit scoring make loans more accessible to a broader range of individuals, eliminating the need for loan borrowers to settle for one-size-fits-all loan products.

Additionally, fintech lenders leverage data analytics and machine learning algorithms to assess creditworthiness, resulting in quicker and more informed lending decisions. This has a profound impact on women-led SMEs, as they can access working capital, expand their operations, and invest in growth opportunities without the onerous requirements imposed by traditional banks. Digital lenders tailor their services to the specific needs of these businesses, making financial support more personalized and within their reach.

Offering Convenient Payment Acceptance

A key differentiator between conventional financial services and fintech offerings is the convenience they provide to customers. Digital payment systems, mobile wallets, online payment gateways, tap-to-pay, and peer-to-peer payment applications have made financial transactions convenient and effortless. For women-led SMEs, these innovations have not only improved their financial management but have also enhanced the customer experience being offered to end consumers.

Customers can make payments for goods and services easily and securely, a crucial factor for SMEs striving to build trust and provide a seamless buying experience. This convenience fosters customer loyalty and encourages repeat transactions, helping women-led businesses thrive. Moreover, fintech platforms enable businesses to monitor their transactions and manage their finances in real-time, enhancing financial planning and decision-making.

With fintech services like Paymob, businesses and SMEs can promptly begin accepting digital payments and expand their operations by leveraging a range of convenient and widely used payment methods, such as cards, digital wallets. Customers can pay businesses via SMS or even social media. Merchants can swiftly sign up on Paymob’s website and can be onboarded instantaneously, eliminating the need for cumbersome documentation or approvals, whilst ensuring fast and secure settlements. SMEs and sole proprietors need only their national identity card, a complete onboarding form, a signed agreement, and their business details to commence accepting digital payments through Paymob’s omnichannel payment platform.

Pakistan’s fintech revolution is reshaping the nation’s financial services sector, making it more inclusive and attainable. The Government of Pakistan is currently in discussions with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) about a potential 5-year program/policy loan agreement to support the Women Inclusive Finance (WIF) Sector Development Programme. In this initiative, SMEDA has been designated as a significant institutional implementation partner, alongside various other agencies. All of this will create a more conducive environment for women-led businesses in terms of loan provision and convenience.

Female-led SMEs are amongst the greatest beneficiaries of this transformation, gaining access to much-needed capital, simplified loan processes, and an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship. The emphasis on financial inclusion, ease of payments, and customer convenience has paved the way for a more prosperous and empowered Pakistan, where women-led businesses play a significant role in driving economic growth and innovation. As the fintech landscape continues to evolve, it holds the promise of an even brighter future for Pakistan’s SME sector and its diverse entrepreneurial landscape.

Fostering the Entrepreneurial Mindset

The ease of starting and managing a business in a digital-first environment has encouraged many women to embark on entrepreneurial journeys. Reduced administrative hassles and efficient payment systems have made business setup and management more feasible and appealing.

Fintech platforms have also introduced innovative tools and resources to educate and support aspiring entrepreneurs. Online courses, financial management apps, and marketplaces for goods and services are readily available, further enabling female-led SMEs to grow. As a result, many women have been inspired to turn their ideas into thriving businesses, contributing to economic growth and empowerment.

This article is written by Sara Danial, a freelance journalist with a keen interest in women’s financial inclusion. She can be reached at [email protected].

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