KAMPALA, UGANDA – Nancy Acieng stands outside the door of Pride Microfinance Limited, a bank in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. A fairly educated woman, she works hard to earn money selling fresh food and fruit from a roadside stall.
She says her hard work used to go to waste because her husband routinely stole her ATM card and withdrew the contents of her account. But thanks to the bank’s new security measure that requires customers’ fingerprints to withdraw money, she now has full control over her finances.
“He still beats me sometimes,” Acieng says. “But he cannot steal my money anyhow, anymore. Using the fingerprint technology changed and improved my security – both physical and financial.”
Pride Microfinance recently introduced ATMs featuring a biometric fingerprint system. Not only has this innovation increased her security, but Acieng says it has also increased her worth in the eyes of her husband.
“Now, when he asks for my money, he has to ask nicely or I refuse to go with him to use my fingerprint,” she says. “He cannot also know how much is on my account at any given time. This has increased my financial value to him."
She smiles mischievously and continues on her way to use her hard-earned money she has just extracted from the ATM to buy groceries at a nearby market.
Women who run businesses in Uganda say that more opportunities are available for them to assert control over their money, from mobile banking to added ATM security. But they still face exclusion when it comes to higher-level finances, like obtaining a business loan. Bank officials say they are working to expand women’s access to financial opportunities, but that government policies need to restructure the system to encourage banks to invest in businesswomen.
Ugandan women owned about 39 percent of registered businesses as of 2008, yet they received only 9 percent of commercial loans, according to an International Finance Corporation report. Half of Ugandan banks named lack of adequate guarantees as an obstacle to lending to small and medium enterprises, according to a 2012 paper by the African Development Bank Group.
Bank of Uganda, the nation’s central bank, requires all loans above a certain amount to be adequately secured, according to the paper. But only 6 percent of land – the preferred collateral – was registered with district land management offices by women, compared with 94 percent by men as of 2000, according to the Ugandan government.
Three women are working as food vendors in Kitintale, a Kampala suburb. They are selling in-season vegetables and fruits, frying small snacks like cassava and potato chips and baking chapatti, a type of flatbread. They say their working capital is about 10,000 shillings ($4) or less each.
Of the three small-businesswomen, only one has a bank account. The second woman says she is waiting for the right time and economic circumstance to open one. The third says she prefers to keep the money concealed in her house because a bank account would be a bother.
Other women say they aren’t aware of their eligibility to open bank accounts. Still others say they intentionally avoid opening bank accounts in order to conceal their worth from their partners and avoid violence related to their earnings.
In light of women’s mixed feelings toward banking, Ugandan banks are beginning to develop women-friendly policies.
In a recent Facebook forum on the women-friendliest banks operating in Uganda, a pair of the more than two dozen banks operating in Uganda received unanimous votes.
Thirteen women responded in the forum that Development Finance Company of Uganda was the best bank for women because it has a woman-specific financial policy.