Quito, Jan 25 (EFE).- Ecuador’s Banco Pichincha, with operations in Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, the United States, and Peru, has been featured by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a “lighthouse” that leads and guides the way to the financial inclusion and economic empowerment of women.
The report titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lighthouses 2024,” prepared by the WEF, which last week held its annual Davos Forum, highlighted seven successful companies that globally built diverse and inclusive spaces.
Among the cases presented, only one was from Latin America: Banco Pichincha. The bank was chosen by the WEF for “closing the financing gap between men and women in Ecuador by changing internal policies, designing products and services specific for women, and issuing gender bonds for women entrepreneurs.”
Between December 2020 and May 2023, the company reduced the financing gap between men and women by 16%, in a country where only 43% of women have access to a bank account, according to the report.
At the 116-year-old institution, which has the largest portfolio of assets and clients of private-sector banks in Ecuador, women are 48% of its customers, 56% of its microfinance segment, and 64% of its network of non-financial commercial establishments.
To achieve this, the bank, through its SER Program, stopped requiring married women applying for finance to have the financial creditworthiness of their husbands considered, issued loans, and developed financial education programs that have benefited more than 30,000 women. It also issued Ecuador’s first gender bond specific for women entrepreneurs worth $100 million in 2022.
Banco Pichincha “contributed to shifting mindsets while generating opportunities for women to access finance,” said the WEF, which selected success stories based on the magnitude of impact, potential future impact, and long-term sustainability of the initiative.
More autonomy and leadership
The effect was greater financial autonomy, access to new opportunities, economic transformation, and female leadership, according to Marcia Díaz, head of Banco Pichincha’s Corporate and SME Segments, who told EFE.
“There is clear evidence that financial inclusion is a lever to enable people to escape poverty, save money, have access to financing, and improve their living conditions,” said Díaz, for whom the WEF’s recognition is “a clear sign that we are on the right track, but there is still a long way to go.”
“We are reaching very remote places where many institutions do not reach,” she added.
For the executive, “it is not a question of business for the bank,” as she estimates that in Ecuador there are 1.2 million women who are heads of household, whose financial inclusion influences an average of four people, for a total of more than 4 million.
The bank’s portfolio of loans to women’s businesses amounts to some US$1.7 billion, and in 2023 alone it disbursed US$1.2 billion in these loans.
Supporting women entrepreneurs
Among the women who have gained access to the financial system is Daniela Morocho, who has been able to use the loans to grow her swimwear workshop and store, which opened ten years ago, and was able to open a drinking water distribution company a year and a half ago.
“(Other banks) wouldn’t give me loans,” Morocho told EFE. The entrepreneur said she was able to obtain a loan without her husband’s signature, who works in the Galapagos Islands, and she is already planning to apply for a new loan soon to buy a larger truck.
Another woman, Eva Haro, who is divorced, built her own hairdressing salon with a spa and beauty center from scratch. “I have progressed thanks to the loans. I’ve gone to other places but it’s a lot of hassle, it’s much more complex (to get loans),” Haro said, adding that she wants to expand her business with a gym.
At the busy and popular San Roque Market, in downtown Quito, Elsa Paredes explained the first time she had access to bank credit. Since then she has received eleven loans, with which she has expanded her industrial kitchen business, increased the number of clients, and built her house.
Now Banco Pichincha, which last year won the Euromoney award for the best bank in Latin America in social responsibility, is looking to expand this strategy to more segments such as – according to Diaz – retail, and achieve quality financial inclusion with the integration of digital banking channels. EFE