Coinbase Reports: Women & Crypto

It’s no secret that the current financial system leaves many people behind. In many parts of the world, access, gender bias, and restrictive laws and regulations all put additional barriers on women’s ability to open a bank account, get a loan, own land, or start their own businesses.

In a recent report from Edelman, Millennials with Money, 77 percent of affluent millennials in the US believe that the current financial system is designed to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of “ordinary people.” That belief system only grows when you look at global data. According to the World Bank’s 2017 Global Findex Database — the most recent edition of the report, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — only 65 percent of women globally have a bank account compared to 72 percent of men.

In 40 percent of the countries assessed as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap report (an annual benchmark of gender-based disparities across 149 countries), women do not have the same access to financial services as men. The Economic Participation and Opportunity gap — which specifically looks at participation in the workforce, payment for work, and advancement opportunities — is 41.9 percent: “Gaps in control of financial assets and in time spent on unpaid tasks continue to preserve economic disparities between men and women.”

This isn’t expected to change quickly with the current financial system. The World Economic Forum estimates that based on overall trends and underlying economic factors, it will take 202 years to close the economic gender gap. This is reinforced by Coinbase research conducted with Qriously revealing that half of millennial women believe the pace at which women are gaining equal access to finance is happening more slowly than they’d expect.

Coinbase research also found that financial gender inequity is not only an issue in the developing world. Coinbase uncovered that 31 percent of college-educated women in the US and the UK do not believe they have equal access to the financial system in their own countries. That data is supported by the WEF’s most recent Global Gender Gap Index; the US ranks 19 and UK ranks 52 out of 149 countries for Economic Participation and Opportunity.

The connection between finance and freedom

So why is this such a big deal? “Freedom,” says Laura Shin, a journalist who covers the crypto space, and the publisher of the Unchained and Unconfirmed podcasts. “Frankly, that’s what’s at stake when it comes to accessing your own finances.”

Without the ability to open a bank account and transact with the financial system, it’s practically impossible to start a business, become an entrepreneur, and make your own money, notes Soona Amhaz, co-founder of Token Daily, a cryptocurrency and blockchain platform and newsletter that helps people understand the cryptocurrency space. “Let’s say you have a dream of getting something started. You need to open up an account. You need a way to process revenue. And, if you aren’t able to actually get that approval, you aren’t going to be able to do it.”

“Unequal access to financial resources mean unequal access to opportunities,” agrees Olivia Wang, the US head of ZhenFund, China’s largest early-stage fund, founded in partnership with Sequoia China. “We’re in a new era where money flows so fluidly, money is exchanged for information, for education, for entertainment, for expression so quickly and so seamlessly that it becomes more and more imperative that people are able to access financial resources. Financial empowerment is an important part of the blockchain community, the crypto community.”

How crypto allows for equal access to finance

Technology, including crypto, lowers barriers to entry giving anyone with a smartphone the ability to access financial services. “With crypto, you don’t need to ask for approval from a third party,” explains Token Daily’s Amhaz. “You don’t need a passport. It’s not geographically bound. All you need is an internet connection. And you can spin up a wallet, or have your own address, and someone can send money from their internet account to your internet account.”

And in countries where bank account access is limited to men, whether legally or culturally, access to technology can make or break women’s abilities to control their own lives and opportunities. The World Bank has reported evidence that mobile money accounts may already be helping to close the gender gap: “In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, men are twice as likely as women to have a financial institution account — yet women are just as likely as men to have a mobile money account only.”

As Laura Shin notes, “For most of us in the developed world, the barriers to us and our money are pretty frictionless. We can access our funds anytime with credit cards or ATMs or simply going onto an app or website and making a simple payment. Yet there are some more traditional societies where women are not allowed to earn money or are not allowed to have bank accounts or there’s a social taboo against them having bank accounts.”

Ire Aderinokun, co-founder of BuyCoins, a crypto exchange based in Lagos, Nigeria, notes how even in places where women are legally allowed to have a bank account, cultural norms hold women back from controlling their own money. “Cryptocurrency can be really powerful for women, especially in countries like Nigeria, because it allows them to have their financial independence. It’s typically expected here that the man be the person controlling the finances in the home. Even in cases where a woman actually has a job, she’s typically expected to hand over her earnings to her husband, who can then decide how the money will be spent. This can create a really bad power imbalance between the husband and the wife.”

Financial inclusion in the United States

Financial inequality is not only a phenomenon in developing countries. FreeFrom is a US-based organization that works to create financial security for survivors of domestic violence. “One in four women in the U.S. will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetime,” notes FreeFrom founder and CEO Sonya Passi. “In 98 percent of domestic violence cases, in addition to there being physical abuse and emotional abuse, there’s also financial abuse. Survivors of domestic violence typically have every single known aspect of their lives monitored.” recently granted $25,000 worth of crypto to women who had not yet been able to leave abusive situations for financial reasons. “Cryptocurrency offers survivors the opportunity to keep their money private until they’re ready to use it. For someone who is experiencing abuse at home, here in the U.S., who doesn’t have a bank account, who maybe doesn’t have a job — or access to cash — cryptocurrency can be a lifeline that is the difference between life and death,” Passi added.

How financial inclusion benefits all

While the current financial system may be moving more slowly than women would like, Coinbase research points to general optimism around technology and its role in shaping the future of finance; 93 percent of college-educated women believe tech will impact finance in the next 10 years. And 39 percent of millennial women say their interest in crypto would be greater if they knew it could make finance more accessible to all genders.

Research shows that changes brought about by financial inclusion benefit everyone by boosting the general output of the global economy. A recent report by BNY Mellon and the UN Foundation, Powering Potential, found that achieving equality in women’s access to financial products and services could unlock $330 billion in global annual revenue. “Countries that place additional restrictions on the economic rights of women forgo the benefits that would be gained by allowing women to choose for themselves whether, and how, they would like to participate in the formal economy,” notes the 2017 edition of Cato Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World report. “Financial independence and economic empowerment is key to greater gender equality.”

As Amhaz notes, “If you are only tapping into half of your population’s talent, ideas, and productivity, you’re only going to go so far. And empowering that other half and really tapping into that pool of creators and makers and shakers is going to just take us forward. That will be the competitive advantage for countries that want to continue in our globalized economy.”

Olivia Wang encourages all of the women in her life to educate themselves about crypto technology and what it enables. “We live in a world where business transactions happen all the time, and blockchain and crypto will facilitate kind of the next wave of commerce. Having a group that are mothers, leaders, sisters, wives — it’s half the world. I tell people that the most important thing is to educate yourself, to think independently, to read, to speak to people, and to develop your worldview. Through that worldview, I hope that women and the whole global community can come closer to the understanding that Bitcoin could be a great instrument to further this vision.”

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