December 7, 2018,   12:14 PM

Empowering Women In Banking Could Add Trillions To The Global Economy

Claudine Coletti

Claudine Coletti is the Managing Editor for Forbes Middle East, focused on planning, writing and... FULL BIO

ann cairns

With only 35% of women in the Middle East and Africa having access to bank accounts compared to 52% of men, governments and banks in the Arab world are missing a significant opportunity to boost their economies, according to Ann Cairns, Vice Chairman of Mastercard.

“There are still two billion people underbanked around the world and the vast majority of them are women. Mckinsey say they could add $28 trillion to the world’s economy,” reveals Cairns. “Allowing women that are setting up their own businesses access to finance is vital. We will be poorer as a world if we don’t include women to the level that they should be included as 50% of the human race.”

According to Cairns, 75% of the current wealth of the global population will be inherited by women over the next 20 years, leading to a shift in allocation of capital around the world and an altering of investment profiles. This means that it’s not just the inclusion aspect that’s important for women, but also how they use their capital and the potential impact that could have. Mastercard expects to see an increase in social investment as women get wealthier.

Cairns is now urging women to become more involved in artificial intelligence as banks begin to build the future algorithms that will replace bankers in deciding the parameters for automated finance decisions, such as who can access a bank loan and how much. “It could actually hurt women because these algorithms are demanding data, and a lot of the time the data doesn’t exist for women,” she explains. “When it’s a woman going for a loan, we want the algorithms to say don’t consider collateral as an important variable. Measure other things.”

Cairns spoke to FORBES MIDDLE EAST on the sidelines of the Global Banking Alliance for Women’s Annual Summit 2018, where she was a guest speaker on the issue of female empowerment in banking. Since Mastercard promoted Cairns to Vice Chairman in June this year, she has focused on highlighting the industry gaps when it comes to inclusion and gender diversity, and the impact of that on innovation.

Having started her career in the eighties designing experiments for engineers and physicists at British Gas, the mathematics and statistics graduate is living proof of how women can not only succeed in male-dominated industries, but also be instrumental in their evolution. “I never allowed the fact that I was female to deter me from going into a particular field. In fact, I never even thought about it, it was just fun,” she admits.

After moving from the lab to the offshore side of the business at British Gas, Cairns retrained as an investment banker at Citibank before climbing the ranks in finance, working at ABN-AMRO and Alvarez & Marsal before joining Mastercard in 2011 heading up its international division.

To be successful and happy she encourages women to pursue careers they love, and never stop learning. “You shouldn’t force yourself to do things that don’t fit with your personality or your dreams. Go after something that you really want to do,” she says.

“Then feeling comfortable socializing and networking in a business environment is actually very important to your career succession. Find people who will sponsor you, both men and women—people you can reach out to for help.

“And the other thing is, once you’ve learnt something, you’ve got to think about the next thing. Don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed. Continuously ask yourself the question, what is it that I’m lacking, what do I not understand, what’s the next thing I’d like to do?”

The Global Banking Alliance for Women is the only global consortium of financial institutions dedicated to supporting banks as they capture the opportunity of the women’s market. It currently has 50 member banks, insurers, digital payment companies and non-profits across more than 135 countries.

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