In Tunisia gender inequalities persist and women often lack access to formal financial services. The Financial Inclusion Index survey showed that 83% of Advans Tunisie’s female clients were accessing loans for the first time compared to only 59% of male clients. These inequalities are and will be exacerbated by the growing use of digital channels in the financial sector, which threaten to further marginalize women. In line with Advans Tunisie’s mission to drive the financial inclusion of underserved populations, the institution launched a project with the support of GIZ in 2022 to gain a better understanding of the barriers facing female entrepreneurs and adapt its services accordingly. The study combined a quantitative and qualitative approach including a telephone survey with 486 women (including Advans clients, prospects and clients of other MFIs), 9 focus groups in the underserved regions of Béja, Bizerte, Jendouba, Siliana and Zaghouan and an online survey with 281 of Advans Tunisia’s staff.
Women entrepreneurs have to juggle personal and professional priorities and are not the key financial decision-makers in the household.
The study showed that female entrepreneurs were often overburdened by domestic tasks and family responsibilities. While 90% of respondents contributed to household expenses (especially food, clothes and bills) and almost all women in focus groups said they managed household finances, their participation in economic decisions outside of everyday errands is limited. In addition, women’s mobility can be restricted in particular in rural areas. Women also lacked time to dedicate to their business due to their household duties. 50% of women interviewed in the study had an informal business (no legal status). 69% of respondents said they encountered difficulties in developing their projects, with the main difficulty highlighted being the lack of financial resources or inadequate funding. Other issues included barriers to market access, difficulties related to the marketing of products (especially agricultural or innovative products) and high competition. Some were also still suffering from the impacts of Covid, the shortage of resources on the market and inflation. In terms of managerial autonomy, 56% of respondents are assisted in the management of their projects, with 53% of those assisted receiving support from their husband.
Loans help the uptake of other financial services, but women want more flexible and easy access loans to invest in the future of their business.
59% of all respondents had an account with a financial institution. There are significant disparities between regions, Siliana being the governorate most affected by inaccessibility to an account with a financial institution (47%) and Bizerte the least (67%). The main barrier cited by women in the study (71%) was the lack of income. Women who had a loan with Advans or elsewhere were more likely to have an account, with 66% of microfinance clients having access to an account compared to 52% of prospects. But only 60% of banked women had used their accounts in the last 3 months. 70% of those who had requested a loan wanted to improve their activity (investment) whereas 10% needed it for working capital. 75% of women asked someone else for advice to access credit – most often their husband or another family member. Guarantor/guarantees, long procedures and having to take out insurance with the loan were the main difficulties faced by respondents. 48% of the women wanted a higher loan amount for their business, but most requests were under 7 000 TND (around 2 000 EUR).
Use of Digital Financial Services is still very limited among female micro-entrepreneurs.
While 80% of respondents own cell phones or computers, only 8% of respondents declared using Digital Financial Services (DFS) and only 23% of women have a payment/credit card. Women micro-entrepreneurs and older female clients use smartphones less and lack digital literacy compared to younger small and medium female entrepreneurs. One of the obstacles to the adoption of mobile or digital payment methods is the prevalence of cash in the female economy. None of the respondents had already requested a credit online and most preferred to visit the branch to get information. Most respondents said they would be motivated to carry out their transactions online if they received training in new technologies and mobile application management. The training should be in Arabic, simple and accessible to all, and should cover online payment or how to submit an online credit application.
Women also need non-financial support to better manage their money.
48% of respondents said they had been able to build up savings with 38% saving formally, and the study showed that having access to credit increases women’s capacity to save. Most women were saving for unexpected family expenses or to grow their projects. Nonetheless some respondents had already experienced difficulties during repayment, due to lack of liquidity, no time to get to the bank, or a difficult economic context (inflation, Covid, climate events). Financial education could be a good way to help women better manage their money, save formally, and avoid repayment problems, but only 3% of respondents had had any formal training from a financial services provider in the past. 24% of females interviewed identified financial education and money management as a key need, followed by management and marketing of their business (23%). Most women would prefer classroom training (79% one-to-one or coaching) but 23% were open to online training too.
Moving forward, Advans Tunisie is organizing workshops to disseminate results, and is working on adapting its products & services offer.
Advans Tunisie is organizing awareness-raising workshops with industry players to share the results of the study and reflect on actions that Financial Service Providers can implement to better serve women entrepreneurs especially in underserved regions. Advans Tunisie has also conducted internal workshops to look to how it could better adapt its value propositions, training and marketing and sales strategies based on the typical female profiles identified. By sharing the study results and engaging its staff in strategic reflexions, Advans Tunisie aims to ensure that they are convinced of the business case behind a gender smart approach and understand why and how sales approaches should be adapted to better meet women's needs. The conclusions of these reflexions will enable Advans Tunisie to launch a tailored female product offer and campaign to help women entrepreneurs take full advantage of Advans financial services and grow their businesses.
 Financial Inclusion Index Survey Conducted by 60 Decibels in 2021 with 253 clients of Advans Tunisie
Deutsche Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GMBH the German Agency for International Development Cooperation
 All figures cited in this article come from the Quantitative phone survey with 486 respondents, with some qualitative feedback added from the focus groups.