An Opportunity to Deepen Women’s DFS Engagement: Baseline Findings of a Pilot RCT in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the digitization of wages presents an opportunity to introduce women to digital financial services (DFS) at scale. However, little research examines the ways in which digital wages can influence women’s labor force participation and economic empowerment. Dr. Zaki Wahhaj and Maliha Rahanaz of the University of Kent, Canterbury are amongst the first academics to examine this relationship with a pilot randomized controlled trial in Bangladesh titled “Empowering Poor Urban Women in Bangladesh through Digital Financial Services: Does Wage Payment via Mobile Money translate into Economic Empowerment?” In collaboration with HelloTask, a gig economy platform that connects domestic workers to employment opportunities, the research team plans to measure the impact of DFS training and digital wage payments on women’s financial behavior and economic empowerment. The results of their baseline data collection illustrate women’s low DFS knowledge and usage, while highlighting opportunities to leverage DFS to advance women’s economic empowerment.

Baseline Data Collection

The research team conducted baseline data collection in July and August 2022. The team surveyed 564 female domestic workers residing in five low-income communities across Dhaka city. Subsequently, researchers conducted two focus group discussions totaling 28 women across two study zones in September 2022. The team’s results paint an interesting portrait of a typical woman in the sample, as indicated in Figure 1 below.

The study sample consists of relatively young, low-income, low-skilled women who are motivated to relocate in search of better economic opportunities. A majority of women in the sample were in their mid-thirties. 65% are married, and 15% of households are female-headed. Additionally, 17% of the sampled women are the primary earner in their households. These women have low levels of educational attainment – 44% have completed primary school, and less than 20% have completed secondary school. A majority of the women relocated to Dhaka city in search of work, and about half of these women have previously worked with HelloTask as a domestic worker. Finally, almost all women in the sample have access to a personal phone.¹

Findings and Implications 

Baseline survey findings illustrate that women’s lack of awareness of DFS and cash flow constraints limit their engagement with DFS. Conversely, these trends spotlight opportunities for DFS-related capacity building and gender-informed product design.

The women in the sample demonstrated high awareness of basic digital financial services, but low usage. Specifically, 83% of the women in the sample expressed that they have used mobile money at some point, and a majority expressed knowledge of the basic functions of a mobile money account, namely making deposits, withdrawals, and sending funds. However, less than 5% of these women have deposited funds into their mobile money accounts. And among those who send money using mobile money accounts, half have designated another individual, such as a spouse, child or employer, to send transactions on their behalf.

Figure 1: Portrait of a typical woman in the baseline sample *Calculated based on the BDT to USD exchange rate on August 1, 2022

The women infrequently used mobile money to receive funds. Less than one third of women in the sample have used a mobile money account to receive funds, likely driven by their lack of awareness of this function. While 31% of women knew that they could receive their wages from HelloTask into their mobile money accounts, less than 10% reported that they were aware that this function extends to other sources.

While the women saved, they rarely used mobile money accounts to do so. More than two-thirds of women reported saving in the last 12 months, with 42% reporting using a formal savings mechanism. However, less than 1% reported saving in a mobile money account. Women expressed that they immediately cash out funds received, suggesting that they view mobile money accounts as an intermediary step to accessing cash, rather than a mechanism to help them save.

The women demonstrated low awareness regarding the link between economic independence and account ownership. As illustrated through focus group discussions, women equate greater empowerment with earning higher wages. However, they do not associate economic empowerment with improvements along behavioral dimensions, such as financial decision making within the household.

The implications of these findings are several fold:

  • It is evident that for women in the sample, having access to DFS is not sufficient to increase knowledge, awareness, and usage of DFS services.
  • Lack of knowledge about the potential uses of mobile money accounts is limiting these women’s application of the product.
  • Without an understanding of the opportunities that DFS hold, the surveyed women may lack sufficient motivation to use these products more effectively.

In this context, optimism is warranted regarding the efficacy of the research team’s DFS intervention.

Next Steps

The research team launched their intervention, a financial literacy training coupled with digital wage payments, in September 2022. Endline data collection is scheduled to be conducted in September 2023, with final results in hand by the end of the calendar year. The study’s results will hold implications for the estimated 9.5 million female domestic workers in Bangladesh, who stand to benefit from enhanced financial inclusion. Additionally, results will help employers such as HelloTask, who compensate workers via digital wage payments,  design targeted financial training to enhance the wellbeing of their workers. Finally, the study findings may help DFS providers better understand the needs of women living in poverty in Bangladesh more generally, and lead to gender-sensitive DFS and wage digitization innovations.

¹This measure included both feature phones and smart phones.

Results generated by Dr. Zaki Wahhaj and Maliha Rahanaz and summarized by Kym Cole. The research constitutes part of Ms. Rahanaz’s PhD work at the University of Kent under the supervision of Dr Wahhaj and Dr Bansi Malde.

For questions about these results, please contact Dr. Zaki Wahhaj and Maliha Rahanaz at and, respectively.