Digital Financial Services, Transaction Costs, and Women’s Empowerment: A Qualitative Analysis


Financial services are important instruments for moving people out of poverty, promoting women’s livelihood options, and women’s economic empowerment (WEE). Standard financial services (SFS) have been effective in Bangladesh, as they expand enterprises of various kinds and promote women’s participation in them. However, there remains a persistent financing gap. Digital financial services (DFS) are known to reduce transaction costs that contribute to this gap.


This study builds upon a randomized control trial (RCT) funded by WEE-DiFine that examines the mediating role of transaction costs on the relationship between DFS and WEE. Implemented by the Shakti Foundation, a microfinance organization working with low-income households, the intervention will help clients open mobile money accounts with features that reduce transaction costs. Drawing on Professor Naila Kabeer’s work on gender, livelihoods, and capabilities, this extension study will engage ten women from each of the treatment and control arms in qualitative interviews.1 The interviews will be semi-structured in nature; some interviews will focus on understanding the causality captured through the RCT while others will be more open-ended to further unpack impacts not explored through the RCT. This mixed-method approach aims to inform and improve program design as it may lead to more inclusive DFS interventions in the future. Furthermore, women’s qualitative accounts of their experiences will apply at different stages of the study, from opening their mobile money accounts, to the utilization of financial services, to achievements in different domains of their lives over the following year. 

Proposed impact

This qualitative research builds on the existing knowledge base by contributing to a better understanding of the impact of transaction costs on DFS usage in Bangladesh. More specifically,  this research will increase our understanding of the ways that transaction costs may be hampering women’s economic empowerment. 


Photo by Akram Ali / CARE Bangladesh: Woman dairy farmer in Bangladesh, 7 January, 2012. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Kabeer, N. (2018) Gender, livelihood capabilities and women’s economic empowerment: reviewing evidence over the life course GAGE Working Paper, Overseas Development Institute, UK.


Associated Institute: BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University

Associated Investigators: Naila Kabeer, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE); Lopita Huq, BIGD, BRAC University

Country: Bangladesh

Implementation Partners: Shakti Foundation

WEE-DiFine thematic areas: transaction costs; velocity of transfers; opportunity cost of time; mobility; access to financial services