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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, the global financial inclusion celebrity (and Prime Minister of India) Narendra Modi visits with United States President Barack Obama. The pair will discuss the deepening U.S.-India relationship, including progress on climate change and clean energy partnerships, security and defense cooperation, and economic growth priorities. As a reader of our blog, you’re likely aware of Prime Minister Modi and India’s commitment to advancing financial inclusion in the country. Indeed, at the close of 2015, we named India our Financial Inclusion Country of the Year. In honor of Prime Minister Modi’s visit today, we wanted to take a moment to spotlight some of the strides that India has taken to bank the unbanked. After a brief review of the broad initiatives, we identify some highlights from recent months.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI, with contributions from Nathan Were, Program Manager, FINCA

Technology is revolutionizing the way financial services are delivered to low income clients. Though of course many questions remain about exactly how this will happen, how fast, and which technologies are the best. Setting aside these uncertainties for a minute, I would like to look at some of the (perhaps unexpected) implications that many financial service providers may be considering as they lean-in digitally.

What do we do with the branches? Brick and mortar bank branches have been a symbol for financial services for a long time. They herald trust and confidence among users of financial services. But with the growing prominence of new technologies, including mobile, point of sale merchant terminals, and internet-enabled banking, customers access service remotely. What will happen to the branches? It’s almost certain that branches will retain at least some of their traditional service functionality, but if the move to digital is as robust as expected, changes to branches will likely be robust as well. With iTunes, streaming services, and digital music, how many brick and mortar stores are still around that sell CDs? Here are some ideas for the future of bank branches:
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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

The following post draws observations from the just-released FI2020 Progress Report on Technology. See the full report to explore other topics and cast your vote on global progress in advancing financial inclusion.

Technology innovation is dramatically changing the financial services landscape—and quickly. No longer are simple 2G/SMS-based payments the talk of the financial inclusion community. Instead, a range of platforms and products and services promise that as we move into the future, the costs of providing services will be lower, and the base of the pyramid will be within reach for mainstream financial services providers.

The world in which these innovations are mainstreamed is one where the agent network concerns we have today will be gone. In the cash-lite or cash-free world that technology providers are seeking, there will, in fact, be few to no agents, as people will receive money electronically and spend it electronically without ever converting it to cash. When is the last time you went to a banking agent?

Consider the following innovations that allow important financial transactions to take place without a detour through cash. (For a more comprehensive list of innovations, see the FI2020 Progress Report on Technology.)

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> Posted by Bruce J. MacDonald, Vice President, Communications & Operations, CFI

(Photo by Damon Jacoby ©2015)

In New York yesterday to celebrate the launch of the FI2020 Progress Report (and Accion’s and Citi’s 50-year partnership, and the awarding of the first Accion Edward W. Claugus Award – Accion never does anything by halves…), we had the privilege of an audience with Dr. Daniel Schydlowsky.

Dr. Schydlowsky, recipient of said award, hardly needs introducing. As Superintendent of Banking, Insurance & Private Pension Fund Administrators for Peru, and as chair of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, he symbolizes the gold standard of financial inclusion regulation. Scratch that – he is the gold standard. Peru has ranked at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Microscope report for seven consecutive years. And to paraphrase the old E.F. Hutton TV ad, when Daniel Schydlowsky speaks, people listen. “We can perfectly well keep banking systems safe, and still do something for inclusion,” he said, explaining his philosophy of regulation (and thereby, perhaps, Peru’s standing). “Indeed, the more we include, the safer we’re making the banking system.”

Like our new Progress Report, Schydlowsky outlined his view of what lies ahead and what he’s excited about. First up: The promise of new loan-origination techniques. Making microloans is an artisanal craft, and thus expensive. But he is optimistic about the promise of new developments: big data, customer-relationship tools, and psychometric training (again, as is our Progress Report). Come to Peru, he urged innovators, where you will find a willing partner and audience.

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> Posted by Carol Caruso, Senior Vice President, Channels & Technology, Accion

Providing micro financial services is often a costly endeavor. As practiced in most places today, it involves many manual processes which limit the potential for scaling up and expose vulnerability to poor service, errors, and fraud. Furthermore, as telco operators and fintech companies bring services to customers through new distribution mechanisms, microfinance banks (MFBs) need to explore innovative ways to competitively deliver their services. Hence, it is promising to see a rise in the use of tablets, smartphones, and other devices housing applications that digitize field operations. Digital field applications (DFAs) offer MFBs a way to take advantage of technology to solve some of these challenges. Globally MFBs have deployed DFAs in a wide variety of ways. For example, loan officers equipped with DFAs can process loan applications and answer client inquiries in the field, eliminating paper forms, digitizing data, and saving time and money for organizations and their clients. Bringing financial services out to clients can achieve a much-needed personal touch and can even increase the richness of the client interaction. For example, client education and consumer protection awareness can be more effective when digital messages are delivered by a field staff member. DFAs can also improve credit operations. When assessing loan applications and risks, field officers can operate more efficiently if digitally equipped.

In order for MFBs to successfully leverage these tools, both for their and their clients’ benefit, they must understand their business case, and incorporate best practices for implementation that have been derived from lessons learned by others. There is no shortage of pilots that have been halted due to challenges arising from lack of experience and understanding – despite hardware availability or subsidies.

With this in mind, Accion’s Channels & Technology group have published a case study aiming to provide some clarity on the impact of DFA use by examining the business case, implementation process, and effects for three MFBs: Ujjivan Financial Services in India, Musoni Kenya, and Opportunity Bank Serbia (OBS). Our case study presents a consolidated review of the findings from the three MFBs, with an accompanying Excel-based business case toolkit, available for MFBs to examine the potential impact a DFA might have on their business. Individual cases presenting the findings from each institution are also available – here, here, and here.

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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

Technology has brought safe and simple financial solutions to Somalia, a place where, until the past few years, they were completely non-existent. In June 2015, MasterCard became the first international payment network to enter Somalia, a country that hasn’t had a formal banking or financial system since the collapse of its government in 1991. MasterCard issued its first 5,000 debit cards to be used by Premier Bank, one of the few commercial banks in the country. The cards will be compatible with Premier’s ATMs, whereby customers can conduct cash withdrawals. MasterCard’s products will be the first domestically-issued debit cards in Somalia, the last remaining country in Africa not under sanctions that the company hasn’t worked in yet.

Somalia has been mired in decades of conflict since 1991, and the government continues to battle al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab insurgents. Despite the formation of a federal parliament in 2012, creating a more stable government, turmoil continues to severely restrict development of the banking system. For example, the country installed the first ATM machines in the capital, Mogadishu, only last year.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

The Helix Institute of Digital Finance recently launched the Kenya Country Report 2014 as part of their Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) project. The ANA project is aimed at increasing global understanding of how to build and manage sustainable digital financial services (DFS) networks by conducting large-scale research among DFS agents and issuing training to providers and other stakeholders. In this two-part interview, Dorieke Kuijpers, Research Project Manager at the Helix Institute and co-author of the report, provides insight into the ANA project and the Kenya Country Report. The following is part two. Part one can be found here.

One of the big findings of the survey is that banks’ agents now account for 15 percent of the agent banking market in Kenya – a threefold increase over last year. What are some of the other key developments in the market?

We have identified a number of market developments by comparing the Kenya 2014 survey findings with those of the Kenya 2013 survey. Mobile network operators (MNOs) have led the success in the digital financial services industry in Kenya and historically have been considered better in marketing and distribution than banks, which is not surprising given that many MNOs in East Africa have more clients than banks do. Nearly a decade of development later, we see this changing: banks are now making large investments in the DFS business and they are approaching it in a very different way.

An interesting finding is that although we observe a significant increase in the market presence of bank agents, the products and services they offer are in many ways additive as opposed to competing with those of MNO agents. While MNO agents are still conducting a higher number of transactions (almost twice as many as bank agents), bank agents are offering a greater and more sophisticated array of services, including bill payments, savings, and credits. Also, the median amount transacted among bank agents is roughly 50 percent higher, which means their revenue is now similar to that of MNO agents. This is reflected in the fact that out of the 32 percent of agents that report wanting to open a new till for another provider, the overwhelming majority of agents would like to join a bank’s network, with Equity Bank being the most popular option.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

The Helix Institute of Digital Finance recently launched the Kenya Country Report 2014 as part of their Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) project. The ANA project is aimed at increasing global understanding of how to build and manage sustainable digital financial services (DFS) networks by conducting large-scale research among DFS agents and issuing training to providers and other stakeholders. In this two-part interview, Dorieke Kuijpers, Research Project Manager at the Helix Institute and co-author of the report, provides insight into the ANA project and the Kenya Country Report. Part two will be published next week.

The new Kenya report focuses on the operational determinants of success in agent network management. By way of background, can you give an overview of these components and tell us about the scope of this survey?

The country report is based on 2,128 mobile money agent interviews carried out in 2014 across Kenya. For the survey, we partnered with Research Solutions Africa (RSA), a research firm that has vast experience working in several African countries. After undergoing an intensive training by MicroSave’s lead researchers, the team of enumerators recruited by RSA conducted the several-thousand interviews with mobile money agents spread throughout the country. The findings of the survey resulted in the Kenya 2014 Country Report as well as five (confidential) reports that present providers with an overview of provider-specific findings.

The questionnaire that we used focuses on five operational determinants of success in agent network management, or pillars, as we call them. Both our country reports and our provider reports are based on these pillars. The first pillar, agent and agency demographics, helps us develop an agent profile at the country level and covers indicators such as the age of an agency and the proportion of dedicated and exclusive agents. Core agency operations is the crux of the research as this pillar looks at the health of an agency—e.g. the products and services offered, the number of daily transactions, the types of transactions conducted, and the average value of transactions. Liquidity management looks at an agent’s liquidity practices and needs and how these affect their daily transaction levels. The pillar quality of provider support analyzes the extent to which service providers support their agents in terms of trainings and refresher trainings, monitoring visits, and availability of call centers. Lastly, business model viability assesses the financial strength of an agent.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Financial inclusion stories and research are published daily, lauding various efforts to bring lower-income people into the formal banking fold. All progress deserves celebration, but also closer examination. When a new initiative takes effect, or a new service deployed, how does that advance us in achieving financial inclusion? A backdrop of sound measurement is critical. A BBVA research team, Noelia Cámara and David Tuesta, recently set out to construct an index that measures the extent of financial inclusion at the country or region level. The index is discussed and applied to 82 countries in the team’s new paper, Measuring Financial Inclusion: A Multidimensional Index. We were especially intrigued to learn that this research incorporates both supply and demand-side data. I recently sat down with Cámara to talk about the project, from challenges in measuring financial inclusion to the implications of the newly-available index.

1. What are the challenges in measuring financial inclusion?

Many issues arise when it comes to measuring financial inclusion. First, there is no single definition for financial inclusion universally accepted in the literature. Most definitions include three dimensions: use, quality, and access. However, when it comes to defining these dimensions, no consensus is found. For instance, the use of financial services is part of the financial inclusion concept, but it is not clear what “use of financial services” really means. Thus, several questions come to the fore: Do we consider having a bank account in the formal financial system to be a necessary condition for financial inclusion? Is having a pre-paid card or microinsurance enough to classify an individual as included? Is using electronic payment intermediation (e.g. paying bills with a mobile phone) a sufficient condition?

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This is our second response to the provocative post two weeks ago from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.

“In other words, why is there such an inherent innovation deficit within the very commercial ventures that we think are going to drive financial inclusion forward? Do market players really need this very granular level of handholding to get what academics, NGOs, and donors so clearly believe in? …Or is the problem, rather, that there isn´t enough of a competitive push to drive them to want to innovate as a key source of market advantage?”

What follows is a response from Gerhard Coetzee, who leads the CGAP Customers at the Centre Team.

In considering the question posed by Ignacio Mas, I am reminded of the work of business strategist C.C. Markides. He did not see it as “the great competition and innovation deficit” question, but rather, the challenge of how large institutions make two business models exist in the same organization. In fact, the question is how to serve two distinct market segments in the same institution. He notes that the large industry players that develop new radical business models are exceptions rather than the rule. Most innovations and market changing models are introduced by newcomers to that industry.

Why don’t we see the large financial service providers (FSPs), who have the ability to change things at scale, jump into this area of the market and deliver solutions to low-income and poor customers even where regulation may enable them to engage? In essence the argument focuses on product centricity, incomplete business cases, an over-emphasis on the supplier view of cost to serve, short-termism of incentive structures, and competition for resources in large organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.