The integration of mobile money into microfinance operations is one of the most exciting yet challenging prospects facing microfinance providers today. Mobile money presents a fast, cost-efficient and flexible alternative delivery channel through which money can be transferred, loans can be repaid and savings can be deposited.
You’d be forgiven for thinking microfinance has gone wildly out of fashion. The “development caravan”—defined as the wagon train of poverty interventions that excite donors—has pulled away from micro-lending, drawn to more powerful things like BRAC-style graduation programmes (which aim to “graduate” people from extreme poverty into a sustainable livelihood) and bKash-like mobile money, according to recent coverage in The Economist.
In April, BRAC, Access to Information (a2i), fhi360, USAID and IFMR LEAD jointly organised an event named ‘Digital financial inclusion: Innovations from Bangladesh’ to invite local stakeholders to discuss their experiences and emerging solutions (see a recent write-up by IMFR LEAD summarising the event).
What comes to your mind when you think of microfinance? To me it’s 'easy access'- a key factor that has enabled the sector to reach 34 million poor people in Bangladesh, essentially bringing financial services to their doorstep.
2015 was an important year for the world of financial inclusion. Starting with the publication of the six randomised controlled trials results in January that sparked debate on the impacts of microcredit, the sector went on to celebrate (and question) an increase of 700 million people with access to financial services since 2011, with the publication of the 2014 Global Findex.
“I can’t thank BRAC enough for standing beside me when I needed help the most,” Rahela, 24, a microfinance borrower and recipient of BRAC’s credit shield insurance, tells us. She borrowed USD 385 in January 2015 to invest in a small clothing business. Recalling her experience, she reveals, “My husband was not interested initially in having a joint insurance policy, but when the customer service assistant explained it in detail, we decided that we should pay the small premium.”
Imagine a world where there is no access to financial services. You cannot save, which means you cannot set aside money for the future. You cannot access a loan, which means you are shut off from a limitless number of opportunities, including investing in an enterprise, purchasing a home or land, or maintaining household expenses when cash is tight. You don’t have insurance or any kind of buffer against shocks, such as medical emergencies in the family, a sudden loss of a job, or natural disasters. Would you be able to manage?
For Shahina, a poor woman living in the remote rural district of Noakhali in southern Bangladesh, getting cash used to be a long ordeal. Since she didn’t have a mobile wallet, Shahina used to have to travel three kilometres to visit the local bKash agent to collect remittances sent by her husband and two sons, who were working in the city. Sometimes she was unable to make the trip without someone to watch her children. The roads are often impassable after rains and the market is far away. And often the agent charges informal ‘service fees’ before dispensing her cash.
Stuart Rutherford is an expert in financial services for the poor, and the author of ‘The Poor and Their Money’. He founded SafeSave in 1996, to provide basic banking services in the slums of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. Nearly two decades on SafeSave serves 19,000 clients, helping them afford everyday expenses and budget for bigger life events.
Originally posted on The Center for Financial Inclusion blog. BRAC welcomes the launch of the FI2020 Progress Report. BRAC has been an active supporter in the drive to facilitate universal financial access by 2020, having enabled the financial inclusion of over 6 million people in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Myanmar.