Opportunity Ghana is using innovative technology to provide financial services to a greater number of impoverished people in remote and rural areas of the country, many of whom have never before had access to formal banking. Through a “hub-and-spoke” method, Opportunity International uses low-cost delivery methods, including kiosk satellite branches, point-of-sale (POS) devices, cell phone banking and mobile banking vehicles, to eradicate poverty in more underserved areas outside of urban centers.
The plan for kiosk satellite branches brought new lessons and challenges for OISL, one of Opportunity’s microfinance institutions in Ghana. With cash transactions, they found that the structure of the bank does matter to clients. Clients report feeling more reassured when handing over their hard-earned cash at an actual bank branch, as opposed to a smaller, less permanent-looking kiosk. OISL made an operational decision to try a different approach and they continued to look for new, economically sound ways of reaching deeper into communities. The results are taking OISL down a new path.
OISL has begun developing more local business partnerships to utilize the resources that are already reaching their current and potential clients across the country. At the end of 2011, OISL began enrolling local merchants as “OISL agents” by supplying them with POS devices, so that clients can transact business with OISL while in their shops. Under this model, a client is able to add electronic money to their mobile phones, withdraw cash and make loan repayments right in their local bakery, cell phone accessory shop or grocery store.
Today, OISL has 25 POS devices deployed in retail shops in the western, eastern, Brong Ahafo, and Greater Accra regions of Ghana, and is establishing partnerships with more merchants in this upcoming year. OISL’s other service delivery channels include 29 branches, three traveling mobile vans, and two Community Banking Centers, which are premises where clients meet with loan officers. Not only this, but OISL clients can make financial transactions in an unlimited number of locations simply by using their mobile phones. OISL partners with the local mobile phone service provider MTN, which allows clients to keep their money electronically and make various types of transactions. Using their cell phones, clients can pay bills or transfer money to relatives and friends using text messaging. At participating retail shops, the MobileMoney service allows clients to load money onto their phones, withdraw their mobile money as cash, or purchase products and services in that store. In 2011, OISL rolled out MTN’s MobileMoney solution at all of its branches and plans to begin partnering with other mobile phone service providers in this upcoming year.
These types of partnerships with retail merchants and cell phone service providers are cost-effective and allow OISL the ability to expand to new areas as never before. For Opportunity Ghana, the year 2012 started off well and 2013 looks bright indeed. We look forward to seeing what new innovations the new year has in store.
Dana Lunberry is a program manager based in Opportunity’s US headquarters. She manages and reports on our work in Ghana and eight other countries in which we operate.