We sat down with our Senior Program Manager, Alex Baum, to learn about an exciting new mobile banking program in Ghana. We can't wait to hear updates about this initiative's progress in the months ahead!
Alex, can you tell us a little bit about mobile banking? What is it and why is it important? What does it allow us to do?
Alex: Mobile banking is a service provided by financial institutions that allows clients to use their mobile phone to conduct banking transactions like making deposits, withdrawing money, or repaying loans. This is so important in the work that Opportunity is doing because we work in such rural and remote areas. Without a mobile option, some of our clients might need to travel for half a day to the nearest large city in order to reach a bank branch. That means closing their business, being away from their families, carrying large amounts of cash on their person, and incurring the other costs that a trip like that requires. It’s a huge requirement placed on some of the world’s most underserved people, and it's a major barrier to financial inclusion in many countries.
Mobile banking allows these clients to conduct their banking from the comfort of their own home and village. With mobile banking, a client can deposit savings from their weekly earnings using their mobile phone or through an “agent” banker, someone like a shopkeeper working down the street who also serves as an agent of Opportunity. This is an enormous savings of cost and time for our clients, as well as more efficient for our banks, who can use mobile banking instead of building expensive brick-and-mortar branches. This is made possible because mobile phones are now so ubiquitous: throughout much of Africa, more people have mobile phones than have electricity. Mobile banking lets us tap into this immense communications network in order to bring financial inclusion to some of the world’s most isolated communities.
Wow! It's amazing that so many people have access to cell phones—and even more amazing the power those devices have to revolutionize banking and financial inclusion. Where has Opportunity had a mobile banking presence so far?
Alex: Opportunity has developed mobile banking platforms in Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, and Malawi. Many of our other institutions also take advantage of mobile money and other digital technologies in order to better serve our clients.
One of our partners in Ghana—Sinapi Aba—is preparing to launch a new mobile banking platform, right? What makes this project so exciting?
Alex: Part of the reason is that Sinapi Aba is a dedicated organization that is driven to serve the poor, and mobile banking will allow them to reach even more needy families and entrepreneurs. Another reason is that because this will be a service offered by Sinapi Aba, instead of through a third party network, our clients will have access to new services, like being able to pay their bills online, that weren’t options before.
But the biggest reason this is so exciting is because of where Sinapi Aba works. Sinapi Aba is one of the few financial institutions in Ghana to operate in the country’s northern regions, which are generally poorer and underbanked. By developing this mobile banking platform, Opportunity will be able to extend our services to some of the neediest communities in Ghana, reaching isolated towns and villages that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to enter the formal financial system.
What are some of the unique needs of people in these northern communities in Ghana? What makes mobile and digital services particularly useful in this context?
Alex: Well over 80% of Ghanaian adults own a mobile phone, and many more have access to one owned by a neighbor or relative. Opportunity has experience with mobile banking in Ghana, and we know that it can be effective. In addition, the northern regions of Ghana have the highest incidences of poverty in the country, and they are mainly rural and agricultural. With mobile banking we know that we won’t only be able to get strong penetration within these areas of Ghana, but we know that we’ll be providing services in areas with a lot of need.
This project is brand new, right? Where do we currently stand, and what are our next steps?
Alex: We are currently developing the mobile banking platform, and are currently in the process of conducting user testing. We hope to officially launch the platform later in 2018. But once that happens, our work won’t be over. Opportunity’s Digital Financial Services team works to not only make sure that digital technologies like mobile banking are available to our clients, but also that they are equipped to use them. After SASL’s mobile banking service is launched, Opportunity will focus on training, initiatives, and process improvements focused on making this tool work better for our most disadvantaged clients, including women, vulnerable groups, and low-literacy clients.
Thank you, Alex! We can't wait to learn more as this project continues—and we'll be sure to share updates with you on the blog!