It can get hard to save for the future, plan and invest in a business and survive economic reversals if one lacks access to finances or bank accounts. This is a reality for many individuals who live in poverty.
When the concept of microfinance was developed, people with extremely low incomes had the opportunity to acquire small loans with which they could start businesses and generate income. A revolution at the time, microfinance gave the poor a chance to get loans without a credit history and large collateral needed by the traditional banking sector. However, these kind of loans are still hampered by access and the need to handle finances which can drive up costs and interest rates. This hole is now being filled by mobile finance.
Electronic solutions are making banking options much more accessible across the world. They reduce the cost of infrastructure needed, and the administrative costs associated with maintaining financial accounts. Such remittances can be much more secure than traveling long distances to deposit cash in a bank. Government disbursement programs can also use mobile financing to directly remit payments to the welfare dependents. This cuts out the intermediaries, reduces opportunities for corruption and allows the beneficiary to get their monies quicker. Worldwide, 170 million people who receive payments directly from their governments stand to benefit from this approach.
M-Pesa, launched in Kenya by Safaricom, is one of the most wide-reaching mobile financing solutions. Over 17 million people in Kenya now use this product and over 25 percent of their GDP is moved through this system. Originally designed to facilitate microfinance loan repayments, M-Pesa allows cash deposits, withdrawals and cash transfers between people in the same way you would credit a phone with talk time. It has now expanded to Tanzania and Afghanistan.
Some of these initiatives are supported by development organizations. For instance, Bangladesh based Bkash is supported by BRAC Bank, IMF and The Gates Foundation among others. The Gates Foundation and other such organizations are closely involved in the process of making these solutions hit their stride.
The Gates Foundation assists in finding innovative new solutions and researches factors that would encourage their adoption. The foundation also works with governments to develop and implement policies that would stimulate this sector and develop suitable methods for oversight and accountability among the providers. As the technology slowly becomes mainstream and more competitors enter the market, governmental regulations will start to become more and more important.
In the words of Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, “More than one in three people on earth now lacks access to basic bank accounts or any kind of credit. Our goal is to bring that number to zero in just five years. Doing so will be an incredible challenge, but the reward will set us on a path to end extreme poverty by 2030.” Mobile financing is going a long way to bridge this gap and help achieve this goal.
– Mithila Rajagopal
Sources: Bkash, Economist, The Gates Foundation, LinkedIn Pulse, World Economic Forum