BankAsia in Bangladesh provides case study of how channel helps people in crucial moments
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 9 April 2020 – Agent banking is a win-win-win for all parties involved. It plays an important role for financial inclusion too. Acting as “proxy banks", agents provide a cost-effective way to serve individuals and small businesses needed to stimulate local development and economic growth, especially in remote areas
Proven successful in Latin America, Africa, India and the Far East, agent banking has taken hold in Bangladesh. There, WSBI member Bank Asia launched in 2014 its agent banking network when the central bank allowed agent banking in the rural areas where banks have no branches.
Bangladesh, a South Asian nation well-known as the birthplace of microcredit, the country has appeared gradually as the role model for innovative agent banking services. During last six years, this supplementary channel has helped “reach the unreached" and take banking services to the marginalised and excluded rural masses.
Agent banking means providing banking services to the “last mile" customers through engaging entrepreneurs under a valid agency agreement. Bank Asia introduced Agent Banking in 2014 with the objective of ensuring greater financial inclusion and increasing the outreach of the services to unbanked population. This technology-driven banking concept also aimed at ensuring appropriate security and providing real-time services to the customers. In span of only six years this specialised banking service witnessed a substantial headway in terms of the number of agents, accounts and deposits. The single initiative impacting seven sustainable development goals (SDG) to build a better Bangladesh.
Agent banking: Services range from deposits, withdrawal, business services and beyond
Bank Asia Agent Banking provides a wide range of banking services to the doorstep of customers which include deposit and withdrawal of cash, open different types of accounts for savings and business transactions, transfer of funds, payment of remittance and utility bills, support small loans for cottage micro and small enterprises and agricultural farmers at an affordable cost. People in any corner of the country are able to receive this structured banking facility with safety, comfort and ease. Owing to the convenience this banking service is expanding rapidly across the country.
Bank Asia has taken agent banking services to the doorsteps of grass-root people through Individual outlet Union Digital Center (UDC), institutional outlet Digital Post Office and Micro-Merchant points.
Incorporation of various technological innovations contributed to make this digital service popular to the general public and turned digital financial inclusion efforts tuned into what the people want. The innovations are:
Usage of a bio-metric devise in banking transaction instead of physical signature
NFC-enabled A-card (Agriculture card) for farmers' credit transaction management
Online Credit Approval System (OCAS)
Agent Banking SMART App for online transections
Micro Merchant model for smallholder entrepreneurs to serve end mile customers
Partnership model in banking system
Digital banking booth
These innovations expedited registrations of around 2 million unbanked and under-banked people with Bank Asia Agent Banking network where 82% of them are rural masses and 60% female. The “droplets" of money deposits from customers amassed reached BDT.14.72 billion (US$.174 million) in the bank's agent banking channel.
During the last six years, mainly from 2016, more than 9,500 agent outlets have been established across the country, registering around 3.9 million customers who deposited BDT.52 billion (US$.612 million) in this channel in 2018-2019 fiscal, according to the Bangladesh central bank.
The journey of agent banking in Bangladesh contributes towards women empowerment. More than250 agent outlets are operated by female entrepreneurs and contributing to adding female customers, thus minimising a gender gap at grassroots level. It also created job opportunities for 25,000 unemployed youths in the country where Bank Asia itself generated more than 15,000 jobs in the entire operation process from grassroots outlets to back office.
Highlights of agent banking in Bangladesh
BDT 2,590 million/
USD 30.00 million
*Data up to December 31, 2019 * BDT.85 = USD.1
To make this effort work, Bank Asia has built strategic relationship with 65 government and non-government organizations and development partners that include the government's Access to Information (a2i) project, UNDP, UNICEF, SwissContact, USAID, UKAID, WorldFish Bangladesh, ACDI/VOCA, Nathan Association London, VSO, German Red Cross, CARE Bangladesh, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, BRAC, Grameenphone, Robi Axiata Ltd and Metlife Alico and thus scaled up this service in a faster manner and reach to unreached.
Apart from regular banking support, Bank Asia disburses the government's Social Safety-net Payment, insolvent and autistic people's allowances, widow or divorced women allowance, freedom fighters' allowance, wages of road maintenance workers, student stipends, food security allowances, salary both government primary and non-government high school teachers through agent network, especially with help of Union Digital Centers(UDCs).
For salary payment and to cater the financial needs of Ready-Made Garment (RMG) workers, Bank Asia has set up of digital banking booth inside RMG factories. Introduced for the first time in Bangladesh, this initiative has facilitated banking services to workers, employees and owners inside the factory compound along enhanced training of usage of financial products and services which in the long run reduce time, cost, and thus increase their household income.
Agent banking operations at Bank Asia also established strategical and collaborative partnership with technology companies for e-commerce, which offers access to online marketplace for micro/small entrepreneurs and buyers. This collaboration opens a scope of sustainability for SME clients. Development entities like non-government organizations and micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are working to link clients with agent banking to provide better financial services.
Eliminating time and space, building 'Digital Bangladesh'
Already this banking system started eliminating difference of time and space to reach banking service to the customers. Bank Asia is committed to support the Bangladesh government's goal for building 'Digital Bangladesh' as charted out in the vision 2021 by bringing rural people under its agent banking platform. The bank is working with the vision to expand its networks to each and every village of the country within the next couple of years.
It is expected that the sustainable business model that comprises agent banking is heading towards a journey that takes along entrepreneurs, aggregators, remittance providers, development partners and government to speed up the drive of broader financial inclusion and thus a thriving economy in Bangladesh.