The name ‘BRAC Bank’ is synonymous to financial inclusion and meaningful economic impact

BRAC Bank emerged in 2001 with the vision to deliver banking for the unbanked small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs). Inspired by its parent organization BRAC, world’s largest NGO, BRAC Bank innovated and implemented small ticket loans for the grassroots entrepreneurs under the umbrella of formal banking service. Presently almost 58% of the bank’s total lending portfolio (BDT 370,890 million) is comprised of small and medium enterprises. BRAC Bank started its journey with a vision different from any other conventional bank in Bangladesh. Building a socially responsible financial institution towards a poverty free Bangladesh is at the core of its corporate vision. The founding visionary leader Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG realized the impacts of bringing deprived SME sector under banking umbrellas towards the national economic reinforcement.

In times of transformation, few banks have emerged with several technology driven banking solutions to fast-track the national financial inclusion effort under prudent directives and support from the central bank (Bangladesh Bank) in Bangladesh. BRAC Bank championed SME Banking and mobile financial services (through its MFS subsidiary bKash) for rural financial inclusion under the auspices of Bangladesh Bank. Currently, the bank is extending full range of banking services to the last mile SMEs and retail customers across the country with a fast-growing network of 187 branches, 460+ SME Unit offices and more than 450 ATMs /CDMs along with 1000+ agent banking outlets.

BRAC Bank pioneered and championed in facilitating access to banking for developing a vibrant SME sector.

BRAC Bank’s unique SME Banking initiative caters access to market and access to finance to the cottage, micro and small enterprises that were previously ignored by the traditional commercial banking system. Bank provides capacity building supports and loans to small and medium industries for business expansion, working capital arrangement and capital machinery procurement. Being country’s largest financier of unsecured loan with deep rural penetration for small business financing, BRAC Bank has created more than 1.5 million direct new employments. The bank has been contributing significantly to the socio-economic development of Bangladesh since its inception. It has disbursed more than BDT 1 trillion to more than 1 million SME entrepreneurs across the country. To be able to bring impactful outcomes, , the bank built partnerships with the regulator, the Central Bank of Bangladesh the SME Foundation, World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in relation to the repatriation fund for the development SME sector. A number of schemes and programs have been designed and implemented to enhance the capacity of targeted entrepreneurs. BRAC Bank ranked top for successfully disbursing the loans amount of more than BDT 30,000 million to 30,500+ cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs) under various stimulus packages by the central bank during the pandemic period.

BRAC Bank has adopted a digital banking strategy for going beyond banking and greater digital financial inclusion

BRAC Bank has launched the country’s first digital banking super app ‘Astha Lifestyle’ to foster digital banking landscape through an enhanced end to end digital customer experience. Over the past years of pandemic, Astha app evolved from a simple digital banking app to a digital lifestyle platform to address the increased expectation of personal finance management from its digital native customers. Number of Astha users sharply increased over the past few months. More than 50,000 SME customers out of total 300,000+ Astha users are using this digital banking super app for their daily banking needs.        

BRAC Bank has recently launched the country’s first ever digital loan app named ‘Shubidha’ which allows customers to apply and get instant approval for digital retail loans from anywhere in Bangladesh. Loans are issued against any purchase from customers through Shubidha app at the bank’s partner outlets and disbursed digitally into partners’ account in a few moments.  This will facilitate a one-stop platform for loan-related solutions.

Without these digital banking apps, a customer may not have access to the tools and features which help to take control over financial life. It also offers benefits beyond banking, connecting the bank to a community and banking opportunities. BRAC Bank perceives digital banking isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. A customer can transact digitally part-time to take advantage of its benefits and still visit a branch, ATM and agent banking outlet. It’s all about to provide a hybrid or ‘phygital’ solution that fits well to habits and needs of a banking customer from local context.

BRAC Bank is committed to its rapid expansion in Agent Banking for reaching the last mile

BRAC Bank launched its agent banking Service in September 2018, with an aim to cover every corner of Bangladesh with state-of-the-art digital financial service solution and compliment BRAC Bank SME business strategy. It has accomplished the 1000 agent banking outlet milestone to mark its commitment for making the rural economy more vibrant. The growing agent banking channel now serves almost 250,000 unbanked people from rural and semi-urban geographies. As per the central bank latest report  on agent banking BRAC Bank ranked top with the largest volume of lending BDT 64,589 million which represents 63% of the total loan disbursed in Agent Banking industry as a whole. BRAC Bank agent banking channel alone performs monthly 350,000 transactions of BDT 20,000 million. Over 40% of all these transactions take place beyond conventional banking hours and on weekends and holidays.

Making women bankable is a priority for BRAC Bank

BRAC Bank has been working through its SME Banking across the country for the financial wellness of women entrepreneurs since inception. In 2017, it launched TARA, the first women focused sub-brand of banking service in Bangladesh. TARA offers savings accounts with higher-than-average interest rate, savings solutions, current accounts for women entrepreneurs, business and retail loans with privileged rates, reduced processing fees and dedicated customer services. TARA also affords capacity building and business networking supports to the grassroot women entrepreneurs. It has acquired more than 270,000 women customers in the category of micro-entrepreneurs and individual retail TARA customers. BRAC Bank intends to develop a banking ecosystem for women from a responsible or sustainable finance perspective by engaging its three vital banking channels SME, Retail and Agent Banking. BRAC Bank to intervene ‘making women bankable’ with more focus and different marketing strategy. Babson College, USA and Dutch investment firm, FMO, partnered with BRAC Bank to deliver a first of its kind capacity development program for women entrepreneurs.

Changing the image from a lender to a banker through access to market, access to finance and capacity development for target entrepreneurs.

Commercial banking is nothing but gaining the trust of customers by providing them effective solutions for managing their money. BRAC Bank SME Banking has been working with various online platforms for cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs) to facilitate access to market and industry networking. It also aims to introduce new digital lending solution ‘SME e-Loan’ as a means of digital financial inclusion. The purpose of BRAC Bank’s movement towards digital lending for CMSMEs will be focused on:

  • Access to finance for cottage, micro and small enterprises (CMSEs) and image of innovation for bank
  • Reduced turn-around-time for loan processing
  • Relatively lower interest rate by reducing operational cost
  • Financing for income generating activities, development of livelihood and to meet working capital requirement.
  • Convenient loan application process without any visit to the bank offices or branches
  • Less intervention of bank’s human resources and ensuring service to large number of clients

In 2022 BRAC Bank had conducted five different 3-day training programs in five non-metro areas of Bangladesh comprising 150 rural women entrepreneurs. The impact of these training resulted 37 entrepreneurs to be enrolled in banking transactional account and 13 with financing facilities. A good number of proposals are currently under processing for loans. Recently the bank launched the country’s first of its kind premium banking service ‘Borenno’ which offers a bundle of specialized banking services for SME priority customers to fulfil their needs and choices for regular day to day banking. This unique product will help SMEs adopt a proven money management behavior for safe investment and savings strategies.

BRAC Bank being a private commercial bank for inclusive finance has been collaborating with a number of development partners towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Also, the collaboration has been extended up to 20 different partners in different capacity within financial inclusion space. So far BRAC Bank partnered with different projects of U.S. Agency for International Development, former Department for International Development, now Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office  , International Finance Cooperation, d, Dutch entrepreneurial development bank , Swisscontact, ACDI/VOCA, UNCDF and so on for implementing different projects throughout the country with a proven track record of achieving the targets and commercializing the learning from every project. It has achieved a number of global awards and recognition like ‘Best Bank for SMEs’ by Asiamoney and ‘Data Champion Award’ from Financial Alliance for Women and ‘Best Bank for Women Entrepreneurs’ by IFC and SME Finance Forum.

In conclusion, remembering a quote from Sir Fazle Hasan Abed that has been shared by others many a time: “Most organizations are not ambitious enough. They are content with achieving small goals-serving 100 people instead of 100 million.” He founded BRAC Bank with a vision of large-scale impact by serving the deprived SMEs and unbanked population across regions.




By Jakirul Islam

Jakirul Islam is a Senior Vice President in SME Banking from BRAC Bank Limited