15 Things Branchless Banks Must Do to Boost Financial Inclusion in Pakistan

Pakistan has a goal of having 50 percent of the adult population with a bank account by 2020. A tremendous challenge, while currently this figure sits at 11 to 16 percent.

World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and SBP are working really hard to make that dream a truth. BB (branchless banking) regime is in the limelight, new licenses are being issued, banks and Telcos are investing heavily on marketing and promotions, over-the-counter (OTC) and wallet numbers are growing every day and so on.

But do people ever think about the difference between:

  • Wallets issued vs. activated?
  • wallets activated vs. usage?
  • usage of wallets vs. usage of GSM services?
  • OTC (Over the counter)?

The Short Answer is – No!

It is a simple calculation and deduction. Consider the average mobile phone user – someone who can easily charge a top up of scratch card into one’s mobile SIM, can easily read and reply to a text message, can easily operate a Facebook account, is regularly taking snaps, sharing on WhatsApp, etc.

Sounds like they can use a mobile phone and apps just fine. Given this scenario, how we can we conclude that they can’t operate wallets or mobile financial apps really well? How we assumed that usage of these financial apps and wallets can’t be taken higher among other social media apps ?

How do we change a mindset where people feel satisfied while keeping their savings in a cabinet or under the pillow?

We’ve established that people can use and operate financial apps, but they’re not using them as much. We’re falling behind in financial inclusion.

Old Habits are Hard to Break and This is What we Precisely Need

Changing behaviors is always a tough exercise, and needs lots of efforts, experiments, practice, and patience. Even when someone wants to quit smoking, there’s a big need of strong will, patience, and exercise involved to be a non-smoker.

Same is the case with getting people to using Digital Financial Services rather than hardcore cash. In a society, where people are using notes and coins for the last many decades, asking them not to keep hardcore cash and use Digital/Plastic money is an uphill task.

When we talk about getting people under financial inclusion, this isn’t at all about OTC and giving a so-called mobile wallet to everyone without enabling and encouraging them to transact and behave digitally.

Before mobile wallets, there used to exist financial services such as Pakistan Post Money Ordering Services (even they had Fax Money Order), Niazi Express Money Sending (typical scenario, where people used to send money through bus drivers), and Havala services of different money exchangers. People utilized these OTC services in their time, which means that even mobile wallets have the potential to become popular and commonplace.

Calling OTC as financial inclusion is reminding me of a hypothetical scenario.

Imagine a scenario where SBP asks all banks to provide pick and drop service to all their employees. Following this, the Head of HR of an XYZ bank takes his staff to a bus station and tells them, “Bus number 45 comes daily to this route at 9.00am and returns daily at 6.00pm, so use this as pick and drop service.”

In the above imaginary scenario, following the SBP order, banks started to offer pick-n-drop services for employees.  And that is just what they did, offered the employees an option and left it at that.

Unfortunately, this is what most Telcos and their banks did in the case of financial inclusion.

Stakeholders need to realize that financial inclusion is actually about empowering end users to take care of all their banking needs through their own device.

Things Branchless Banking Service Providers Need to Do:

Branchless Banking Services Provider (FIs), enablers (Fin Techs), facilitators (Super Agents), Regulator (SBP), and Govt. collectively need to work on so many factors or areas to change the behavior of end users.

Today we’ll be looking at 15 things that branchless banking service (BBS) providers can do to help boost the adoption of digital financial services by users.

Simple and Easy Platform

People don’t want complex apps. They want apps/channels that fulfill their basic needs. And they need to be simple for the most part.

Incentives and Rewards

People react on a campaign/call to action, if they get something in return as incentive or reward.

In such a scenario, we do see people actually putting effort into understanding the functionalities and complexities of that specific system/app/channel. Uber is a prime example of this. Uber is creating a place where even illiterate drivers and end users installed, registered for and used their app.

Value for Money

If you show value for money to end uses, they’ll obviously pick your product/service.

Much more value can be offered for a Wallet other than Top Ups, UBPS, and Funds Transfers (including IBFT). The players in Digital Financial services are not thinking out of the box and mostly doing copy-paste things on their drawing boards.

Making Them Indispensable

Just imagine. A person:

  • puts PKR. 40,000 (their monthly salary) in a wallet,
  • does a month’s grocery from CSD,
  • gets motorbike fueling 5 times a month from PSO through Debit Card,
  • has lunch/dinner with family on Savor Foods,
  • gets Zong Top Ups 4 times a month,
  • pays LESCO bill through App,
  • pays traffic challan through smartphone,
  • buys Niazi Express ticket online,
  • transfers monthly rent to the landlord,
  • sends money to parents in native town,
  • gets discounts on different shops/merchants.

Impressed? With such engagement levels by an end user, a BB Wallet/App can become indispensable.

Spread the Word

Even today, the masses don’t know about the basics of mobile wallets and BBS. Players need to jointly create awareness and education related to Financial Services and benefits of Financial Inclusion.

End users need the understanding that their money/funds will be much secure in a mobile wallet than in a cabinet/pillow/box/sandooq.

Fear of losing money/theft is a bigger concern of end users as far as mobile wallets/digital financial services are concerned. These kinds of initiatives will not only educate them but will also develop the people’s trust and behaviors on digital financial services.

Reaching Out

People don’t get on board for things they don’t know well, or something that doesn’t serve as a basic/secondary need for them.

Operators need to reach out to end users through social media, BTL activities and overall awareness about Financial Inclusion and its benefits.

Dipping in

Just imagine WhatsApp without pictures and video/audio sharing, or Facebook without your friends walls/pages. I can bet that no one would like to use them in those cases.

Same is in the case of financial apps. If app functionalities are limited to Top Ups, UBPS, and Funds Transfers, users could only use it minimally.

Its up to the operators who need to build such transactions and payment services that end users get more value out of. Take the example of Ali Express as a case study.

Growing Savings

Providers of BBS tend to make money from end users through annual charges, transaction fees and then make money on minimum or average balances through deposit float income.

To encourage end users to adopt wallets, you need to grow people’s savings. Start by giving them returns on those savings.

Latest Techniques

Its ironic. Digital banking service providers criticize conventional banking services by saying that they are doing the same things again and again for so many decades.

Since the inception of BBS every operator is doing the same be it USSD/Internet channel, look and feel, transaction types and instruments.

Where is the innovation guys?

Operators need to work harder on latest techniques in BBS. They should launch NFC, QR, Biometric and Virtual payments to get attraction of end users.

Unfortunately Digital Banking started following conventional banking pace and decided to make conventional money.


Even GSM providers started consumer lending by giving PKR. 30-50 to SIM users who go out of balance.

BBS players need to think about extending credit line based on the history of a wallet user.

Just imagine, someone is using your wallet for the last 6 months. That user is on average doing transactions worth PKR. 30,000 per month and that too with an average balance of PKR. 5,000. Give such a user an edge at the time of crisis and extend up to PKR. 30,000 as their credit limit.

This is just an example that can change scenarios and behaviors of users/service providers in both the short and long terms.

Get Them Onboard Easily with Remote Wallets

Many potential end users are just sitting there. They may be thinking – why come at an agent shop to open a remote wallet, if there’s such little to nil usage involved? Targeting these kind of end users isn’t hard. And here’s why.

SBP already allows Remote ZERO wallets. Operators should open mobile wallets on request of users through mobile, USSD/SMS (although Telco’s are already doing this for their own customers), internet, social media platforms with some minimal checks and balances.

Boring CAF filling and typical questions by the agents/staff is no more required. Think digital and act digital!

Social Media Integrations

Breathing in 2016 and doing things as in 2006? Come on guys, integrate social media platforms in your processes/SOPs. Ask customers to reach you out through social media platforms for onboarding, activations, and complaints logging or support.

It is just the right time to think of opening wallet through Skype. Think of providing support through IMO, think of getting calls through WhatsApp, think of interacting through Facebook, think of transactional messages and balance check through WhatsApp.

This is a social media era after all.

Pool Accounts & Daily Financial Interactions

We know already that Pakistanis widely use ‘committees’ and pools for their financial needs. Older aunties of a mohallah still manage larger scale of committees on weekly/monthly basis and people trust them for this.

Operators need to build these kinds of functionalities into their apps so that people can now digitally participate in committee-styled activities.

This is but just one example to make financial apps more receptive to ‘local’ scenarios and uses.

Discounts and Loyalty

This is unfortunate. People who can pay 100% are being offered up to 50% discounts by different banks, and people who actually need discounted things have to pay in full.

There’s massive opportunity for wallet players here. They need to build discounts and loyalty pieces at a larger scale. If someone pays through mobile wallet, they should be getting special pricing, etc.

Integrating/acquiring already working loyalty plays can be a great idea for quicker execution. On the other hand, building a loyalty play territory-wise isn’t won’t be a big challenge at all, though it will take some time.

Rewards and Incentives

If someone is making all transactions on cash, motivate them through rewards and incentives via digital channels and they’ll start keeping money in your wallets.

This will not only increase wallets usage but will increase deposits portfolios of BBS players.

Writer has over 15 years of experience in Telecom, FMCG and Digital/Retail Banking industries

  • Writer seems confused. Gave poor examples and analogies at two places. He is jumbling up cashless economy with micro bank accounts and what not. I read him twice, and could not understand a couple of things. He needs to revise.
    15 years should make you precise, articulate, clearer and convincing. And please try to write shorter. People lose interest sooner than you would imagine – no matter which the topic.
    And let me add another suggestion. Every CNIC should be a bank account number besides being tax number, license number etc.

  • One is high service charges, e.g. utility bill payment is expensive via branchless banking. And its free to submit directly to bank (visit or online website).

    • If some BLB provider is charging you money for “utility bill payment”, then they are fleecing you, since this service is free of charge to the customer. Please check again.

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