Of the 160 million people in Bangladesh, a sovereign country that sits between India and Southeast Asia on the Bay of Bengal, just 13 percent have bank accounts. Yet 45 percent use mobile phones.
Why the wide split? Access. While the nearest bank branch may be a long way away, mobile phone agents are widely distributed, the devices themselves are affordable (particularly pre-paid) and service coverage is expanding.
We see these kinds of numbers throughout developing nations for the same reasons, and they all spell one thing: a tremendous opportunity to bring basic banking services to the unbanked via mobile phones.
Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL), one of Bangladesh’s largest banks, has the largest ATM network and electronic processing system in the country, and is also the largest corporate donor. Combining its philanthropic mindset and willingness to put new technology to work, DBBL is in the process of launching a mobile banking initiative using the Sybase 365 platform.
For Sybase 365, this is also a milestone. It’s one of our first bank-led implementations, bringing mobile financial services to the unbanked (and underbanked), and helping to realize the vision of financial inclusion that governments in emerging markets across Asia, Africa and Latin America are promoting. People who don’t have access to banking services, or haven’t had access in the past, can now get access because they have mobile devices.
I think bank-led initiatives have a better chance of working out because a) the regulatory aspect is covered by the bank b) it’s a good customer acquisition strategy without having to open physical branches to provide service, c) awareness for the brand increases as service gets used d) banks have the financial wherewithal to see such a project through, e) it aligns with what governments want implemented for citizens and finally, f) banks can easily extend the service to handle disbursements and remittances.
For the consumers, this service is an order of magnitude improvement in access to financial services and convenience, especially when it comes to accessing account information, transferring money, putting cash in and taking cash out. The bank’s plans for the next phase of services include mobile airtime top-up, merchant payment and micro financing—all from consumers’ mobile devices.
DDBL’s service will allow local and international money remittance to Bangladeshi expatriates who work in other countries and send money home. The receiving family member can withdraw finds at the nearest participating retailer or cash point. The service will be available on all mobile devices with subscription to any of the six mobile operators of Bangladesh.
That network agnosticism is key to being able to reach the maximum number of potential customers, as the business model depends on serving the wide base of the economic pyramid in Bangladesh. At Sybase 365, we’re committed to building relationships with more partners in developing markets, helping those local banks find economical ways offer accessible and secure mobile commerce services.
Mobile money is truly something that can change the world for the better. The early numbers from DBBL’s pilot program are in, and the great thing is that deposits are greater than withdrawals. That may be further proof of something we’ve seen in other emerging markets: when people get access to a simple mobile bank account, they start to save—often for the first time.