Branchless Banking - Innovations Create Opportunity to Serve the Poor

Jan 2008
Washington D.C., United States, January, 31 2008 - Mobile banking and other technologies need a balanced regulatory approach.

Basic, everyday financial services are out of reach for more than two billion people in developing countries. But the rapid growth of branchless banking – including mobile phone banking – is reducing the cost and expanding the availability of such services.

“All of this innovation presents challenges and opportunities for regulators,” says Elizabeth Littlefield, CEO of CGAP. “Policy will determine not only where branchless banking is allowed, but also which business models turn out to make economic sense - and how far they will go in reaching poor people.”

Regulating Transformational Branchless Banking is a product of collaboration between CGAP and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), in partnership with the GSM Association, the global trade association for over 700 mobile phone operators. The authors also benefited from conducting three of seven diagnostic missions with the World Bank’s Financial Markets Integrity Unit.

While much of the current buzz is around mobile phones, other branchless banking applications are gaining traction as well. Brazil’s increase in access to finance has been accomplished largely through the more than 95,000 banking “correspondents”—local merchants and post offices that act as agents for banks, equipped with card-swipe and barcode-reading point-of-sale (POS) terminals. In Russia, a broad network of bank ATMs, POS terminals, and online e-money providers offer transaction services outside of traditional branch offices.

In the past five years, technology has brought 13 million people in Brazil into the banking system. In the Philippines, people would rather pay one percent to remit money via their mobile phone network than the 3-18 percent they are often charged by others.

“The market is changing, and that creates an opportunity for regulators to adapt the rules to increase the availability of financial services for the poor while maintaining a safe and sound banking system,” says Catherine Martin, Team Leader of the Financial Sector Team at DFID. “The willingness to change is a good sign for poor people who need access to formal financial services.”

A new CGAP/DFID Focus Note addresses the policy implications of branchless banking. Regulating Transformational Branchless Banking: Mobile Phones and Other Technology to Increase Access to Finance is based on assessments of policy and regulation in seven key countries, including interviews with more than 500 people from governments, the private sector, and international organizations in Brazil, India, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia and South Africa.

Source : CGAP

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