Africa Finance Forum Blog

Gravatar: Weselina Angelow, WSBI & Esther Mututta Ssenoga, PBU

Boosting access to formal financial services for village groups: A case study on linkage banking in Uganda

08.06.2016Weselina Angelow, WSBI & Esther Mututta Ssenoga, PBU

How do we reach out when 85% of the unserved population lives outside recognized urban centers? Many Ugandan banks now offer mobile money links to group accounts, and many offer credit facilities too. The WSBI Programme and PostBank Uganda (PBU) wanted to sustainably offer both: encourage active individual savings for group members and provide efficiency gains through an attractive loan offer to the entire group.

The WSBI- PBU Programme was set out to capture the big bulk of money moving around in small amounts in Ugandan villages. We were looking for something less expensive than mobile money for very local, extremely low value domestic transaction activities and from small balance, but regular savers.

WSBI's own calculations suggested that roughly $10 million per day must be moving around in small villages of Uganda. What a fortune for a bank's deposit base if it was able to tie up with village groups! The amounts being saved are not trivial. Up to $10 per group member per month are possible in Uganda. Moreover, the frequency of transacting is relatively high, given that 40% of users of informal groups transact weekly or daily.

PBU in 2012 started to put in place a dedicated team for promoting the idea of linkage banking for village groups. That team included a chief executive with a vision and a good deal of gut feeling, an experienced linkage banking manager, dedicated village banking field officers, motorcyclists to get out regularly to the groups, motivated regional branch managers and tailored savings and loan products. PBU's Java- enabled software used for mobile banking was adapted to replicate the triple lock on the cash-boxes village groups normally use to control access.

A "zero" tariff was introduced to provide free weekly deposits and withdrawals matching the group meeting cycle. It contributed to keeping value in a closed loop (member to group, group to member and member to member) and earning the bank a significant margin. The monthly ledger fee was dropped, although aggregator push-and-pull charges continued putting some financial burden on group members, currently at 7 U.S. cents per session for a max of USD2.50 per transfer from e-wallet to mobile account. Sub-accounts were created electronically for the different savings goals of a group. PBU's low-cost VSLA Group Account was born.

Findings

The impact was startling. Within a year 5000 groups with almost 150,000 members had signed up and group accounts were staying 95% active. Something interesting was happening: PostBank's retail customer base was growing and the active portion was growing fastest. At the same time, PostBank's funding base was growing with the bottom-end driven by individual accounts and the top-end by group accounts. The growing funding base led to an imputed income of more than USD 400,000 by end of 2014.

By late 2015, the bank had signed up 28,000 groups[1] with more than 500,000 members. By then, PBU also had an active overall customer base of almost half a million accounts with 60% of these active, small-balance accounts with an average balance of around $35 increased six-fold since PBU started working with the groups. The big number of small-scale savings coming from the groups brought in valuable funding and a reduction in fixed costs per client.

PBU's goal is to have groups and their individual members constitute 50% of the bank's business by 2018. The bank's journey towards customer centricity will continue to depend on channel and product innovation. With the Central Bank of Uganda's approval of the new agent banking regulation, the groups are becoming potential agents, multiplying PBU's customer acquisition points for serving the mass market and generating additional income for the groups and their members with a particular focus on youth and women. With a redesigned, technology-driven youth product in place, PBU has just started stretching its linkage offer to other 475 youth groups under a newly established partnership between PBU, Airtel and Care Uganda. The most recent product innovation encourages female household members to join the bank by offering an individual "women in progress" account attached to the group account.

 

[1] PBU works with CARE (40% of the PBU group base), IRC, NUDIPU, AVSI, IFDC as well as several local self-help and farmer groups.

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About the Authors

Weselina Angelow is part of WSBI (World Savings and Retail Banking Institute)'s global efforts to providing an account for everyone and making a contribution to universal financial access. She manages the WSBI Programme for making small scale savings work, a Programme run with WSBI member banks worldwide.

Esther Mututta Ssenoga is a Senior Manager for Linkage Banking & Special Segments at Post Bank Uganda (PBU). She's currently supporting PBU's relationship-based banking and group-based models to achieve a wide customer base and customer numbers.

Gravatar: Development Credit Authority, USAID

Innovative financing is crucial to the future of energy in Africa

17.05.2016Development Credit Authority, USAID

Challenge: Extended. How do you scale access to power in Africa? Power Africa is taking an innovative approach, drawing on USAID's Development Credit Authority's risk sharing mechanism to bring commercial debt to the sector.

Two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. While some of these people will be connected to the electricity grid in the future, they may face a long wait as the infrastructure build-out across the region struggles to keep up with population growth.

One of the greatest hurdles to providing reliable electricity access in Africa is the availability of financing, specifically debt. Power Africa uses an innovative transaction-focused model to galvanize collaboration, engage in critical actions to accelerate deals and projects, and drive systemic reforms to facilitate future investment. As part of the initiative, USAID's Development Credit Authority (DCA) works to bring commercial debt to the sector by providing guarantees for lenders.

While typically used for grid-scale generation projects, this past year, Power Africa drew upon DCA to implement four new guarantees to help bridge the significant gap in access to financing. This work is expected to support new grid and off-grid connections, bringing energy access to hundreds of thousands of customers.

The first area of focus is to unlock debt capital for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions on the African continent, especially for those customers that are far from the electric grid. Sustainable, private sector-led business models for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions from companies such as Off-Grid: Electric, Mobisol and M-KOPA are beginning to succeed in the marketplace and meet the demand of sub-Saharan Africa's underserved populations - bolstered by decreasing costs of technology and innovative "pay as you go" financing options. However, funding for this type of business is mostly provided through grants, angel investors or subsidized money from development finance institutions.

While this approach has worked to pilot these solutions, there is a need for debt financing for companies that are ready to graduate from grants and concessional funding to more sustainable, longer-term commercial debt. To reach the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to energy, these businesses must be able to scale-up across the continent.

To achieve this goal, two of the four DCA guarantees will mobilize more than $80 million in financing to support companies providing small-scale renewable energy solutions to reach those who live beyond the grid. These companies, many of them Power Africa partners, most often provide solar home systems enabling customers to access services such as lighting, cell-phone charging, electric fans, and even television and refrigeration, at an affordable cost. These guarantees will support debt finance to the beyond the grid renewable energy sector, including the end users, to increase the uptake of these technologies and meet these companies' large working capital needs.

The other two DCA guarantees, mobilizing more than $60 million, support a second area of focus: financing new connections to existing grids. While many people live within sight of the electric grid, extending or building additional lines is costly for the utilities, which can also make the connection fee too high for customers. These two guarantees will support the financing needed to make the connections as well as upgrade the existing grids to provide even more new connections in the future.

These four Power Africa-DCA guarantees are a key tool for expanding energy access and demonstrate how USAID is responding to market demand. For the energy providers themselves, successful use of the financing provided through the guarantees will help them build up credit histories to continue to access commercial debt without the support of a guarantee. Over time, the success of these guarantees will also be a signal to local banks and commercial lenders that this sector is ready for investment.

Challenge: Accepted. Power Africa and DCA will continue to work together to share risk with financial institutions operating across the continent to sustainably mobilize debt financing to the energy sector.

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About the Author

Claire Everhart is Presidential Management Fellow with USAID's Development Credit Authority (DCA).

DCA is USAID's credit guarantee program and provides partial credit guarantees that unlock private sector lending in Africa. For the past fiscal year, USAID's DCA portfolio in Africa grew by 23%, marking the largest amount of financing that's ever been made available to African businesses through DCA.

Using Digital Finance in Agriculture: New Guide Launched by USAID

03.05.2016Christine Martin, Senior Digital Financial Advisor, US Global Development Lab

USAID recently launched the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture, a step-by-step guide to help our partners support access to and use of sustainable financial services in rural areas. This Guide is the result of an ongoing effort within USAID to understand how digital financial services (DFS) can support Feed the Future initiative's goals of increasing agricultural incomes and reducing malnutrition while simultaneously building out ultra-inclusive economic infrastructure.

We see at least four areas where DFS is making a vital impact by overcoming many of the challenges with traditional financial services that have left many rural communities unbanked or underbanked:

  1. Reducing the cost of delivering financial services outside of bank branches and urban areas, making these services (savings, credit, insurance, etc.) accessible and relevant to rural communities.
  2. Increasing the traceability of payments to reduce loss of funds and ensure proper accounting, which can potentially increase trust between various actors within the agricultural supply chain.
  3. Improving household resistance to financial shocks through savings and on-demand receipt of funds, which evidence shows helps to smooth consumption and maintain household nutrition.
  4. Creating new business models (for example, alternative credit scoring such as M-Shwari in Kenya which is providing very small, on-demand loans to customers based on savings behavior).

The approach we document in this Guide follows three broad steps for assessment: 

  1. Identifying the value-chain challenges;
  2. Assessing gaps and obstacles in existing services; and
  3. Assessing the maturity of the digital ecosystem in your area.

The Guide encourages the reader to walk through these steps without limiting his or her thinking, initially, based on gaps in the local DFS market. Rather, once the reader identifies opportunities, they can design interventions that integrate creative solutions and market facilitation to make these opportunities a reality, even in less mature markets, using the following four high-level intervention types:

  1. Utilizing digital finance along the value chain, the most immediate and direct way to use DFS in our programs;
  2. Organizing implementing partners around DFS solutions, in order to aggregate demand for services by working together with USAID and other development partners;
  3. Implementing other technology-enabled services in conjunction with DFS, which encourages the reader to look at the broader digital ecosystem and to integrate with other services that are relevant to smallholder farmers (such as mobile-enabled extension services).
  4. Market Facilitation, which recognizes the role that USAID, along with our partners, can play to stimulate the broad DFS market when key constraints, such as regulation or lack of adequate consumer protection are holding back use of services in rural areas.

One great example of the last intervention type which has seen great process over the past year comes from our Feed the Future partners in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Mobile money, although not widely available in the region, was identified as able to improve access to finance for livestock producers. Therefore, acting as a market facilitator, USAID supported Hello Cash to extend the services of Somali Microfinance Institution into hard-to-reach areas - creating the opportunity for customers to use mobile-based payments to transact, save, and increase access to loans, all of which will support the larger Feed the Future effort to build a reliable livestock market for Somalia and the bordering regions in Ethiopia.

In keeping with the Principles for Digital Development, this Guide is a dynamic resource that will be updated and improved based on your input and experiences in the field.

Please get in touch either through the comments section below or by sending an email to digitaldevelopment[at]usaid.gov. Whether it is related case studies, specific feedback, or ways that you're able to benefit from this Guide in your own work, we'd love to hear from you and to keep pushing forward our rural development goals together.

Gravatar: Weselina Angelow, WSBI & Esther Mututta Ssenoga, PBU

A journey in making small scale savings work

18.04.2016Weselina Angelow, WSBI & Esther Mututta Ssenoga, PBU

By the end of 2020, all 110 WSBI members set an ambitious plan. They aim to reach 1.7 billion customers and 400 million new transaction accounts by then. The work really kicks off this year, starting from a base level of 1.4 billion people who seek banking services from WSBI members every day.

It's news in a way, but it's also part of an evergreen story - WSBI's longstanding commitment to provide an 'Account to Everyone'. Twenty-five focus countries under the Universal Financial Access (UFA) need to address this most. We've set out through our member savings and retails banks to tackle the issue of the unbanked and underserved in 17.

Financial inclusion matters to an increasing number of players. With support of a sponsored Programme WSBI in 2008, wanted a fundamental question answered: what would it take to boost financial inclusion through the WSBI network of postal and savings banks? Driving WSBI's member support today to achieve the next set of UFA 2020 goals means taking lessons from this work on board.

The WSBI Programme aimed to increase formal savings services for poor people at 10 WSBI member banks across the globe. Active accounts swelled within five years from 1.2 million in 2008 to 2.8 million in 2015 in six of ten selected countries generating deep insights into the drivers and barriers of account usage.

Regular active account usage turned out to be much more difficult than first thought and account dormancy remained an elephant in the room. The core of the challenge was threefold: affordable pricing and low population densities put limits to the banks for providing a sustainable and accessible solution, plus there was a growing need to offer more convenient and intuitive services. Questions arose that demanded an answer. Two especially came to mind.

1. How do we add value to the way rural people already manage money informally?

Linking formal banking to village groups and replication the way people already manage money emerged as the most successful route to meet rural peoples' financial needs and close the proximity gap in remote Eastern Africa. Most of the cash in East Africa stays in villages, in a lot of places money circulates just within one kilometer of people's home and work, a member of a group would save $5-10 per month. Linkage banking with village groups became an arena to capture these high turnarounds of financial transactions and nontrivial amounts of savings.

WSBI member Postbank Uganda (PBU) adopted linkage banking in 2012: it linked its mobile banking platform not just to village groups but also to individual group members. PBU reaches out to 28,000 village groups so far. Without distorting the group model, PBU found a way to electronically replicate and link up with the group's existing savings and loan business. The result: a growing funding base and a threefold increase in PBU's active customer base.

2. How can segmentation of client data help us to predict people's' transactional behavior and address sustaining account activity after account opening?

Having a shared meaning of what defines an active account is paramount. WSBI's definition was any account that transacted in the previous six months. The Global Findex data shows a third of all adults doing any kind of saving during one year right up the development spectrum. Could it therefore be that customer's desired savings behavior to save occurs in bursts of activity followed by a quiet period before starting again and how much time passes between these periods?

WSBI member Kenya Post Office Savings Bank (KPOSB) developed an analytical model for the better understanding of the drivers of account activity. Together we looked at the periods when clients would normally reengage with the bank after a first contact has been made and whether getting messages out to clients by using local options could nudge their behaviour.

Trust in financial services offered to the unbanked an underserved depends hugely on the ability of service providers to invest time and resources into continuously gaining insights into the financial lives of the poor and translate these into convenient services. This takes time and can be costly, and it makes small-scale savings work much easier said than done. It's a journey where learning is a continuous process. Our newly produced video report highlights what bumps and discoveries we have found along the way.

The rise of mobile money in West Africa

04.04.2016Maimouna Gueye, Principal Financial Inclusion Officer, African Development Bank

It is of no doubt that Africa is being shaken by the volcanic digital revolution. Not surprisingly, the mobile money wave has crossed the sahelian band over to West Africa from its Kenyan birthplace.

A conducive policy and regulatory framework

Zooming in the WAEMU region comprised of francophone West Africa (Bénin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Senegal), one could see it as a one-of-a-kind success story when it comes to conducive regulation triggering increased access of financial services for the poor. In 2006, the vision to foster economic growth through an improved state of access to financial services was part of the rationale for adopting an innovative regulation allowing non-bank players in the financial services market.

Building on the new regulatory framework and the integrated monetary and economic zone with regional payment systems, the regulator (BCEAO) opened consultations in 2007 with the banking sector and the member states for a "bancarisation" action plan in which every stakeholder was to implement a specific agenda aimed at improving the access and usage of bank accounts and electronic transactions.

Barriers to the upscale of mobile money

The granting of the first e-money licenses between 2007 and 2009 resulted in a timid surge of subscribers in the region. Barriers to access were still prominent and most banks were reluctant to embrace clientele with low purchasing power. In addition, very few innovative partnerships were initiated between mobile network operators, financial institutions and other private sector players. Besides, the few stand-alone e-money issuers encountered serious financial distress partly due to lack of sufficient revenue to cover the cost of building a wide network of agents.

The surge of mobile money

It is not until the end of the political unrest in Côte d'Ivoire in the year 2010 that the number of mobile money accounts started to take stride with 22 million users at the end of 2015, up from less than 3 million in 2010. At the end September 2015, users' performance revealed that 347 million transactions valued at close to 8.5 billion USD were accounted for in the region, with Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Mali as the most dynamic markets. On average more than 1.2 million transactions were processed every day during that period.

Strikingly, digital cross border remittances are today increasingly dominating the traditional rapid money transfer services, particularly on corridors between Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina, Mali and Senegal, Togo and Benin. In addition, microfinance and government services are progressively being processed on digital wallets.

Aside from the enabling regulation, this speed of growth can be attributed to a dynamic and competitive market of over 33 deployments representing more than a quarter of the number of mobile money deployments on the continent. Overall, users are increasingly using mobile money as opposed to cash for financial transactions, which is the proof of a progressive acceptance of e-money as a means of payment.

A decade after the initial e-money regulation was adopted, access to financial services in the region has soared to 49.5%. When subtracting mobile money accounts, this rate merely reaches 30%.

Yet there is still more to do

Despite this progress, today's WAEMU market calls upon the necessity to evolve to a diversified range of financial services able to attract and retain users in the digital sphere. A large portion of the money deposited in the mobile wallets is cashed out and barely 40% of users are active. It would take sustainable and tailored service offerings that address the real demand for digital financial services for specific categories such as women, youth and rural consumers, before the WAEMU region can unlock its potential to achieve near universal financial inclusion given its assets.

The African Development Bank aims to achieve near universal access to financial services in Africa. In particular, the Financial Sector Policy and Strategy prioritizes digital solutions as the most promising approach to making those services affordable to the poor. Progress towards universal financial access in Africa requires action along a number of dimensions. These include: (i) Introduction of innovative pro-poor products and delivery mechanisms, services and business models that can deliver broad based financial services in economically viable ways; (ii) Core infrastructure that is sufficiently interoperable that these products and services can be linked not only within a country but across borders; and (c) Regulation and supervision that balance IT-enabled innovation, enhanced competition and protection of customers.

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About the Author

Maimouna Gueye is a digital finance expert with over 15 years of experience in the financial sector. She has solid experience in payment systems, digital financial services policy and regulation as well as oversight. She has significantly worked on financial inclusion in developing markets. She graduated with an MBA in Finance and Economics from Saint Peters University in the United States and is a fellow of the Fletcher School Leadership Program for Financial Inclusion funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. After working for JP Morgan Chase and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), Maimouna Gueye recently joined the African Development Bank as a Principal Financial Inclusion Officer in charge of funding a portfolio of projects targeting universal access to financial services for people in Africa

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Boosting access to formal financial services for village...Weselina Angelow, WSBI & Esther Mututta Ssenoga, PBU
Using Digital Finance in Agriculture: New Guide Launched by...Christine Martin, Senior Digital Financial Advisor, US Global Development Lab

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