In April 2016, as part of MicroLead’s knowledge-sharing mandate, UNCDF’s MicroLead partner NBS Bank hosted nine financial institutions from around Africa to understand NBS Bank's downscaling strategy in Malawi. Specifically, how is NBS Bank expanding savings services to low income, rural women through its agent network?
Representatives from Sofipe and FCPB from Burkina Faso, Alide, Alafia and CPEC from Benin, SASL from Ghana, CEC from Cameroon, MCBL from Tanzania, Ugafode from Uganda, and Freedom from Hunger USA attended the two-day visit.
Learnings focused on NBS Bank’s Pafupi Savings product. Pafupi relies on agent banking, mobile technology, and community-based marketing.
This mobile-enabled savings account dismantles the barriers rural women typically face in accessing formal financial services. A mobile sales officer goes directly to potential clients to open the account using a seven-minute account-opening process. Customers transact through fixed retail agents – Bank Pafupi – recruited and trained by NBS Bank. Bank Pafupi agents are located near customers’ homes and places of business. Clients can save any amount, and money grows with interest rather than being reduced by monthly fees.
The exposure visit to NBS Bank benefited both guests and the host. “This kind of visit is inspiring and gives us the opportunity to see how an institution concretely addresses a specific problem,” said Christian Loupeda of Freedom from Hunger. “It also helps create a professional relationship for experience sharing… [and] helps us understand the whole story of the organization and all the implications of the innovation implemented.”
The visit also enabled NBS Bank to showcase its successes locally. For example, a speaker from the Reserve Bank of Malawi made a presentation to the delegates. “After they had made their presentation and upon learning that there were over 20 delegates from across Africa,” says Mercus Chigoga, Head of Personal and Business Banking at NBS Bank, “they were profoundly pleased that NBS Bank had put the financial sector in Malawi on a world map. There is no doubt that NBS Bank will receive even more support from the regulator, knowing that the bank is on the right path in supporting the government’s agenda for financial inclusion… And the visit was further confirmation that we are doing the right things, especially when we saw how excited the delegates were during field visits and plenary sessions.”
NBS’s Pafupi savings product was partly inspired by an exposure visit to Kenya and Tanzania sponsored by Women’s World Banking, the Technical Service Provider to NBS Bank under the MicroLead support. “The exposure visit to Kenya opened our eyes to the fact that it is possible to realize the immense opportunities that lie at the bottom of the financial pyramid,” says Mercus. “So when the opportunity arose for us to host the MicroLead grantees, it was easy to see why it was essential for the bank to host these institutions from across Africa.”
“Women's World Banking believes that helping financial institutions to learn from each other is a powerful tool for change,” says Jennifer McDonald, Director, Product Development, Women’s World Banking. “We facilitated visits for NBS Bank's leadership to leading banks in Kenya and Tanzania as it prepared to scale its agency banking program. These visits brought to life how mobile solutions can help banks reach low-income clients, the critical role of building internal capacity to manage agents, and the huge potential of partnerships for scale. When leaders can engage with other institutions that have already done it, they are inspired to bring those takeaways home and find the right solution to achieve financial inclusion in their own market.”
MicroLead is a UNCDF-managed global initiative supporting the development and roll-out of deposit services by regulated FSPs, seeking to respond to the rural vacuum of services. With the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation and the LIFT Fund in Myanmar, MicroLead works with a variety of FSPs and technical service providers to reach rural markets with demand-driven, responsibly priced products offered via alternative delivery channels such as rural agents, mobile phones, roving agents and point of sales devices. This is combined with financial education, so customers not only have access but can effectively use quality services.