Making mobile money more meaningful for Ugandans

UNCDF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation organized a three day training for 25 participants from mobile network operators, banks, microfinance deposit-taking institutions and small companies that specialize in digital financial services. This training workshop was conducted by MicroSave to focus on how to design and improve financial services that are delivered through branchless and mobile channels in Uganda.

The workshop is part of a series offered by UNCDF and included training materials with insights from MicroSave’s international experience from Kenya, India, Tanzania and elsewhere combined with the market research available on digital financial service in Uganda. The 2013 FinScope Uganda Survey notes that the greatest contributing factor to financial inclusion in Uganda in the past five years is mobile money. There are over 14 million registered mobile money accounts in Uganda compared to an estimated 3.4 million Ugandan that have bank accounts. At the same time the use of mobile money in Uganda remains fairly shallow; less than half of registered customers use their mobile money accounts and many are using it primarily for airtime top up and occasional money transfers.

Participants discussed how mobile money and branchless banking could be improved and extended to better address the financial needs of the majority of Ugandans, such as savings, lending and insurance. The current services were analyzed, identifying the needed improvements and the strengths. “We know that it is not easy for competing institutions to work together to discuss their services. But we saw that the participants were very open to working together,” noted Tillman Bruett, Manager of the Mobile Money for the Poor Programme of UNCDF.

More time was spent learning and sharing how to do research and testing to design services that customers need and more easily use. Together the participants designed some prototype products that rural Ugandans could use.

“This workshop has highlighted the need for market research in preparation for product development, if we are really to meet the target market’s needs,” reaffirmed Affection Birungi, Research and Insights Manager from MTN Uganda. She added that it is best to “start with the customer, then build the product upwards to completion.”

Airtel’s Corporate Accounts Manager, Iris Kissiti, noted that “as we discussed in the workshop, having clear metrics for pilots of new products would really help us measure our early success. We can make changes earlier if we know what success is.”

Banks and microfinance institutions in attendance also discussed the current regulatory challenges to them doing agent banking, noting that the current Financial Institutions Act did not permit them to open agents. Several expressed interest in using technology and opening agents closer to clients’ homes if the law would permit it. Amendments to the Act have been drafted and may be considered by Parliament this year. Mr. Bruett commented, “we hope this is the start of some “win-win” partnerships between the mobile network operators and financial institutions to find more and better ways to reach the currently unbanked.” UNCDF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are supporting a range of activities to get digital financial services to the unbanked in the next two years.