How can we reach deeper into rural areas with digital financial services (DFS)?

  • February 23, 2015

  • Kampala, Uganda

UNCDF Deputy Director of Inclusive Finance John Tucker opened the first full day of sessions at DFSgoRURAL today, inviting us to examine how we can reach deeper into rural areas with digital financial services (DFS).

From the start, we’ll be going rural—on field visits tomorrow with the entire group of 150 participants, spread over seven different villages in the area of Kakiri. And, it’s clear, we’ll be doing a lot of sharing and learning from one another. John set the stage for the visits and all the workshop’s sessions with a goal: to promote inclusive, sustainable and equitable growth. But, he also pointed out there are big questions about what that growth will look like and how it will be achieved. So, first, he focused on areas of consensus:

  1. Technology—We all see how the rapid spread of new information and communications technology is making more services available to the world’s poor. In short, access to mobile phones can be a game changer, particularly to the 2.5 billion adults without access to financial services right now.
  2. Agriculture—With so many of the poor depending on agriculture for food and income, it’s also clear that financial services for agricultural households are absolutely key. The quote John shared from a colleague says it all: “If you aren’t working with smallholder households, you aren’t serious about financial inclusion.”

With those game changers in mind, John turned to what UNCDF is doing to support digital financial inclusion. He touched on four major initiatives, two of which we heard more about from the managers of the programmes in a panel discussion later in the session:

  1. MicroLead is responding to the rural vacuum of services in an impressive 21 countries, on 29 projects, with 39 institutions. With MicroLead’s focus on alternative delivery channels for rural areas and its plan to reach over a million more small depositors (on top of 700,00+ from its first phase), John recognized that many of our workshop’s participants—MicroLead partners—will have a lot to share.
  2. Mobile Money for the Poor is working in a select group of eight countries to support dozens of partners—banks, mobile network operators, regulators and users—to build strong DFS ecosystems that reach the poor. John again called on the workshop’s participants, many of us partners of the programme, to weigh in during the sessions.

Taking it ‘home,’ John pointed out that being in Uganda will offer all of us a chance to see one of the fastest growing DFS ecosystems in the world and—this is especially exciting—to hear the latest consumer research from InterMedia and the Gates Foundation, just completed late last year and published a few weeks ago, from Uganda and several other countries.

With those teasers, John left us excited and ready to jump into the rest of the workshop’s sessions. Later on in this blog you can read more about the ingredients for DFS to go rural that will be discussed in six different breakout sessions. We will also share first impressions and results from the field visits where we will explore the journeys and pain points agents and low-income clients face in rural areas when applying for or using DFS.