The World Bank estimates that personal remittances received make up about 16% of the GPD of Samoa in 2018. These remittances are primarily sent from Australia and New Zealand, through non-banks such as money transfer operators. And while the average costs of these transfers have fallen, they remain well above 5% of the value sent.
Families that receive these funds, tend to use this money for consumption as well as very dedicated purposes, such as funerals and medical emergencies and very little of the money received is saved. This is why the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) teamed up with the National Bank of Samoa (nbs) to allow remittances received on Digicel’s mobile money wallet, to be transferred into people’s nbs savings account, free of charge. This is the first time a mobile money wallet is linked to a bank account in Samoa. An easy incentive for people with an nbs account to start saving more of the funds they receive from their relatives abroad, and increasing their resilience to economic shocks.
The project team anticipated Samoans to embrace this new service and increase their savings on their nbs account. However, after the initial excitement it turned out the usage of the product, EziBank, was very low. Of the around two thousand customers that registered for EziBank, most of them mainly used it to check their balance. And so, the project team onboarded an expert from MSC (the consultancy firm formerly known as MicroSave) and set out on a journey to find out why.
A few simple, but crucial roadblocks around the product stood out:
- A disconnect between the primary stakeholders
As mentioned, this is the first time in Samoa for a bank and a telecommunication company to drive joint service. Although this interoperability has the potential to benefit both the bank and the telecommunications company, they did not own up to drive the uptake for EziBank.
- Limited marketing efforts
Due to the initial limited ownership of the product, marketing efforts were inadequate. They were restricted to promotional tents outside of the nbs main branch and information dissemination only at the bank branch. Activities that only reach urban customers who visit branches.
- Low customer awareness of additional services
It’s pretty easy to register for EziBank and start using it. That is why registrations have been on the rise. Most people who sign up, got to know about EziBank from the nbs staff at the bank branch and use the product to check their balance. Customers are however not aware of other use cases on the mobile money wallet; for instance, the ability to push remittances received on their mobile money wallet into their nbs savings account. So, while people registered, they did not use EziBank to increase their savings.
Fortunately, the conducted assessment brought all stakeholders back to the table and are now very much committed to EziBank and its success. Therefore an implementation plan was drawn with specific activities to address these identified roadblocks.
Marketing activities have since been redesigned and nbs and Digicel are now collaboratively targeting clients beyond main branches in Apia town and reach out to rural customers as well. On these marketing campaigns, local customs are taken into close consideration, as communities can only be visited when chiefs are available to join.
Bank employees were also given a refresher course on the functionalities of the product. Due to the high turnover of staff, for some team members, this was their first training. The marketing materials have been adjusted to better communicate the correct message to the target audience.
The project team is now expecting to reap some rewards from these interventions and see an increase in usage, as people are already actively linking their accounts and not just using their accounts to check balances. In the months ahead the project team will review if EziBank customers are actively pushing some of the remittances received into their savings accounts and with that increase their savings.