MicroLead, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNCDF, worked with savings-led FSPs in 13 countries to greenfield in underserved markets. Its budget: $28 million. We discovered that commercial banks employing an agency model reached significant numbers of customers in a short period of time. But three main challenges remained: access (reaching women and rural areas), usage (high dormancy), and product quality. These challenges were tackled in the MicroLead Expansion (MLE).

With funding support from The MasterCard Foundation and LIFT Myanmar, the $30.5 million MLE programme challenged formal financial service providers (FSPs) to reach rural unbanked populations, particularly women, with customer-centric deposit products and financial education. By deploying alternative delivery channels (ADCs), such as agency banking and digital financial services, and predominantly working through informal groups, MLE has proven the business case for FSPs to reach women in rural areas. Together, the two projects combined $58.5 million budget resulted in $631 million in savings mobilized by 1.5 million female depositors in Africa and Asia.

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