BRAC’s Integrated Development Programme (IDP) is a long
term project that aims to improve socioeconomic conditions and livelihoods of
1.1 million poor people living in remote areas by 2020. IDP provides
multifaceted support through a single platform that includes education,
healthcare, sustainable livelihood and activities that promote women’s
empowerment. It is convenient for IDP clients to make mobile financial
transactions as IDP primarily focuses on the development of remote areas such
as the haors (floodplains) and chars (shoals).
Prior to July 2016, clients received training on mobile
menu navigation once every month when BRAC field officials paid them a visit.
Given that the nearest branch is often more than 5km away, many women were
unable to visit BRAC offices for additional support. BRAC realised that if it
wanted to turn women clients into proficient users, it needed to provide
rigorous, continuous training in the field.
That was how a five-day mobile money training was born.
Divided into discrete 45-minute sessions, this training is always delivered in
the local dialect with stories in the local context. At the end of five days, a
participant is selected as a local trainer and tasked with assisting neighbours
in using their wallets. Thus far, 58,000 IDP clients have received this
training which enables them to use basic bKash services including cash-in,
cash-out, and transfer. They can also pay loan installments, make savings
deposits, and recharge their mobile accounts.
BRAC developed an online app to guide the CSAs in 2016 to
troubleshoot problematic issues for clients and provide them support. This app
allowed BRAC staff to check the validity of a national ID and immediately
ascertain whether it had already been used for another account. Hence,
rejection rates were reduced. Often, users would forget their PIN codes and
inadvertently lock their accounts. CSAs can unlock such accounts through the
app, which means that women do not need to visit the bKash service centre which
is often half a day’s commute away.
Constantly on the lookout for ways to improve client
experience, BRAC is collaborating with bKash to redesign the CSA app. The
initial version proved to be difficult for CSAs to navigate; viewing
transaction histories was also a challenge because the app frequently timed
out. It has been updated since, with new icons for smoother navigability and an
option to work offline. All CSAs will
also be provided a tablet with the app preinstalled. This means that during busy office hours,
CSAs can serve a greater number of clients with minimal waiting time. Data can
be entered into the app, saved and later modified before sending final requests to bKash. If there is
an emergency request from a client, the CSAs can submit it online and receive
answers within half an hour. The revamped app will roll out across branch
offices in Spring 2019.
BRAC has about 700 CSAs who have so far opened 254,082
accounts. Compared to the crowded agent points, the BRAC offices are much more
comfortable for women to ask questions, explore wallet functionality, and correct
mistakes without judgment.
There was a time when women had to go to the nearest market
to open a bKash wallet. This alone was an inconvenience for several reasons.
The market can be chaotic and crowded with men – not always a welcoming place
for a woman. She had to wait for the long line of customers to complete
transactions before the bKash agent was ready for her. More often than not, the
agent would be a male who would show the woman how to handle bKash while
standing close. Together with a commute of several hours, jostling with the
crowd and enduring lewd glances and transacting in the market tended to become
very prohibitive for women.
BRAC introduced bKash account opening services through
customer service assistants (CSA) and project staff (PS) across its
Microfinance, Integrated Development, and Education Programmes in 2016 to
circumvent the marketplace and encourage new users to take the first step in
their mobile money journey. With women able to open bKash wallets at the
nearest BRAC office, the scenario changed. The commute was shorter. There were
no crowds. They could stand in queue with other women and feel completely at
ease. BRAC staff were available at short notice to facilitate introduction to
this new platform, even ready to visit a client’s backyard for further
Trained BRAC personnel introduce clients to the bKash
application before opening a wallet, through the story of a fictional character
teaching new users how to add or remove money from the virtual wallet. They are
then familiarised with the buttons and basic functions on mobile phones. BRAC
staff modify this introduction according to local context and circumstances of
clients. The BRAC CSAs and PSs are trained to then collect national IDs and
colour photographs, and to complete the Know Your Customer (KYC) forms on
behalf of the clients. Once wallets have been approved, the CSAs work with
clients to finalise account opening, including PIN set-up.
Prior to the introduction of CSAs, bKash agents would often
set up PINs instead of teaching the women how to do it, compromising security.
CSAs on the other hand are skilled at helping clients create PINs that they
easily remember. They also emphasise digital wallet safety by reminding the
clients time and again not to disclose their PIN to anyone, ever.
One size doesn’t fit all – tailoring services
BRAC began its mobile money journey by mapping critical factors behind the gender gap in Bangladesh. Drawing upon research and best practices in the Global South, as well as a deep understanding of its clients’ realities, BRAC developed contextualized, responsive solutions. Five years later, 78% of bKash wallets it opens are for women, more than two-thirds of whom are active users. This is well above the national average of 35% active users. It was not easy to achieve.