Address pain points of wallet registration

The gender gap persists because women face high barriers to entry. They may lack documentation, or be confronted with cultural norms discouraging them to interact with agents

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 assistance.

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.