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Bangladesh: a bright spot in m-banking

Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali

Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali

Bangladesh has become a success story for mobile phone-based financial services globally as the sector is adding around five lakh new customers a month, said a leading operator, bKash.
“Mobile financial services are now at an evolving stage in the country as an increased number of unbanked population is signing up for these services,??? said Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali, chairman of bKash, a Brac Bank subsidiary.
Around 60 percent of Bangladesh’s population is still unbanked, while the number of mobile phone users is around 11 crore. “So, mobile phone banking has a huge potential.???
The number of mobile banking accounts has nearly doubled to 72.1 lakh in September compared to that in March, according to Bangladesh Bank.
A lot of enthusiasm has been created centring mobile banking as the BB is promoting the bank-led model to roll out such services, said Ali, also a former deputy governor of the central bank.
Launched in 2011 by two private banks, mobile phone-based financial services have already outpaced Pakistan, where it was introduced in 2009, BB Governor Atiur Rahman said at a meeting in Malaysia recently.
Using a mobile phone and without making a visit to a bank branch, a customer can transfer money, receive salary or pay bills from his/her account through mobile banking.
bKash has more than 50 lakh accountholders and around 70,000 agents, Ali said.
Around Tk 112 crore is being transacted every day, according to industry insiders.
Mobile banking is becoming popular as a customer can open account easily and he/she does not need to maintain the minimum balance that is required in conventional banking, Ali said.
Most banks do not want to go rural as it involves various costs such as for setting up branches, maintaining communication and complying with regulatory requirements, he said.
“But mobile banking requires low operating costs,??? he said. “This is the opportunity.???
It is important to include the vulnerable group in the formal economy for achieving inclusive growth, Ali said.
For a country’s economy, quality of growth is more important than quantity. Otherwise, it will create trickle-up impacts on the economy, he said.
“Divided society is the recipe of the future unrest. Access to finance, therefore, is very important,??? said Ali, who has more than 40 years of banking experiences.
He said mobile banking has created a new window of opportunities, especially for the unbanked population, as they can now send money, receive international remittances, pay school fees and collect money easily at low costs.
The company does not charge for “Cash In???. But a customer will have to pay 1.85 percent of the total amount for the “Cash Out??? service. Of the total service charge, the distribution channels receive 85 percent, mobile operators 7 percent and bKash the rest.
Mobile banking requires higher investment, especially in technology, Ali said. “So bKash is yet to reach the break-even.???
“Currently, mobile banking customers do not save money in their accounts, but in near future, they will,??? he said. “We are planning to give interest on savings.???
Banks are in a better position compared with other entities to lead the financial inclusion goal in Bangladesh, he said.
“So I strongly feel the model should always be bank-led for ensuring safety.???
It does not mean the telcos will remain out of the orbit. The mobile operators are partners in the bank-led model, Ali said.
“I must thank the mobile operators and the central bank for their support.???

-Suman Saha/ http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/bangladesh-a-bright-spot-in-m-banking/

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