Unbanked poor hail e-banking service

For Rehana Akhter, rebuilding her life after losing her leg in Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster is an uphill battle, but her struggle is eased slightly by digital technology.

The 25-year-old has an electronic bank account on her mobile, giving her access to financial services that have traditionally been out of reach for millions of poor in Bangladesh and other developing nations.

Girl With Mobile Smart Phone
Girl With Mobile Smart Phone

From the capital Dhaka, Akhter sends interest earned on her one million taka (USD 12,820) compensation from the disaster quickly and cheaply to her 10-year-old son and parents back in their village.

“Life is tough for anyone who’s lost a limb. Nobody gives you a job or cares about your pain,” she said of her injuries suffered in the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapse that killed more than 1,100 people in 2013.

“But the pain is partly relieved when you know that there are technologies to help you.”

Started in 2011 by a local company called bKash, the electronic banking service has since exploded in popularity to become one of the world’s largest, with 17 million registered accounts.

Bangladesh has been the heartland of microfinance thanks to the pioneering efforts of Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, whose small loans empowered millions of poor.

But the bKash Wallet service has reached further, allowing anyone with a mobile phone to receive wages, send remittances and pay bills for a fee of less than two percent of the transaction.

As bKash has grown, a string of banks that have traditionally snubbed the poor have started similar services, with an estimated 22 percent of Bangladesh adults now using mobile money.

“bKash has emerged as a very efficient payment arrangement with endless possibilities,” its MIT-educated chief executive Kamal Quadir told AFP.

“It’s a completely new payment infrastructure, that has access to the country’s rich and poor.”

Quadir credited its success to its low cost and huge reach—about 100,000 bKash agents such as shopkeepers are employed in villages throughout the country allowing receivers of electronic money to get their cash.

– AFP | Dhaka