Agents have become an essential building block for financial inclusion. Their reach is 20 times the reach of bank branches and that continues to grow. In addition to providing last mile distribution for digital finance, agents are businesses themselves, often functioning as shopkeepers and having specific financial needs. This case study illustrates how mobile money and digitisation impact the business models of these small businesses, and how the FinTechs ChapChap and FLOW help them achieve their potential.
Doreen LUKANDWA introduced the speakers, and referred to the accelerating financial inclusion models from across the world that she learned about during the EMW conference. In that context, she expressed an interest to hear from the two models during this session how they designed their respective solutions.
Before the individual presentations, a video was shown to demonstrate feedback from the customers of ChapChap and FLOW, which was by and large quite positive. The customers shown were mostly small (female) entrepreneurs using mobile payment systems for deposits and payments, with low transaction costs and easy access, which is particularly relevant during this time of crisis. Payments could also be done for buying electricity, airtime and other services. In that sense, the ChapChap platform enables more customers to generate more purchasing power.
For a better understanding of the model, Lukandwa then asked how it effectively works, how people are getting access and what is so unique about it. Emmanuel EMODEK explained that the agent model had brought services closer and more affordable to potential customers. They are in particular targeting MSMEs to expand their services and earn an extra income; in that sense, ChapChap is adding to the existing financial infrastructure with its mobile money services.
Geoffrey ACINI commented that the complementary role of FLOW in the agent model is to provide capital, and to offer a platform for agents’ financial services and digital transactions. Financial means of their customers are always limited, making it difficult for them to get access to money from banks. As a result, FLOW has to pre-finance most of their operations. Therefore, they analyse a lot of data generated by the customer transactions, in order to come up with very innovative and customised solutions to create independent businesses.
Lukandwa continued with a question on the link with SDGs, seeing evidence in the video that women are becoming more financially included. Acini responded that women often have no collateral to get finance, so they help to overcome this barrier by providing them with credit. Emodek confirmed that there are indeed more women than men making use of these services, as they are trying to feed their families. He expects more women will enter this space, currently accounting for some 76 percent of the businesses.
So what are the insights obtained during the pandemic? For Emodek, an important observation is that young women and men, who had no opportunities to get a job, are the true heroes in this time of crisis by getting out of their comfort zone and creating small businesses rather than complaining. Acini added that the businesses that have proven most resilient during this time are the ones run by women who were very determined to continue their services; these are the businesses that FLOW is financing.
According to Lukandwa, this showed the impact and acceleration of financial inclusion. What are then the key success factors or drivers for the agents to succeed? Emodek responded that in the first place this requires financial institutions to open up, and this is what FLOW and ChapChap did.
Acini agreed and said that a very important reason for the success of these small agents is their access to finance, which proved to be the real driver for financial inclusion. He continued that these agents are incentivised by FLOW/ChapChap to maintain a good repayment cycle through a tailored customer engagement with the field agents, to mitigate risks and repair loans.
Emodek also pointed to the fact that the ChapChap agent model’s success has a strong foundation in the variety of services they offer, the access to finance enabling them to increase stock, to gradually improve margins, and to allow for more finance into the system for investment and purchasing of more goods. Data are subsequently collected and analysed to improve individual and collective performance.
The concluding part of this session aimed to answer questions from the audience. Michael ROTHE, from FLOW, wanted to know more about the future role of the agents for e-commerce last mile distribution. Emodek emphasised once more the importance of gathering numbers, as these numbers will mean more purchasing power and more services and products brought closer to customers and consumers. Acini added that data and innovative e-commerce solutions hold the future, providing additional financing and credits to various sectors.
Lukandwa wanted to know where the services of FLOW would next extend to, which was said to reach Uganda, Rwanda, Madagascar and The Gambia next. In other words, the success of the model and its solutions is going to cover many more markets. According to Acini, they have just touched the tip of the iceberg, and that the potential opportunities in extending to different markets appear to be quite limitless. Emodek called for further collaboration, as what they are facing is not a small problem. There are about 120 million businesses in Africa that do not get to celebrate their first birthday. He invited everyone to come in, listen and enable them to reach more businesses to thrive for their communities.
Concluding words were spoken by Lukandwa, who thanked the speakers and audience. She underlined once more the fact that people can achieve a lot when they come together and collaborate. The businesses showcased during the session provide many essential services to people that are underserved and in desperate need of such services.