According to The World Bank, financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs (transactions, payments, savings, credit, and insurance) delivered in a responsible and sustainable way. Those who have an account in their name with a full-service financial institution are considered financially included individuals.
In large urban centers, the type of customers that institutions have, are very different from the ones in rural areas where they have to find a way to cope with the unavailability of resources, services, needs, and living conditions. A good example of this is that many times people have to share mobile phones and mobile money accounts to have access to a service.
In order to onboard new customers from low-income and rural segments, institutions have to mimic informal mechanisms (like saving groups) and to adapt products that can deliver high value at a low-cost price. However, a product alone will not be enough for success since people will need to trust institutions to provide their personal goods like income and life-long savings.
Due to this, and when planning a delivery strategy in rural areas or in the outskirts of urban centers, companies need to focus on convenient alternative delivery channels to reach and serve customers outside of physical branches at a lower cost: like the agents! They are the main vehicle for economic empowerment of the underserved by connecting the unbanked population to the formal financial system, through a mobile money account or an account at a financial institution. Agents play a crucial role and are often valuable and trusted members of the community in which they work. They promote an active account usage, explain and give support about products and services, personally help customers understand operations and perform their first transactions. This leads to a better customer experience once they feel safe when using new products provided by agents.
Keep in mind that financial inclusion is not achieved by the mere ownership of a bank/mobile money account, but by its active usage! That is why agents are so important!
Bringing new customers onboard and making sure they are active on the channel is still a challenge. However, agents are often effective at encouraging new clients to join a service because they are part of the target community. While customers acquire a sense of stability and safety, financial institutions have another source of liquidity driven by agent’s activity.
In short, agents can provide suitable products and services that are accessible, affordable, convenient and aligned with customer’s needs. The consistent bank/mobile money account usage results in a positive financial outcome like having enough savings and appropriate credit that allows paying bills, manage income and expenses and start building long-term customer relationships.