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Banks should roll out digital platforms to deepen financial inclusion

Promoting financial inclusion is fundamental to achieving sustainable economic growth across Uganda. Put simply, financial inclusion means ensuring access to bank accounts for everyone who needs one.

Banks should ensure that they help drive this inclusion all the way to the last mile and enable every individual to have access to affordable financial services. Cutting down on an unnecessary travel and reducing the time spent in the banking hall are some of last-mile challenges banks should steadily overcome with the introduction of digital platforms.

At Stanbic bank, we aim to ensure that the services meet their needs and are delivered with dignity to clients, in a responsible, convenient and in a sustainable way. In the years gone by, it was considered something of a status symbol to say you have a bank account.

Not any longer; today it is the basis of upward mobility and yet according to the World Bank, half of the world’s adult population does not have access to basic financial services. Nearly 80 per cent of Ugandans are financially included with the mobile phone being the main driver of growth.

Having a bank account increases your options when making important decisions concerning your personal finances. True, your mobile money account is handy for completing many day-to-day transactions. However, there are limits to what you can do with it, especially when it comes to long-term investment plans or actually storing your money in a secure place.

Stanbic supports the Bank of Uganda Strategy on Financial-inclusion and we are already implementing several innovations and interventions, either singularly or in cooperation with other banks, to back this strategy.

Online account opening is revolutionizing how customers join the bank. Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, now more than ever before, there has been an increased customer need to access banking services at their convenience.

Basic requirements are a valid national identity card for Ugandan citizens or a valid passport for those living abroad. During the lockdown, customers could still open accounts online and start transacting without need for any paperwork. Key to note is that this solution has controls in place such as online video verification to ensure that we are dealing with the right customer.

Over 31,000 accounts have been opened since Stanbic launched this service with the transaction value going as high as Shs 100 billion. Another way that has helped widen financial inclusion is agent banking which involves bringing services closer in more diverse locations. Agent banking is proving to be popular.

We, therefore, will continue to improve the platform to enable customers to carry out their transactions from their immediate neighborhoods. Recently, a money transfer service was rolled out which allows both the banked and non-banked population to send and receive money on any mobile number using any of the Stanbic agents located across the country.

We also rolled out liquidation/cash out capability for both MTN and Airtel agents, allowing them to purchase float or withdraw physical cash (rebalance) off their e-value in real-time via Stanbic.  This has reduced cash handling and the associated risks, particularly being waylaid by robbers.

Stanbic bank continues to come up with innovative solutions to make it easy and convenient for customers to access financial services. This includes credit facilities embedded on our mobile and online banking services, insurance products and more.

As a result, Stanbic bank prequalified customers can now access through self-service, instant top-up loans and new loans in less than two minutes. This service comes in addition to the instant cash advance and loan redraws that were launched in 2019.

Prequalification of customers is done using the customer decisioning engine (CDE) to ensure that the credit services are extended to customers who meet all the mandatory requirements.

An essential factor about financial inclusion is that the products and services are affordable and useful to the target population, especially access to credit which can be invested in small-scale income-generating activities.

The writer is Stanbic bank executive director.

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