‘The i3 program will try to integrate the low and moderate-income people into the formal economy’
MetLife Foundation and MicroSave launched the i3 (Innovate, Implement and Impact) program at Dhaka's Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel on Monday.
The primary objective of the program is to further financial inclusion in Bangladesh.
ICT and banking industry experts recommended utilizing Mobile Financial Services (MFS), present in Bangladesh, to achieve this goal.
Regional Director for Asia at MicroSave Manoj K Sharma said: “Although the mobile financial services in Bangladesh have been very successful, it is time to build upon this success story and translate it into a larger play around financial inclusion.”
“The problem is that loans of a small amount are very difficult to give and savings of a small amount are very difficult to collect,” he said. He added that banking transaction costs are so high that it is not economically feasible to provide services to a customer who is dealing in small amounts of money.
Manoj K Sahrama opined that it is necessary to make banking services affordable to accommodate this group of people.
“The i3 program will try to integrate low and moderate-income people into the formal economy,” Sharma further explained.
He said the GDP growth of Bangladesh would be much higher if the informal economy was linked to the financial sector.
Participants at the event also pointed out that although Bangladesh now accounts for more than 8% of mobile money accounts worldwide, the pattern of transactions suggests that the MFS market is yet to move beyond basic transactions—many of which are conducted over-the-counter (OTC) via an agent's account.
Of the 57 million registered MFS users, only 52% are active.
Speaking at the event, President of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) Syed Almas Kabir said citizens are enthusiastic about new projects and ideas.
He said: “However, the problem is that these projects and ideas need to be nurtured.”
BASIS president said programs like i3 will help in providing the necessary guidance to these innovators.
Addressing the program as the guest of honour, Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Mustafa Jabbar said: “Bangladesh is now a role model for the world—in terms of using digital services to improve the lives of ordinary people.”
Jabbar also explained that Bangladesh’s biggest challenge is to build proper infrastructure for the MFS system.
“I can say with pride that by June of 2019, every single union parishad of Bangladesh will be able to enjoy fiber optic connectivity. So, everyone in the country will have access to mobile internet.”
As part of the government's commitment to introduce policies aimed at advancing financial inclusion, Access to Information (a2i) is currently in the process of drafting a National Financial Inclusion Strategy.
Bangladesh Bank is also in the process of releasing revised, comprehensive, guidelines about MFS.
The event also hosted an interactive panel discussion on “Leveraging Technology for Meaningful Financial Inclusion in Bangladesh” which was moderated by Associate Director of MicroSave Anil Kumar Gupta.
This event also included industry regulators, FinTechs, and international donor agencies as panelists.
Among others: Md Touhurul Hasan, program coordinator of Digital Finacial Services at a2i; Dr Shahadat Khan, CEO of Progoti Systems; Mizanur Rashid, chief commercial officer of bKash; Zakaria Swapan, founder and CEO of iPay Systems; and Syed Mohammad Kamal, country manager of Mastercard Bangladesh, were also present at this event.