Sustainable development goals (SDGs) have been adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 and been a key indicator for Bangladesh progress ever since. To work towards these goals, Bangladesh have been trying to utilize its available resources including financial sources, focus on innovative and creative development and re-model the financial sector to provide service to all people, especially the poor (Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM), 2021). Enabling “access to financial services for all” means individuals in every economic class have the shield to protect themselves from unexpected income changes, make savings for future, maintain their lifestyle with a stable cashflow and overall awareness of their financial wealth. Financial access is believed to allow better standard of living and is a mission towards achieving the SDGs. This article portrays how Bangladesh addresses the demand for financial services and secures financial access through its unique journey.
Bangladesh had to be innovative in creating financial access for all suited to its own needs based on limited resources available. The efforts had started before the SDGs have been adopted by the government and policymakers. The idea of microfinance was developed during the mid-1970’s to empower rural people, especially women, to start their journey as entrepreneurs (Wathen, 2020). It encouraged women in villages to take micro-sized loans with minimum interest rates to start their business which they were unable to avail from established corporate banks. This innovative idea, now adopted worldwide, was developed independently by multiple NGOs such as BRAC and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to make finance accessible to everyone.
Accessibility to banking services is a global instrument used to measure financial access; it represents how well the banks and its branches are dispersed throughout the country so that access can be maximized. An independent primary study by Research and Professional Development Center (RPDC) of BRAC Business School, where 40 surveyors were employed across Bangladesh in 8 different districts, reveals insights about the Financial Literacy and Financial Access of Bangladesh. A total of 3121 responses were collected through random sampling technique, the general public above 18 years of age participated. Data collection was carried out in two batches, from 19th August-29th August and 5th September- 12th September.
The study shows that most respondents own a bank account, to be specific, 1764 out of 3121 (57%), while 1206 out of 3121 (39%) does not own a bank account, as depicted in the Figure 1 below. More than half of the respondents have their own bank account, which implies that they have the knowledge of saving their income and managing their finances. In terms of intensity of use, of the 1764 respondents who owns a bank account, 70% visit the bank at least once a month. This implies that the people who owns a bank account are well aware of the financial services that are offered by the banks and they frequently visit to avail those services.
However, this specific question does not necessarily answer the availability to financial access because a certain person may be exposed to the available financial service, but he may choose not to own a bank account. For example, a housewife in a Bangladeshi household may have the knowledge of the banking services, but not necessarily feel the need to own a bank account if her husband takes all financial responsibilities which is a fairly common scenario in Bangladesh. Therefore, the financial access in Bangladesh may actually be even higher than what this statistic implies.
Figure 1: Number of respondents having own bank account
Another creative innovation is the mobile banking solution, started by Dutch Bangla Bank Limited in May 2011, named “Rocket” (Mitra, Khatun, & Sarker, 2021). Then followed others, among which Bkash has become the market leader in a very short time. This solution allowed lower-middle class and lower-class people in the society have an alternative to banking with which they can exchange money with family members particularly in remote locations where formal financial access is most limited. Villagers can now receive salaries from their employer and pay their bills through mobile wallet at their convenience, some of which charges relatively high fee. The simplicity of the service and minimum technical knowledge required to use them made finance more accessible to them, thus improving their quality of living. This illustrates demand for financial services among marginalized communities who are in most need of financial access.
The primary study also asks the question whether the participants avail any of the mobile wallet services. 72% (2262 out of 3121) of the respondents said they own a registered mobile wallet in their name, and only 28% (859 out of 3121) said they do not own any of such services. Among those who have registered mobile wallets, 88% use the services at least once a month as Figure 2 suggests, showing a stark contrast to bank usage. This means increase in access also increases usage rate. It seems Bangladeshis are well aware of their access to financial services and they regularly use them according to their needs and convenience. Since its exposure in Bangladesh, they have adapted to the technological change quite fast despite privacy and security concerns. Third-party scams and fraudulent activities like tricking mobile wallet customers into sharing their password or influencing them to transfer money to the scammers suddenly increased once the customer base became strong. To mitigate that, mobile wallet providers actively warn their customers regarding privacy and security issues. Now, more people are aware and encouraged to use mobile wallet in making online payments and utility bills, transferring money to their peers, cash in and out, mobile recharges and savings. Even mobile balance recharge services are being preferred by users, which previously was a hectic service to avail from local telecom agents. Besides this, others too have provided customers with convenience that works as a substitute for banking services to many people.
Figure 2: Number of respondents using mobile wallets
Among many available financial services, people frequently use banks and mobile wallets. While they are both trusted, banking services are preferred when the amount of money is large (over thousands or so) and mobile wallets are preferred for smaller amount of money. Mobile wallets are gaining more popularity overtime because banking services fail to meet convenient, untechnical and frequent transaction needs of the people. Prevalent demand for financial services exists especially among low-income groups with lower education, which is why the industry of mobile wallets is expanding. This detects a potentially profitable area in financial services market which should attract investors to design financial products targeting these groups.
Cultural Atlas. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/bangladeshi-culture/bangladeshi-culture-religion
Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM). (2021). Financial Inclusion and SDGs: Bangladesh Context. Retrieved from http://inm.org.bd/financial-inclusion-and-sdgs-bangladesh-context/
Mitra, S., Khatun, N., & Sarker, M. (2021). Mobile banking during COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh: A novel mechanism to change and accelerate people's financial access. 3(3), 253-267. doi:10.3934/GF.2021013
Wathen, M. (2020). A critical glocalization approach: attending to power in the innovation space. Journal of Community Practice, 28(2), 1-16. doi:10.1080/10705422.2020.1757543