Ideas & Updates

In Learning Exchange with Kenya, Nigerian and Malawian Banks Focus on Reaching Women With Cashless Solutions

Guest post by Allegra Palmer, Women’s World Banking

Kenya, the home market of leading mobile money provider M-Pesa, is known as the seat of innovation in financial inclusion. One of the keys to the Kenyan market’s success is the development of a well-designed distribution network that drives costs down and increases client outreach. M-Pesa has spurred growth among a variety of other financial institutions and service providers, leading to new developments in payments and financial services. The experience of Kenya, a Better Than Cash Alliance Member, provides many insights and lessons for developing mobile money products for other markets – as well as growth strategies for increasing women’s access to a diversified portfolio of financial services.

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In June, Women’s World Banking, also a Better Than Cash member, led a learning exchange in Kenya for representatives from Diamond Bank in Nigeria and NBS Bank in Malawi to explore growth strategies that rely on mobile financial products and bank agents to reach the underserved market. Both banks are currently implementing innovative savings products for the underserved market, with a focus on reaching women.

As the participants discussed during the learning exchange, partnerships, product design, and marketing transparency are all essential for reaching this segment.

Participants met with key players in the Kenyan agent ecosystem, including banks with agent networks and mobile products; agent marketing and branding companies; financial regulators and industry experts. They also saw first-hand examples of beneficiaries of cashless solutions – from large companies to women shop owners.

In Nigeria and Malawi, as well as Kenya, many women shop owners sell goods in their communities. These women comprise a large existing and potential client base for Diamond Bank and NBS Bank. Without a mobile money service, shop owners must pay their distributors in cash, which is both inconvenient and insecure.

However, if a woman shop owner has access to digital credit through a partnership between a bank and a telecommunications company, the credit allows her to increase her stock, which allows her to increase her sales and build her business. If there is a convenient payment network, she can spend less time away from her business. When traveling to her distributor, she is more secure traveling without cash. Cashless payments also allow her to build a transactional record, which helps document her sales and provide data that banks can use to build additional financial products for her.

The participants visited two companies that transitioned to a cashless model:

  • East Africa Brewing Ltd. (EABL) built a mobile payments system, which is now used with 105 distributors (reaching 32,000 retailers). Beer and spirit distributors replaced cash payments to EABL with M-Pesa mobile transfer service, with all funds collected on the M-Pesa platform deposited each day in a Safaricom bank account. With over 2 million transactions since its inception, the platform has an average monthly volume of 2.2 billion Kenyan shillings (US $24.9 million). EABL operations have experienced an increased speed of funds reconciliation. Distributors no longer incur expenses associated with cash in transit, such as insurance and additional security, and they no longer worry about fake currency. EABL sees going cashless as part of their long-term business strategy: by driving down internal costs, increasing efficiencies and reducing costs for distributors, EABL will ultimately increase sales.
  • Bridge International Academies, a low-income private school network with 303 academies and 100,000 active pupils, created cashless payments systems for accounts receivable, including tuition fees, and accounts payable, including payroll. For families paying tuition, mobile payments are more secure cash and provide assurance that the funds are going to their children’s school. For Bridge Academies, the system creates financial transparency and eliminates fraud and graft issues. In addition, the platform provides analytics to better understand the real-time financial health and performance of any school within their network.


  • Partnerships between banks and telecommunications companies can be mutually beneficial. In Kenya, the smaller Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) leverages the almost universal name recognition of Safaricom, the M-Pesa provider, while CBA’s mobile loan product M-Shwari, increases customer usage of Safaricom airtime.


  • Mobile products can help banks extend their value proposition. As Kenyan banks have demonstrated, offering mobile products can help banks access a new customer segment, particularly low-income women, as well as recruit customers for other product offerings. By offering the mobile product, M-Shwari, CBA reached an entirely new client base and, in their words, “became a different profile of a bank overnight.”
  • Mobile products are dependent on a certain level of existing infrastructure. As the participants discussed during the learning exchange, Kenya’s success with mobile products was dependent on both the almost universal adoption of M-Pesa as well as the quality of the cell phone network.

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  • Marketing needs to be robust, particularly at the start. In the words of a participant from NBS Bank in Malawi “Since we are the first ones doing this [in our markets] we will need to build a lot of awareness.” Agent branding and awareness and education campaigns are critically to supporting the network roll out.

  • Agents can build your brand. In building their agent network, banks must plan to train agents on procedures, customer service and financial education as well as provide support for technical issues. High quality agent support leads to agent retention and good customer service.


  • In building an agent network, leverage internal and external structures that already exist. Bank branch staff can play a key role in agent management and certain kinds of shops can offer necessary security and traffic for an agent. Exchange participants saw this first-hand at Post Office Savings Bank, the first bank to launch an agent network in Kenya, which leveraged their network of post office branches to build out their agent network.
  • Appropriate technology on the front end and back end must be in place. Agent and mobile networks must use technology that is simple and acceptable to customers and agents, internally integrated to the bank’s system and – most importantly – easily scalable. Participants recognized that their banks “cannot succeed without the back office.”

After the visit, participants were convinced that cashless solutions offer a “triple win:” Banks will grow more quickly at a lower cost, third parties such as agents and telecommunications companies will expand their businesses and clients will be one step closer to full financial inclusion.