Last-mile access to digital financial services is the key to successful financial inclusion by Ralph Pecker, CEO Paycode

Published // 20th April 2021

Last-mile access to digital financial services is the key to successful financial inclusion

Guest post by Ralph Pecker, CEO Paycode

When I think back to my unconventional childhood, growing up in Sinazongwe, a remote village in rural Zambia, I don’t think I fully grasped at the time how much my experiences would shape me. Having to cross a river with no bridge to get to our thatch-hut house and having no phone line where we lived, all seemed completely normal. As a child, I took it for granted and adapted. We did not have the lifestyle that city kids had, and going to the city for a weekend sleepover was a huge treat. Being so remote meant that we had to use VHF radio to contact neighbouring farms 30 kilometres away if we needed to communicate in an emergency. Despite that, it was a childhood I loved and I still feel a deep-rooted connection to Zambia to this day.

Ralph Pecker as a child, growing up in a small village in rural Zambia.

In many remote rural villages like the one I grew up in, there are still no phone or internet lines and many places still lack basic infrastructure like roads and electricity. To two billion people worldwide, this is simply the reality of their lives.

Reaching the last mile

People living in deep rural areas struggle to access even the most basic of services, like mobile phone connectivity or electricity. They often spend their whole lives in one place, never leaving their village. This is the main reason that so many births go unregistered and those children grow up without any formal identity. This often prevents them from exercising their basic rights, like being able to open a bank account or accessing healthcare. Mobile phone-based digital services are making strides to close this gap, but for those who don’t have any connectivity in their village, they are still excluded and sometimes, even if connectivity is available, they simply cannot afford it.

Fintech for financial inclusion

When I first heard about Paycode’s technology in 2014, I knew immediately that it was the opportunity that I had been searching for. After an extensive due diligence, I rounded up a group of investors and we purchased the company, its IP and technology. Technology that could provide digital identity and banking services to the unbanked and underserved resonated with me on a personal level. Paycode’s ability to provide payments offline in real time to people with no formal identity was an obvious game-changer.

Mobile operators, banks and fintech start-ups are all competing for this market and trying to solve the barriers to financial inclusion: identity, cost and connectivity. Many in our industry, including financial services providers and mobile operators, use the phrase ‘financial inclusion’, ‘underbanked’ and ‘underserved’ to describe providing a traditional bank account to unbanked consumers. I can understand why there’s all this hype and major drive to onboard consumers by providing digital bank account or wallets, but it often doesn’t solve the real issues preventing financial inclusion:

  1. How someone proves that they are who they say they are
  2. How to provide services to those who live in places where there is no connectivity
  3. How to serve those who simply cannot afford the costs associated with traditional banking (both transaction fees and data costs)

Technology, experience and logistics will be key to creating financial inclusion in deep rural populations. We need to relook at the definition of financial inclusion. In my opinion, people don’t need a bank account to be financially included.

Biometric digital identity

Proof of identity is where it should start. Those living in the world’s most remote places are unlikely to ever get formal identity documents. The process is simply too arduous and expensive. To solve this, Paycode created a way to give people a simple, reliable way to prove that they are who they say they are: biometric identity using fingerprints. By onboarding people biometrically, Paycode’s proof of life identification solution can give a person a legally-recognised, reliable digital identity using only their fingerprints in around 3-4 minutes.

Rural Mozambican women being onboarded using their fingerprints and receiving their first digital bank account.

Offline real-time transacting

Paycode’s solution enables people to transact even if there is no internet connectivity at the time of transaction. This offline real-time technology provides access 24/7 guaranteed services. It builds trust very quickly. Giving people guaranteed access to their funds and ways to transact even when there is no connectivity builds trust. Our solution currently enables a range of financial services transactions to take place offline in real time including payments, receiving money, withdrawing cash and sending money and more.

Affordable fees

Making the services affordable and addressing the low-income population who live on less than two dollars per day, allows Paycode to address all demographic opportunities in a country. Paycode’s transacting fees are a fraction of the cost of traditional bank charges.

Taking digital services further

At its core, Paycode’s technology is a data and payments solution. Once underserved communities have been given a digital identity and a digital bank account that can work offline in real time, other digital services can be easily added to the service offering. The system is designed to easily integrate with multiple financial institutions but can also be used for many other use cases including healthcare, the private sector, government entities and remittance providers.

Paycode has successfully implemented projects including the farmer input support program in Zambia, which successfully onboarded over 167 000 farmers in the most remote parts of Zambia enabling them to buy seeds, fertilizer and other necessary inputs to ensure food security. We distributed social grants to over 18 000 Mozambican’s whose lives were devasted after Cyclone Idai, navigating exceptionally difficult hurdles in rural areas in order to successfully pay grants in villages that had no connectivity at all. We believe that our solution can be successfully implemented for tracking and tracing in a pandemic, as well as managing vaccination programs.

I believe that if we solve the three key challenges of identity, connectivity and cost starting in the last mile, we can the successfully enable financial inclusion for a large portion of the world’s underserved population. But it doesn’t have to end there. The Paycode solution can extend Value-Added Services to the semi-urban and urban areas just as easily.  Adding additional services creates trust and a sustainable eco-system for a country. We’ve seen this in Ghana, where Paycode’s system is the technology that enables the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements System (GhIPSS) to serve over 127 financial institutions and 3 million customers.

Strategic partnerships ensure success

Our vision is to give biometric identity and affordable access to basic financial services to the unbanked and underserved.  Many organisations that focus on financial inclusion and solving the challenges of unbanked and underbanked communities understand this. That’s why we look for strategic partners who share the same goals and understand the challenges of addressing deep rural populations. Our partnership with Crown Agents Bank is a key component to our success. Through the partnership we are able to leverage the bank’s network, strong relationships built on years of trust and reliable delivery, as well as the security it offers from being regulated to UK legal and compliance standards. We have set ourselves ambitious targets – onboarding 100 million customers by 2030 – and having a reputable financial institution like Crown Agents Bank adds value and trust to the entire solution in country and globally.

An end user proudly shows her Paycode card which she can use to verify her identity and have access to a wide range of financial services including receiving a social grant, making payments and sending money.

 

Crown Agents Bank is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and PRA.

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