It’s not a path uncharted, per se; in fact, the use of banks on wheels the world over is surprisingly widespread. The existence of a mobile bank branch with UIMCEC – the bank with whom I’m working – is recent enough, however, to create quite a stir.
Allow me to present you with (drum roll): banks on wheels. As the name suggests, they’re adaptable, they’re versatile, and they’re… moveable! The wheels can come in a variety of forms – from cars, to buses, to vans, to RVs – and the impact they have in developing countries is simply immeasurable.
Needless to say the processes and procedures of a bank on wheels varies case by case, bank by bank, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick to exploring and explaining UIMCEC’s bank on wheels.
How does it work?
At present, UIMCEC has only one van (pictured above) used to service rural areas which surround their 33 branches in four regions of Senegal. Ideally, the “mobile bank” has a cyclical rotation, visiting “x” town each Monday, “y” town each Tuesday, so on and so forth. These visits are purposefully scheduled during bustling market hours, and situated conveniently for suitable access to as many clients as possible.
The truck is equipped with nearly everything vital to its business operations otherwise found in a branch location. This includes but is not limited to: customer account information, a human ATM system of sorts, and a back door access fitted with a service window in the back where all transactions are made. Clients can make withdrawals, payments, and deposits. They can also open accounts, inquire about loan acquisitions, and begin any respective applications.
How are clients reacting?
“I’ve only heard favorable feedback,” explains the enthused agent I was chatting with, appearing at an unusual loss for words. “I wish I could give you more than that, I’m wracking my brain, I really am…” he promised, with wandering eyes.
“I don’t know, it really seems to work. In fact, beyond its primary purpose of providing financial transactions, I’ve seen that clients use the presence of the mobile bank in their community as an opportunity to engage in dialogue with whichever agent is present, in a way they would not do in a branch office. It’s as if it creates a casual setting, which makes people feel more comfortable and at ease. Not to mention they’re grateful for the convenience.”
I nodded my head and smiled, pleased to agree with all of his opinions.
The only observation I would add from my two hour “tag along” is a small, albeit noticeable, degree of skepticism residing in client’s minds. While the goal of mobile banking is to increase financial access around the country, in turn further empowering the poor and giving them tools to build a strong sense of participation rather than passivity, users still appear cautious. “Who am I giving their money to? In 20 minutes my money will just… drive off? Can I really get it back whenever I need to back, and how do I ensure the money is properly managed?”
What are the advantages for UIMCEC to join the “mobile banking” bandwagon?
Because the gains of banks on wheels availability for clients are many, and I risk going on… and on… and on, I’ve decided to create a list of top five benefits as I see it:
- Banks on wheels ensure financial inclusion to all socioeconomic levels in all regions. Geography is among the most significant of problems facing banks in Senegal. Banks tend to operate in well-off areas, which are often connected by smooth, paved roads to larger cities. It’s often difficult, not to mention too costly, to build banks in rural communities; this consequently requires clients to walk or commute by bus for hours in order to reach their closest bank. Banks on wheels help to ensure that the country reaches all levels of residents regardless of their location and/or income.
- Banks on wheels support other resources aimed to expand financial inclusion. Take mobile phones, for instance. While the transfer of money through mobile phones is revolutionary and life-changing beyond measure, there remain hurdles to overcome. Residents of places deemed too small to establish a permanent branch, for instance, receive funds through their mobile phones yet must trek hours to a branch in order to retrieve the funds. Banks on wheels allow them to cash out much more conveniently.
- Banks of wheels strengthen UIMCEC’s social responsibility mission. Social responsibility is always on the minds of UIMCEC’s management. How best can they reach each and every Senegalese citizens wanting banking services? How can they provide, to these same individuals, a diverse portfolio of financial options? Banks on wheels permits UIMCEC to continue working towards this achieving this commendable mission.
- Banks on wheels reinforce a targeted mix of modernity and tradition. It’s a hard balance to strike – a desire to straddle between offering modern, advanced products and adhering to tradition with what has worked best in the past. Banks on wheels allow banks to find a healthy medium between the two.
- Banks on wheels help empower a bank’s clientele. An ideal system for banks is one that is participatory on both ends: where clients openly explain their wants and needs, and the banks provide services and products to fit these demands. By visiting the centers and hearts of communities, UIMCEC’s bank on wheels has – as my conversation with the UIMCEC agent revealed – allowed clients to feel a more integral role in the banking system. Banks on wheels enables UIMCEC to devolve power in an efficient, effective, well-received approach.
Candidly, it’s a pretty remarkable development to witness in action. That’s not to say it’s perfect, it has its flaws and room for improvement, but it is undeniably a tremendous step in the right direction for both UIMCEC and the development of Senegal.
Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.