Mobile money services in Ghana have registered a huge increase in adoption and usage in recent years, however banking services remain largely concentrated in urban areas, excluding the rural population who make up the majority. For instance, in the Ashanti and Western regions of Ghana, youth and women in rural areas still struggle to access banking and financial services.
According to World Bank Data (2017), only a third of the people living in Ashanti and Western regions have used a bank account, and these were concentrated in the major cities of the two regions. However, thanks to the financial inclusion agenda of policy makers, banks can now offer their services using alternative financial access points such as Agency Banking, which allows banks to provide limited banking and financial services to the underserved population through agents rather than tellers or cashiers in banking halls. Agency banking is indeed the next frontier for commercial banks to reach the most vulnerable: through agency banking, banks engage with third parties and train them to perform basic banking services such as deposits, withdrawals, transfers, bill payments and mobile top-up.
Ecobank Ghana is at the forefront of agency banking within the banking sector in Ghana. With more than 2000 agents as of 2020, the bank is deepening financial inclusion by bringing financial services to the doorsteps of the underserved.
With funding from the European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) under the GrEEn Project, UNCDF is partnering with the Youth Banking Department of Ecobank to increase access to financial services in the Ashanti and Western regions. Specifically, UNCDF has supported the partnership between Ecobank and OZÉ, a mobile app that makes it easy for small business owners to keep financial records and understand their performance. Ecobank and OZE have partnered under the GrEEn Project to offer an integrated financial service solution to the underserved population that includes savings accounts, loan products, financial and business education, credit risk assessment and to provide the right mix of digital and non-digital channels through which products and services will be provided.
With the commencement of the partnership in September 2020, Ecobank and OZE have engaged in a series of activities to ensure the success of this initiative. These include field research in Ashanti and Western regions using human-centred design (HCD) approaches, a co-creation workshop and prototype phase with key stakeholders, including government counter partners, training service providers as well as targeted groups to further align the offer; adaptation of current offering, development of incentives and new features, new loan products, marketing messages, and other non-digital solutions have been defined. The Xpress Account and the OZE App have been put at the forefront of the joint offer: the first being a low-KYC and zero-fee banking account available on smartphones and on features phones, specifically targeting underserved and low literate young population to encourage them to save; the second being a Mobile Application helping entrepreneurs and micro SMEs to track their expenses, sales, and cash flow while providing business and financial education tips.
In March 2021, Ecobank and OZE launched the pilot phase in Ashanti regions, specifically targeting the districts of Ejura and Adansi South as well as the city of Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region. Through the financial and technical support of UNCDF, Ecobank deployed 13 agents in targeted areas, employed a team of 15 people and conducted community engagement activities.
During the launch week, 783 Xpress Accounts were opened and almost half of them in the rural districts and more than half for women. Qualitative interviews revealed that many targeted beneficiaries, especially women, opened a bank account for the first time. The rural areas are indeed underserved and the few financial institutions often offer inaccessible financial products, with high KYC requirements and expensive fees.
“UNCDF is helping Ecobank to expand in areas underserved but where we see great market potential. Thanks to the GrEEn Project, we had the opportunity to better understand the needs of this untapped market and to better fine-tune our strategy and offering to serve them. The partnership with OZE is instrumental to achieve our objective of serving entrepreneurs in rural areas. By the end of the project, we would like to see the Xpress point as a one-stop shop for financial services in these communities.” said Henry Boye, Head of Youth Banking at Ecobank Ghana.
Ecobank and OZE are now monitoring usage and following up with new clients and support them in the full uptake of the proposed solutions. The final objective of this partnership is to serve up to 10,000 new clients in the targeted areas with the full integrated offering.
Financial Inclusion is one of the top priorities of the GrEEn Project. The European Union has mandated UNCDF to test and pilot new innovative approaches to increase access and usage of financial services to contribute to economic opportunities at local level. UNCDF, through its partnership with Ecobank and OZE, aims at bringing digital and non-digital financial services to the last mile and to support youth and women in their journey towards economic independence. The results obtained by the launch in the firs region are really promising.