In the past three years, 100 million people have opened bank accounts for the first time in Africa. In China, there are 500 million people who are ‘newly banked’. In India, 187 million new accounts were opened in just one year on a governmental scheme. In the UK, around 100,000 people came into the banking stream, either for the first time or after a long break, in the last three years.
This growing segment of the newly banked, who have emerged from the unbanked population and not-quite-yet-in-the-fully-banked category represents one of the biggest challenges for traditional and challenger banks in the world (yet, is not talked about as much as it should be!). They have a unique set of problems, and deserve a unique set of solutions – that are not available in the market today.
The newly banked population does not find a bank account useful
India’s unbanked population halved in the last four years, according to a report, which means 324 million new accounts were taken in that period. In just the past year, under a Prime Ministerial PMJDY scheme, 187 million new accounts were opened. However, 43% of these accounts lay dormant, with no balance and no deposits or withdrawals.
In the UK, around half of the people with new, basic bank accounts still chose to manage their money and make transactions in cash. Around 15% of newly opened accounts were closed or abandoned.
These figures paint such a dire image that it’s a mystery why banks are not taking more steps to bring the newly banked into the well-banked, or at least, the underbanked groups. Offering financial literacy is just one obvious element to fix the problem – the most important change needed is for the bank accounts to offer relevant transaction channels and sensible costs. In Africa, for example, mobile payments on basic phones have taken over the transaction ecosystem, and banks offering viable alternatives is a difficult proposition, yet possible.
This is because the experience of moving into banking hasn’t been great
The newly banked population probably used cash for transactions before the bank account, and transferred money using either mobile phone text messages (Africa) or specialised remittance firms (India and UK). In reality, it probably worked fine for them. There was a clear lack of perceived need.
The expected customer experience (once the bank account is opened) is that it caters to a specific niche challenge the customer visualises would be solved with a bank account. It could be something like reduced bill costs or ease of bill payments, better loan facilities for agriculture, or sometimes availability of online shopping. A good example of catering to a specific demographic is that of six Zambian banks coming together several years ago to provide a secure money transfer mechanism that effectively replaced cash and cheques in the region. In China, a technology firm offers a SIM overlay that can be used on any phone to access bank accounts remotely.
Solutions from banks, including those in partnership with technology firms, have to cater to these niche socio-demographic and geographic challenges. If appropriate pricing along with these direct solutions to solve niche problems are not present in a newly opened bank account, it’s unlikely this population will stay with the bank. They will either go back to their old ways with cash, or will look at fintech apps or technology solutions to meet their specific needs.
The newly banked population may not have access to a branch
Over 66% of the newly banked population were considered “rural” by a study. If this population doesn’t have access to a branch, it is likely they will not get the personal customer service support or financial product aid they would otherwise be getting. Despite all the branch-bashing that banks face on a regular basis (especially from us fintech fans), branches are in fact one of the best ways to put the newly banked at ease. If full branches are not viable, banks could consider using retailer shops as mini branches, or using field agents to encourage financial access (both models being used exceedingly well in Ghana and Kenya).
How do we keep them there?
The only solution to keep them with a bank is unfortunately not quite pleasing: a bank will have to exert greater focus on customer service, financial literacy and access channels specifically targeting the newly banked. This does mean increased costs, increased effort and investment into segment personalisation, but in the long run, without this investment, this population is unlikely to remain with the bank. A simple preventative measure like this will also help them face the fintech competition head-on. A student lending app or an app that helps improve your credit score may appeal more to this young, financially untapped population than having a bank account that provides no clear benefits.
Banks are increasingly partnering with fintech firms to handle this gap. Technology investments are great, but banks need to know and be in control of what those investments are being made for.
See my slides from the Dot Finance Africa event on fintech trends in the region: