DIGITAL MAHILA: DIGITAL WOMEN CHANNEL PARTNERS FOR GENDER INCLUSIVE MICRO FINANCE SERVICES
UKaid Sakchyam Access to Finance Programme (Sakchyam) is committed to connecting the rural poor, disadvantaged groups (DAGs), and women to formal financial service provider in order to enable them with choices to save, borrow, invest, and earn. While enhancing access to finance for people living in remote and inaccessible regions is an urgent need, efficiency and sustainability of doing so are critical. Sakchyam believes a paradigm shift is needed in the microfinance sector with the adoption of new technology, helping it achieve organisational efficiency and expand its outreach in a more self-sustainable manner.
Given the diverse socio-economic and geographical context of Nepal, the need to adopt innovative solutions backed by technology is necessary to make easy, convenient, and affordable financial products and services possible for the rural poor. Currently, microfinance in Nepal is considered expensive due to high operation and monitoring costs. The sector lacks a sophisticated management information system (MIS), let alone other technological innovations that can reduce the costs of taking financial services to remote, hard-to-access areas. With limited options, microfinance institutions (MFIs) usually resort to the traditional style of doing almost everything manually. Illustratively, all loan and savings transactions are conducted manually at the centre meeting (during the time the group meets, in most cases, monthly—requiring the entire meeting time to collect repayments of loan, savings and making demands for loan and in some cases disbursement of smaller loans and entering the transactions in both the collection sheets as well as client’s pass books). This leaves little to no time for discussions on financial literacy, client protection, or explaining about other products or services offered by the financial institution. Additionally, loan officers have to spend significant time traveling back and forth to a branch or home office and entering the data manually at the branch. New loan applications often require a visit to the branch and a laborious paperwork process. This can result in decreases in productivity and morale. For many potential clients, they’ll often forego the extra effort as a local moneylender offers money immediately. Therefore, technology to provide alternative delivery channels has the ability to tackle these challenges head on.
Chhimek Laghubitta Laghubitta Bittiya Sanstha Ltd (Chhimek) is a ‘D’ class national level financial institution licensed by the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB). Chhimek is at the forefront of using mobile-based technology with its core banking system (CBS) to extend its services to remote regions of Karnali and Province 5 & 7. With Sakchyam’s support, it has launched tablet banking programme through female agent called “Digital Mahila” to efficiently deliver financial services in the remote areas and increase its outreach. These female agents are used to be active clients of Chhimek who are able to reach other women, understanding their needs and challenges.
A Digital Mahila is able to identify target clients, conduct financial literacy classes and group/unit meetings every month. She serves 250-350 clients with savings and lending products, especially in those remote areas that are not usually covered by the brick and mortar branches of the financial institutions. Every day she records transactions on the tablet, which is synced with the bank’s core banking system online. Every month, branch managers and M&E officers visit her to ensure compliance with Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and provide her with any onsite support needed. Any request for loan products exceeding NRP 50,000 will be recommended to the nearest branch.
Impact: As of September 2018, Chimmek has,