The financial sector of Nepal is growing steadily, offering financial products and services through a network of branches spread across the country. The challenge now is to address the constraints that exclude certain populations from full participation in the financial system. Even today, large rural populations in the western, mid-western and far-western parts of the country lack access to formal financial services as most financial institutions are located in urban and semi-urban areas.
A large number of people in rural areas lack access to formal financial services to support their consumption and income-generating activities. In the absence of formal financial service providers, these people are compelled to rely upon informal and high-cost financial sources. Many banks and financial institutions still see brick-and-mortar (physical) presence as the only way expand their network. And they are reluctant to expand in rural areas due to poor infrastructure and high cost of operations among other challenges. The use of Alternate Delivery Channels such as Branchless Banking (BLB), which is best suited to increase outreach in a cost-effective manner, is still low among financial institutions. With this gap, the contribution of a large rural population to the economy and the potential of the region as a whole, is left untapped.
Everest Bank Limited (EBL), with UKaid Sakchyam Access to Finance Programme’s (Sakchyam’s) support, intends to reach out to the unbanked communities in remote areas with various value-added services with the adoption of technology. EBL has increased banking channels to unbanked/low-banked people to inculcate a banking habit through Agent Banking (BLBs) by collecting deposits and fulfilling the financial needs of individuals, agricultural cooperatives and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) by providing loans. To meet this objective, EBL has focused on taking financial services to rural areas under this SEBA Project where the agents are equipped with tablet devices to execute transactions.
The project targets major districts of Karnali and Province 5 & 7. With the establishment the BLBs, the socially and economically marginalised people now have improved access to banking channels which has helped improve their economic status and quality of life. Agri-businesses in villages are predominantly carried out by women, economically marginalized people – such as Tharus, Dalits, Janajatis and other disadvantaged groups. Access to financial services from EBL has contributed to the improvement in their economic status.
As of March 2019, 47 BLB touch points have been launched through the partnership. These BLBs have disbursed total loans of NPR 158 million and have collected deposits of over NPR 249 million. The bank has also reached more than 10,000 customers.