1 in 3 MFS accounts received Covid-19 financial support

Nearly 33 percent or one-third of country’s Mobile Financial Service (MFS) account owners received some form of government financial support within June 20, according to a recent study.


The research carried out by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) under BRAC University also revealed that 15 percent of surveyed households had reported that they opened a new MFS account (bKash, Nagad etc) between April and June, mostly to receive financial support from the government due to COVID-19.


The data was unveiled Sunday at an online seminar titled ‘Last Mile Experience of Mobile Financial Services during COVID-19’.


Surveying 3,163 respondents, BIGD researchers found a significant gender gap in MFS users as only 30 percent of households have female MFS account owners.


There is also a notable absence of female MFS agents, further contributing to the gender divide in the Government to People (G2P) ecosystem.


The study, conducted by BIGD researchers Dr Zulkarin Jahangir, Abdullah Hasan Safir, Md Saiful Islam, and Semab Rahman highlighted that challenges also remain beyond MFS access. 50 percent of surveyed MFS account holders rely on the support of nearby MFS agents to operate their accounts, which indicates the agent dependence of users even after creating a MFS account.


Access to information (a2i) Policy Advisor Anir Chowdhury noted that biometric authentication at the point of cash out could be a solution to some challenges given the low literacy rate among most of the MFS account holders in rural areas.


“This would give greater control to the beneficiary since they don’t need to remember any specific information when cashing out, making the process simpler,” he added.


bKash Chief Commercial Officer Mizanur Rashid grieved that some of the MFS account holders at the local level failed to receive the government stimulus because many of them registered with inaccurate information in the early days of mobile banking.


“One of the reasons for grievance was that many of the users had registered with inaccurate information at the base level, and their IDs were eventually filtered out – however, they were never informed that they would not be able to receive the cash transfer from Bangladesh Bank,” he said.


Maria May, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed that the study reflects a lot of decisions taken by MFS providers to make mobile money more accessible to lower-income households.


She noted that the MFS providers are doing so by making the technology requirements as low as possible and focusing on building up the agent network.


BIGD Executive Director Dr Imran Matin said “we need to take a skeptic, social science perspective towards the pitfalls of rapid digitisation and innovate accordingly.”


Greg Chen, Policy Lead, CGAP; Khondoker Shakhawat Ali, Emeritus Fellow, Unnaon Somunnoy; and Mehnaz Rabbani, Lead – Research, Policy and Governance (RPG), BIGD also spoke at the seminar.


Source: United News of Bangladesh