Access to digital financial services is fundamental to enabling poor people to become more economically stable, prosperous, and resilient. These services – payments, credit, savings and insurance offered through mobile phones or other technology – are reaching millions of people around the world who had not previously been included in the financial system. Historically, being included in the system meant living close enough to access a physical bank branch, credit union, or ATM location. With the advent of mobile money, location still matters, but the proximity of the nearest mobile money agent is now more important than the nearest bank branch or ATM.
In order to increase digital financial inclusion, service providers must have the capability to analyze gaps in coverage and strategically fill those gaps. Dynamic, rapidly changing agent networks translates to a need for sophisticated, real-time location data and analysis tools. While much has been accomplished to collect and geolocate data on mobile money agents (see, for example fspmaps.com), often the methodologies used in prior collection efforts revolve around periodic national surveys that are cost-prohibitive and pose sustainability challenges. Data on provider networks can only be updated every 1-2 years and do not keep pace as locations open and close. In addition, previous processes miss out on local knowledge and insight as communities have not to-date been involved in the solution. Bringing in communities also results in savings as the cost of data collection by private-sector firms is much higher than community/participatory approaches. In addition, data becomes out of date and is not self-sustaining without further paid collection activities.
HOT, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will initiate a six-month pilot program in Uganda starting in December 2015. The pilot program will address the need for a data collection methodology that is inexpensive, accurate, allows for frequent collection, and integrates seamlessly into existing processes. The pilot will examine the cost and effectiveness of involving university students and community members in collecting data on financial services available in the areas where they live. The program will train and equip participants with the necessary skills, equipment, and other resources to collect and map this data.