Mobile Banking Provides Lifeline for Bangladeshis
Thursday, July 2, 2015
On the first Friday of every month, Sabina Begum makes the short trip from her single-room shack in a crowded Dhaka slum to a nearby grocery. The grocer, in addition to selling her much-needed supplies, doubles as her financial-services provider.
Ms. Begum hands the grocer cash, and with a few clicks on a basic key-press mobile phone, he sends the money on its way.
At roughly the same time, in a village 300 kilometers away, Ms. Begum’s father, Bosir Uddin, partially blind and slowed by arthritis, walks to a tea shop in the village square, where he waits for the money transfer from Dhaka. It duly arrives in the form a text message to the tea shop owner, who pays out the money Mr. Uddin’s daughter sent.
For 70-year-old Mr. Uddin, who has no source of income and no bank account, the mobile money transfer system is a lifeline. His family of three, which includes his wife and Ms. Begum’s nine-year-old daughter, is entirely dependent on the remittances from Dhaka.
“If she doesn’t send money, we don’t eat,” he says.
The system Ms. Begum uses is bKash, by far Bangladesh’s most popular mobile-money service. Launched in 2011, bKash is now used by over 17 million Bangladeshis, and handles more than 70 million transactions a day, according to the company.
In cash-focused Bangladesh, mobile-money services are still a novelty, and some traditional bankers worry about potential security risks that users of private services like bKash face. But experts at Bangladesh Bank, the country’s central bank, describe mobile money as a key strategy to expand financial access in this nation of 160 million people, where fewer than 30% have a bank account.