By Casey Hynes for Forbes
Financial inclusion is a topic of growing importance in countries such as Myanmar, where advances in tech are rapidly changing the dynamics in how people access financial products. As I wrote in 2016, fintech companies are capitalizing on Myanmar’s rapid development and increasing smartphone and internet penetration by offering digital financial products.
Although many people in Myanmar are skeptical of traditional banking institutions, fintech startups hope to win their confidence through low-cost, user-friendly products. One such organization is Wave Money, a joint venture between Telenor, Yoma Bank and Myanmar First Investments. (Disclosure: I performed contract editorial work for Telenor Group in 2014 and 2015.)
In a new partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Wave Money is targeting women consumers specifically in an attempt to increase financial literacy and inclusion in Myanmar. The company is developing a financial gaming application that will be accessible via users’ mobile phones.
The app’s content will be delivered through a gamified system that teaches consumers about savings, interest and insurance. Ultimately, the goal is to help women become confident enough to engage with formal banking systems and navigate financial products they may have shied away from in the past. Wave Money, UNCDF and Australia’s DFAT aim to reach 260,000 women, 30,000 of whom already use mobile money accounts.
“The partnership between Wave Money and UNCDF will be instrumental in identifying how we can most effectively serve those currently underserved and excluded,” said Brad Jones, Wave Money’s CEO, via email. “We believe that through this application, people in Myanmar will be able to improve their understanding of financial concepts, which will further enhance financial inclusion in Myanmar.”
Wave Money CEO Brad Jones poses in front of the company logo in Yangon in August 2016. (Photo credit: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Less than 10% of women in Myanmar between the ages of 18 and 34 currently have bank accounts, and only 29% have access to formal financial services. In a press release announcing the partnership, the partnering parties attributed the low numbers to “the lack of information that reaches women, and poor guidance available to them on where and how to use financial services that meets their respective needs.”
A digital gateway
But with smartphone penetration growing rapidly in Myanmar, digital platforms offer a gateway for reaching greater numbers of women and provide them with the means to participate more fully in the economy. In 2016, the GSMA reported that 33% of women own mobile phones in Myanmar, and about 1.4 million use smartphones. According to Jones, Wave Money will use UNCDF resources and data in developing the gamified app to ensure that it meets the needs of the women it aims to reach.
The Wave Money-UNCDF-DFAT partnership stems from UNCDF’s SHIFT Challenge program. The Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) department emphasizes empowerment through access to financial services and specifically focuses on women in underserved markets. Wave Money submitted a proposal for its gamification platform to the Challenge, and will receive funding from SHIFT, DFAT and the UNCDF’s Expanding Financial Access (EFA) program, the latter being the primary sponsor.
The EFA’s goals for Myanmar include increasing the number of adults who use more than one financial product from 6 to 15% and boosting overall inclusion from 30 to 40% by 2020. The program also aims to reach 830,000 “low income beneficiaries,” such as small-scale farmers, young consumers, and women entrepreneurs.
Winning over skeptics
As the first company to receive a mobile financial services license from Myanmar’s Central Bank, Wave Money sees an opportunity to “enable and empower people with the freedom to manage their money the way they most prefer in an easy and reliable way,” according to Jones. The hope is that consistent, transparent products will win over consumers who are skeptical of financial systems.
“The main objective of our digital gamification on financial literacy is to increase the understanding and perceptions of formal financial services and increase their interest and trust,” Jones said. “In this way, we believe that this will help improve these relationships.”
First appeared at Forbes