Bangladesh has already achieved milestones in the field of mobile financial services, and players like Nagad particularly have done a great deal to advance financial inclusion using state-of-the-art digital technologies. But is it enough to post faster growth? My answer is – no.
What we have done so far in the MFS sector is excellent and now the time has come to move on to digital banking. However, in my view, Bangladesh is lagging in overall banking service, and MFS providers are only focusing on fund transfer, which we are portraying as a success story to the world.
Most MFS operators are over the moon just because of the growing transaction volume. My opinion is quite the reverse, and I should say that we are simply deceiving the economy and ourselves by sponsoring this model. Our colleagues and most importantly, the policymakers and regulators need to understand the trend in the developed world. There, the trend is based on digital banking.
During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we have been desperately feeling the need for digital banking. And time has come to shift to the next-generation banking where everything will be real-time and transparent. We can only deliver that through digital banking.
Through digital banking, we can offer online lending experience, 24/7 banking support, and a wide spectrum of financial products and operate a leading online credit platform.
Without embracing the latest technologies, nothing can guarantee the required growth that we need to elevate the status of our economy to a developed economy.
We have to start accepting Artificial Intelligence. We need to use blockchain and seriously consider Big Data in financial systems that can readily fast-track economic growth. Developed countries have adopted these banking systems and are reaping huge benefits. So why we would remain lagging?
Countries like Hong Kong have at least eight digital banks which they are calling virtual banks. Customers do not need to visit branches. Most of the clients even have no idea where the physical banks are located. They have started to award this kind of banking license for the last few years, and the industry is growing by leaps and bounds.
Digital or virtual banks are a very recent phenomenon in the banking sector. After the online banking made its foray, banking accelerated globally, and the number of branches started to fall.
More than 8,000 branches vanished only in the US from 2009 to 2016 because of technological advancement. But in Bangladesh, the situation is quite the opposite, and we are not on the right track.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, 87 percent of bank branches in the country are online, and 8 percent are partially online, meaning there are at least 5 percent branches that cannot do online banking. This number does not bring any glory for the country.
I have this dream to establish a digital bank, which will fulfill this increasing demand.
Currently, Nagad is using the latest technologies to open accounts, and this is already disrupting the industry as a whole. The first criterion should be easy onboarding for a digital banking entity, and we have already met this. Now it takes only a few seconds to onboard a customer, which is the fastest onboarding in the world.
Security should be another top priority for this kind of banking, and we met that condition as well. Today, Nagad is the most-compliant financial company when it comes to ensuring the security of customer data and transactions. Anyone can check with the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), and they will find almost zero complaints against Nagad. This is because we are extremely cautious about compliance and security issues, which are helping us grow faster than any other financial service provider in Bangladesh.
The next thing for digital banking is to bring down the overhead cost that traditional banks can never do. That is why they cannot take their services to low-income groups. Thanks to our technological innovation on security and transparency aspects, Nagad has managed to cut unwanted costs that our competitors can’t manage efficiently.
It is apparent that when you can reduce the cost, the financial inclusion will be faster. Currently, 40 percent of people in Bangladesh are financially included, and our target is to cover all of the adult population within the next five years because we believe that you cannot think of the right development without financial inclusion.
We have already shared our plans with the top policymakers, and they are impressed. Subsequently, we have initiated a discussion with the Bangladesh Bank for a license for digital banking.
Currently, the banking regulator does not have any regulation about it, but if the central bank wants, we can help them formulate one. I can assure if Nagad gets the license, it will take only six months to start the operation.
Banks in Bangladesh use OTP (one-time-password)-based PIN (personal identification number) for transacting and transferring funds. But this is very risky. To enhance security, we need to shift to biometric or facial security systems on a combination of biometric or facial security systems.
One or two banks started using biometric fingerprint in banking in a limited way for agent banking operations. But they have not diversified products and the service is not available round the clock. Currently taking a loan is next to impossible, even visiting agent banking points. Here, we can serve our customers in a better way and can help them save their valuable time and money when they secure banking services by only giving them the opportunity of online real-time loan processing in the digital banking system.
We have plans to serve the customers even during dark stormy nights, and they can avail the service just by dialing some keys on their smart devices. We want to offer services that will meet the needs of the customers at all of their life stages.
The writer is the managing director of the Postal Department’s digital financial service provider Nagad.
Tanvir A Mishuk