Serving the Underbanked

by Ram Sharma
CEO and Founder of Bank-Genie
29 Apr 2022

Bank-Genie addresses the banking needs of those who need it most.

When purpose and passion meet, anything can be made possible. I was lucky to be able to draw from my previous experiences in serving the underbanked communities in remote areas across the globe.

Bank-Genie is a story that began with a journey, and every milestone crossed is a life changed positively. The start-up was a calling that Ragu Senthil Kumar and I discovered during one of our weeks-long annual road trips.

This time, we were journeying through the countryside of India between the southern Indian towns of Ooty and Mysore, when we realised that we were running low on cash. Desperate, we searched for an ATM. But when we finally found one near the small Municipality town of Gundlupet, we had already traversed more than 100 kilometres.

While we were initially relieved, the rest of our drive was accompanied by silence — we became reflective of the problem that is plaguing the local communities here daily to access a banking convenience especially in case of emergencies.

We interacted with the locals to understand their challenges. A huge majority of the locals lacked documentation that was crucial to opening bank accounts. Without accounts, they lack credit score and are unable to take loans, forcing them to acquire loans from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates, which they struggle to repay and face running into massive debt.

Right then and there, we knew it was a problem that had to be solved. With my own experience of having worked in some of the world’s largest banking technology firms for several years, I decided to take on this challenge, fuelled by a strong sense of purpose.

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What It Means To Be Underbanked

Imagine having to cross rivers, travel long distances, and face long queues at the bank, waiting up to hours just to make a simple transaction. Yet, this is the daily scenario of about one-fourth of the world’s population.

What makes it worse is that this is still happening today, where these people are classified as unbanked or underbanked, meaning that they do not have the privilege of a full-fledged savings account for daily finance management.

According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion adults are still unbanked today in 2022. In 2014, the figure was 2 billion. While this proves that change is happening, more needs to be done.

Several countries in Southeast Asia rank high on the list of unbanked populations. In the Philippines, 71% of the adult population is unbanked, while 40 million adults remain unbanked in Myanmar. Bangladesh, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan are high on the list too. By their sheer size, China and India have a vast unbanked population despite having a relatively high account ownership.


Revolution Through Digitisation

From then on, we realised the need to revolutionise banking access through digitisation.

In identifying the issue from the banking perspective, profitability and the investments needed for physical branches are huge barriers. They are also bogged down by outdated legacy systems, time-consuming processes, overcrowding in branches, and staff-training costs.

Taking these into consideration, we founded Bank-Genie to bridge technology to banks and microfinance institutions by offering a comprehensive suite of digital banking features — aimed at banking experiences at a low cost.

This solves one main problem by helping banks break the traditional approaches in banking with technologies that will eventually lead to branchless banking. Ultimately, our approach would ease the entire customer journey experience in banking and turn pre-digital divides into impactful digital dividends.

To date, we have continuously innovated banking solutions to serve the unbanked who reside in remote areas, including a suite of products that enable the opening of accounts and the processing of transactions through seamless processes.

For instance, BanqIn is an instant all-in-one digital core banking platform that provides banks with instant access to field-based data capture, mobile money integration, SMS communication with clients, and automated credit check features to change the way customers are served.


Making Impactful Banking

While our start-up journey officially began in Africa, we have managed to further our footprint to help even more unbanked populations in the Philippines, Myanmar, Central Asia, and India.

Seven years since the inception, we are glad to have partnered with over 30 banks, including banks in the Philippines (BDO, EastWest, Unionbank), Nepal (NMB Bank), Ghana (Calbank, CBG), Sierra Leone (SLCB), and many others, in their transformational journey towards digitisation.

But no transformational journey, especially at this scale, is without challenges. From the onset, we have met with resistance to change that persists within financial institutions, and this will unfortunately continue to be a hurdle. 

Nevertheless, our goal remains intact, with a vision set to change the lives of the unprivileged with access to banking. Witnessing first-hand how technology and innovation can augment the roles in people’s lives — generating additional income, channelling their savings, turning it into investments and building assets, fostering education, allowing for insurance and help amidst uncertainties.

For more information on Bank-Genie, click here