Creating an enabling environment for mobile money in Liberia
With approximately 3.4 bank branches for every 100,000 adults, Liberia is among the countries with the lowest banking penetration in the world. This penetration is set to shrink even further as commercial banks reduce their presence in the country due to severe infrastructural challenges that make traditional banking unsustainable outside the country’s capital Monrovia. Banks also face challenges linked to the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic and falling global commodity prices that have ravaged Liberia’s already fragile economy.
UNCDF’s MM4P programme has been assisting the Liberian government’s efforts to increase access to formal financial services since 2014. Just before the Ebola crisis in 2015, it partnered with the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the GSMA to develop mobile money guidelines to enable the proliferation of mobile money services. UNCDF’s activities, as many other development initiatives, were stalled during the Ebola crisis and shifted to support the fight against Ebola. In May 2016, UNCDF re-initiated its activities by placing a fulltime DFS expert to implement its ecosystem approach to accelerate the development of Liberia’s digital financial services (DFS). UNCDF’s goal is for at least 10% of the adult population to actively use DFS by end of 2019 (from the current level of approximately 3%).
Starting with policy and regulatory support to the CBL and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MoFDP), MM4P’s initiatives have encouraged the government to become a member of the Better Than Cash Alliance. With its Alliance membership, Liberia endorses the guiding principles of the alliance and commits to the full transition of government salaries from cash to digital payments.
With CBL, MM4P established the first DFS Working Group. As Mr. Milton A. Weeks, Executive Governor CBL, stated in his opening remarks at the inaugural session on 20th September, 2016
“… we as regulator(s) seek to learn from the policy and regulatory approaches that have been successfully tested and implemented in other countries. The DFS Working Group therefore will actively support these peer-to-peer learning efforts and provides an ideal platform for exchanging knowledge and experiences”
The event drew over 40 participants from the industry. Private and public sector as well as the donor community initiated a dialogue on working collectively. Speaking at the event, Mr. Anthony Chan the USAID Liberia Mission Director underlined the importance of MM4P’s interventions and said;
“We are aligned with UNCDF and other development partners on achieving the financial inclusion goals set by the central bank governor. The Working group is crucial to achieving these goals because it will promote the use of the central bank’s new payment systems infrastructure to bridge the digital divide”
MM4P engages directly with providers through technical assistance on projects, trainings and exposure visits to expand and improve their digital financial services in the market. One of these technical assistance project brought together MTN Lonestar and BRAC - the largest MM and Microfinance providers in Liberia - to pilot the first mobile loan collection service in the country. The uptake of the service is steadily growing with more than 100 loan repayments being made during the first few months of the pilot. Mr. Tapan Kumar Karmaker, Managing Director, BRAC Microfinance Liberia & Sierra Leone acknowledged MM4P’s support in launching the pilot by stating
“BRAC Liberia recognize the outstanding contribution MM4P provided in conducting the survey on the mobile money pilot launched for collection of small loan from micro-entrepreneur"
MM4P is also assisting MTN Lonestar in expanding and improving the management of its agent network to isolated rural communities and capture high-volume transaction streams by facilitating access to industry best practices and technical assistance. Sharing feedback on MM4P’s assistance, Ms. Massa Dennis, Head of Mobile Money at Lonestar Cell MTN said
‘UNCDF has provided tremendous support to the growth and expansion of Mobile Money in Liberia. Through the technical assistance of MM4P, we have been able to sign on some major bulk payments deals, most notably, the civil servants payments with five key ministries set to kick off in Q1 2017. We will be launching the “MoMo Market Women” Initiative in January 2017 which was an outcome of the DFS4Women conference I attended in October 2016 organized by UNCDF.’
These achievements are a testament of the potential of DFS in Liberia and the appetite for such innovations by providers in the country. MM4P hopes to build on these achievements in the coming years. The programme aims to promote Human- Centered Design (HCD) principles for addressing the unique financial needs of Liberia’s poor and rural communities. MM4P also hopes to support the development of next-generation pay-as-you-go products (PAYG), including solar electricity, to help Liberians overcome critical infrastructure gaps. DFS and technology driven solutions can also play a huge role in helping tackle health and education challenges that plague the progress and stability in Liberia.
Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) is a programme launched by UNCDF in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. MM4P provides support to digital financial services (DFS) in a selected group of least development countries (LDCs) to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust DFS ecosystem that reaches low income people in LDCs.
UNCDF is the UN’s capital investment agency for the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs). With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. This last mile is where available resources for development are scarcest; where market failures are most pronounced; and where benefits from national growth tend to leave people excluded.
“The DFS Working Group therefore will actively support these peer-to-peer learning efforts and provides an ideal platform for exchanging knowledge and experiences” - CBL Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks