BIGD Digital Inclusion Series (Episode 3): Last Mile Experience of Mobile Financial Services During COVID-19

View the webinar deck here

The proportion of Mobile Financial Services (MFS) account holders have been significantly increasing worldwide, but the COVID-19 pandemic globally has encouraged people to use online and mobile channels for their daily financial activities more than ever before. As a part of our Rapid Research Response (RRR) initiative, we conducted a rapid telephone survey of 3,163 respondents to explore the current practices of Government to People (G2P) cash transfer through MFS, particularly in the COVID-19 context, focusing on the interactions between people, MFS agents and the Union Digital Centre (UDC) entrepreneurs to identify the bottlenecks in the ecosystem to further streamline the overall process and maximize opportunities.

In the last 2 webinars of our ‘Digital Inclusion’ research agenda, we had explored the current state of digital literacy and factors contributing to digital divide in rural Bangladesh from a survey of 6,500 rural households across the country. In the 3rd episode of our webinar series, titled “Last Mile Experience of Mobile Financial Services during COVID-19”, Dr Zulkarin Jahangir, Research Fellow and Abdullah Hasan Safir, Senior Research Associate at BIGD, presented findings from the survey on the interactions of people, MFS agents and the Union Digital Centre (UDC) entrepreneurs within the G2P cash transfer ecosystem in Bangladesh.

The study, conducted by BIGD researchers Dr Zulkarin Jahangir, Abdullah Hasan Safir, Md Saiful Islam, and Semab Rahman, found a significant gender gap in MFS users – with only 30% of households having female MFS account owners. There is also a notable absence of female MFS agents, further contributing to the gender divide in the G2P ecosystem. Challenges also remain beyond access, with 50% of surveyed MFS account holders relying on the support of nearby MFS agents to operate their accounts, which indicates the agent dependence of users even after creating a MFS account.

Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, Access to Information (a2i); Mizanur Rashid, Chief Commercial Officer, Bkash; Maria May, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Khondoker Shakhawat Ali, Executive Editor, Protichinta; Greg Chen, Policy Lead, CGAP; and Mehnaz Rabbani, Lead, Research, Policy and Governance (RPG), BIGD, were present as panelists.