Swell 2019: How bKash Makes Banking Accessible to 36 Million in Bangladesh
Citizens of Bangladesh face large financial challenges. More than one third of the population lives below the poverty line and too many have little to no access to services at traditional financial institutions. Enter bKash Ltd., one of the country’s most popular mobile payment providers.
In just over a decade, the company has driven significant impact throughout the country. Today, 36 million customers are part of the company’s “digital economy”—and 90% of them are newly banked because of the revolutionary services the company offers. This figure also represents 80% of the total market share in Bangladesh and amounts to 6.7 million payment transactions per day.
For someone whose company has been the catalyst of such impressive change for so many, CEO Kamal Quadir is not only pragmatic, but he is also extremely humble. As the day two keynote speaker at Swell 2019, he was squarely focused on “the social uplift” of bKash’s technology on the lives of the people who use it.
“We have to be very mindful of the impact of the technology we’re working on,” Quadir remarked. “We have a short life on this earth, and I want to do something meaningful.”
He shared his experience building this impressive payments ecosystem, piece by piece, during an on-stage conversation with Asheesh Birla, SVP of Product at Ripple—a tale about working within the existing regulatory and financial services system in Bangladesh while also capitalizing on the advent of new mobile phone use throughout the region.
“In the developed world, we often take being banked for granted. It’s important to consider the story of a real customer’s needs,” explained Quadir. bKash is enabling millions of people who live and work in urban areas to quickly, cheaply send money home to loved ones in rural parts of the region.
Before bKash, Bangladesh was a largely cash-based economy. This made it difficult to transact, share and save money. Quadir worked with the central bank and regulators in the country to establish a system where digital money was backed by physical cash, and customers could pre-fund accounts that were accessible through their mobile phones. Through this new bKash platform, customers in the country had access to an ecosystem of digital financial services for the very first time.
Customers are now able to use their mobile phones to send and receive money, pay for goods and services, set up savings accounts and more—bringing unprecedented speed, convenience and reliability to a financial system that was virtually inaccessible before.
With this new technological innovation, the use of physical currency continues to decrease in the region, according to Quadir. He explained that it has created new opportunities for the previously underbanked. Customers begin to build trust in digital money and services on the bKash platform through remittances, and then they begin to set up accounts and save for the future.
But Quadir was quick to underscore that “this one solution does not solve the larger problem of transferring cross-border payments.” Too often, global payments are costly, unreliable and slow because the underlying systems are fragmented and complex. Customers—not only in Bangladesh, but around the world—need to send and receive fast, low-cost payments.
Quadir explained that “one of the great values of leveraging blockchain technology is that it allows companies to meet customer demand for immediate, transparent and low-cost global payments.” This was a common theme discussed throughout Swell 2019—the trust and transparency it brings to the global payment systems—and perhaps a preview of what the new partnership between Ripple and bKash may offer.