The Changing Nature of Agency Banking In Uganda in the wake of Covid-19

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the income for both rural- and urban-based agents has significantly reduced in Uganda because the transactions have significantly reduced. Customers cannot travel due to the travel restrictions and they are not transacting as much. With the advent of shared agent networks, Ugandans can now easily access banking services irrespective of which agents they visit. These agents can serve customers from several institutions and are able to do more business.

In January 2016, the Ugandan Parliament approved the Financial Institutions Act (Amendment) 2016 and thus paved the way for agency banking in Uganda. Furthermore, with the advent of shared agent network Ugandans can now easily access agency banking services irrespective of which providers’ agents they visit.

Considering the massive investment required to set up and manage agency banking structures, Ugandan Banks -under their umbrella association– the Uganda Bankers’ Association (UBA)– agreed to set up a shared agencynetwork. The shared agent network operates on a platform jointly owned by the UBA and Eclectics International (a technology service provider)and managed by the Agent Banking Company (ABC).

As of February 2020,13 banks are on ABC’s shared agent platform. As at September 2019,there were 9,477 shared agents spread across the country.These agents facilitated an average of 2.15 million transactionsmonthly.Agents on the shared platform can facilitate deposits, withdrawals, utility bill payment, open accounts, do balance inquiries, provide mini statements, and handle school fees payments.

Benefits of the shared agent network

The key benefit for the participating banks that shared agent networks bring is the cost-saving.The banks have saved on the investment required to set up their individualagent networks. The costs of setting up and managing agent networks include the hardware (point-of-sale devices, smartphones, and blue tooth printers), recruitment and onboarding, and training.

The shared agent network in Uganda rides on existing networks of some of the largest financial service providers (in terms of outreach in the market) and hence is able to expand the network’s presence and increase transactions. In addition, the agentsbenefit fromsimpler float management. Agents can now rebalance at any bank branch at a cost which is 30% of the regular cash withdrawal fee, regardless of whether the transaction was a withdrawal or deposit. Float re-balancing is an extra income stream that encourages the banks to open up their branches to agents of other banks.

The shared agent platform is more thana switch. It is a robust platform that can – in addition to cash-in/cash-out –offer:digitalon-boarding, utility payments, bulk payments, fund transfers, amongst others. The UBA is encouraging banks to incrementally offer all these services through the shared agent network.

Through the agency banking channel, banks have managed to push basic transactions out of,and thus reduce congestion at, their branches. In an interview with NBS Television in 2019, the Head of Agent Banking at Stanbic Bank, Ronald Muganzimentionedthat 85% of the basic transactions at Stanbic are now happening outside the branches. This is partly attributed to being on the shared platform.

Some of the agents who had agency banking as a secondary business mentioned that they benefit doubly from the shared agent network. Their income streams increased through earning extracommission andthey have also increased sales of other products from their primary businesses.

The customers, on the other hand, are particularly happy as the shared platform makes banking pleasant and convenient.In addition, they can receive services not just from the agent of their bank, but an agent from another bank.

According to the Finscope survey, 2018, only 58% of the Ugandan adult population own a bank account.  This shows that there is a huge potential for growth. The ability of the agents and financial service providers on the shared platform to market the various accounts sold by the banks will be critical to ensuring that every Ugandan adult has a functional bank account.

By Doreen Ahimbisibwe- Manager Banking, Financial Services, Insurance, Microsave Consulting-MSC, Edward Obiko- Senior Manager – Digital Financial Services, MSC, Anup Singh- Regional Head – Anglophone Africa, MSC