Bangladesh is planning to launch a nationwide mobile payments system by early 2018, a policy advisor with the Prime Minister’s Office has exclusively told GovInsider.
“The system will be established in partnership with the central bank (Bangladesh Bank),” said Anir Chowdhury, who heads Bangladesh’s public sector innovation agency, Access to Information (a2i), which is based in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The system will sync up with Bangladesh’s bKash, which allows citizens to purchase goods and services through SMS messages.
According to Chowdhury, this service will also be made available at 4,500 computer centres across the country. These bring digital services to rural families, and act as “last-mile service delivery” of such services. 1,200 of these centres also provide mobile financial services in partnership with private companies.
Chowdhury previously wrote in a blog post for the World Bank that an “overwhelming” section of the population remains unbanked, and that poor farmers living in remote villages are the “most deprived” of such services.
Through this system, unbanked citizens who normally deal mostly with cash will be able to make payments with their mobile phones, Chowdhury says.
A key goal of the upcoming mobile payments initiative is to create a system that is inclusive of the rural population. Chowdhury writes in his blog post that the branch-based banking system “fails at inclusion” as the cost of cash transactions is passed on to customers. They then end up paying for high service charges to cover the overhead of rural bank branches.
The joint initiative between a2i and the Bangladesh Bank is called the Digital Financial Services Lab+.