IT can accelerate Inclusion

Financial inclusion is a hotly discussed topic at industry forums. At a recent financial inclusion summit attended by the crème of India Inc, actor Aamir Khan suggested that educational inclusion should begin from childhood, and that schools should admit children with disabilities. A large section of India’s population is semi-literate and does not have a savings account. The challenge then is to reach out to this section of the population. I believe this can be achieved using simple technology.

To reach these people, you have to observe their lifestyle. Look at what technology they have (radio sets and mobile phones), the places and shops they visit, their modes of transport, their language and culture. Somehow, the technology that you introduce to them has got to blend into all this. It should not come as a shock to them, insult their intelligence, be prohibitively expensive or be too complicated to use.

With India’s high tele-density, there’s a striking chance that many of these people own mobile phones and are number literate. While they may have never visited a bank, a trip to the local kirana store, vegetable vendor, petrol pump, chemist or telecom retailer is routine.

Customer Service Point

The Kirana store is a Customer Service Point

That gave Eko India Financial Services (Eko) an idea: why not use these points to touch potential customers for banking services. SBI appointed Eko as financial correspondent to sell its savings accounts through a network of Customer Service Points (CSPs). Eko has 350 to 400 service points in West and South Delhi with another 75 in three districts in Bihar.

Booklet of codes

Customers are given a booklet of 10-digit USSD codes for various transactions

Customers can operate their savings accounts and perform cash-in/out transactions only by using USSD codes on their mobile handsets. They are given a booklet of codes, a secret PIN and an authentication device. Currency can be deposited or withdrawn at the CSP, which acts like a human ATM. Thus the customer never has to visit a bank branch. What’s more, they can also do money remittances between Delhi, NCR and Bihar.

This system has helped 7,000 people in New Delhi, NCR and Bihar get a savings bank account. And SBI has collected Rs 22 lakh in savings deposits—all this in a metter of eight months! So I’m convinced IT can accelerate inclusion.

Well, the same principal can be applied to make education inclusive. The radio set is common in rural areas and in some cases people have access to (satellite) TV. Potentially, CDMA wireless technology can be used for Internet access, perhaps through kiosks.

This is not a new idea. A few years ago ITC’s Agri Business Division successfully introduced e-Choupals to Indian farmers. An e-Choupal is a village internet kiosk that’s managed by farmers. It gives the agricultural community access to ready information in the local language. Information ranges from the weather & market prices, knowledge on scientific farm practices & risk management; inputs to facilitate the sale of farm inputs and for purchasing farm produce from the farmers’ doorsteps.

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