Addressing the Challenge of Last-Mile Delivery of Mobile Money
Strengthening Mobile Money Agent Networks: Replication Guide
The Challenge of Getting Digital Finance to Last-Mile Farmers
The provision of agricultural finance to last-mile customers in developing countries is often limited due to poor transportation and communication infrastructure and the relatively small size of financial transactions. Although digital financial services (DFS) have brought increased access to payments, credit and other financial services for many, most farmers still have very limited access to adequate financial services, whether digital or in person.
Using Digital Financial Services for Disbursements
Access to a digital banking account has proven to be even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic — especially as physical banks closed or were not as easily accessible. In 2020, mobile money grew at 12.7% — twice as fast as had been forecast for that year — reaching 1.2 billion accounts, mainly because governments and international organizations increased their dependency on mobile money networks to distribute social assistance payments to beneficiaries. Pre-pandemic, governments also used DFS to disburse payments for agriculture growth programs, while agriculture value chain companies used DFS to distribute loans for inputs and pay farmers directly for their crops or livestock.
Cash-in/cash-out mobile money agents are the bridge between the financial services providers and customers, but providers have struggled to expand these networks to farmers and communities in rural areas where sparse populations lead to lower transaction volumes and weaker financial incentives for businesses to serve as agents. This is where donor agencies have a role to play by helping develop agent networks in the last mile.
Case Study: Strengthening Agent Networks to Reach Rural Populations in Liberia
During the 2014-2017 Ebola crisis in West Africa, reaching impacted populations, including rural, was an important objective for USAID. The Strengthening Mobile Money Agent Networks: Replication Guide details how USAID helped reach these populations by strengthening and improving agent networks in Liberia during the Ebola crisis. USAID funded technical assistance to MTN Liberia — a mobile network operator and mobile money provider. The guide describes how donor agencies and other development actors in different geographies and markets can replicate this approach to provide digital finance to last-mile farmers and rural communities.
Customization of this activity may be a fit for markets that have at least one provider of digital payments, such as a mobile money provider or manager of agent networks for financial services. This activity focuses less on creating new providers or launching new networks, and more on strengthening the existing local actors involved along the “value chain” of a healthy agent network ecosystem.
This activity — centered upon a process of diagnosing problems, facilitating dialogue with stakeholders, developing practical tools and training staff — can be adapted to suit the degree of sophistication of a given provider or the degree of maturity of the marketplace for agent networks and digital payments.
These interventions might be particularly useful if development programming is struggling to use digital payments to, for example:
- Digitize wages, especially in rural and remote areas.
- Disburse digital payments in rural areas, including humanitarian relief and social assistance.
- Improve agent-network density, liquidity and performance for the sake of financial inclusion.