FinDev Blog

Instant Liquidity Support for Mobile Money Agents

How Flow has adapted its model to continue providing a much-needed service during the coronavirus crisis
Photo by Geoffrey Acini, Country Representative, Flow Uganda.

Mobile money agents are a key component of the financial systems in developing markets, especially for lower income households and informal businesses such as micro- and small enterprises in Africa. They provide the essential functions of converting e-money to cash, i.e. digitizing informal cash payments, and enabling crucial financial transactions such as money transfers and bill payments (e.g. for electricity). This is all the more important during COVID-19, as businesses and people need to make transactions remotely and from within their communities.

Besides mobile money, many agents are shopkeepers who sell goods such as groceries, hardware or electronics. Independent shopkeepers account for most goods sold in developing markets, including groceries, hardware and consumer goods. Importantly, they must pre-fund their mobile money business by investing in e-money stock, just like they have to stock the groceries they later sell. Agents therefore have to balance their limited capital between the different goods and services they offer, constraining sales volumes and growth potential.

At Flow, we specialize in providing agents with the liquidity they need to consistently serve mobile money customers and to grow their overall shop businesses. This is part of our mission to enable independent businesses to thrive in the digital economy. We provide access to instant liquidity advances, based on business data. In order to obtain e-money liquidity from Flow, agents simply request an e-money advance, the Flow Liquidity Engine calculates eligibility and product fit, and agents have the liquidity they need for their next business cycle in a matter of seconds. Flow e-money advances have enabled our customers to increase their incomes by an average of 40 percent and have enabled transactions worth $8,000+ per month for our best performing customers.

The coronavirus crisis further highlights the need for e-money liquidity and has hit our customers in different ways. Around half of the agents cannot operate their businesses as they are unable to get to their shops due to transport restrictions or because entire markets where their shops are located have been closed. The other half have been able to keep their shops open and have seen customer demand remain constant or even increase, supported by governments promoting digital payments and service providers decreasing transaction fees. However, many of these agents have been unable to maintain enough liquidity to serve the demand, threatening their ability to generate income as well as the wider benefits associated with mobile money.

When lockdowns were first imposed in Uganda on 25 March, we were faced with a difficult question: do we keep financing our customers and help them through this difficult time or do we stop right away to limit risk? To inform this decision, we segmented our portfolio into three groups based on the impact COVID-19 has had on our customers’ businesses: 1) those who are able to continue, 2) those who had to close shop and 3) those for whom there is a question mark as to whether they can continue.

For the unfortunate ones, we waived all late repayment penalties and rescheduled due dates, while maintaining close contact in order to enable timely recovery when possible. For agents who have been able to keep their shops open, and who we predicted will be able to carry on further, we delivered specific product offerings such as reduced fees and additional risk mitigation.

Average volume of Flow facilitated transactions for active agents

The bet we took on these customers has so far paid off: 92 percent have paid on time, with the rest being a maximum of three days late. Similarly, the value of e-money transactions as well as the value of e-money liquidity advances among active customers has remained constant, as illustrated in the graph above.

Being able to help our customers during this difficult time has served to fortify brand loyalty. Flow customer Naziiwa Ruth Luzigge told us, “Flow is helping me make an income, now the only way for us to earn is through commission for the EzeeMoney transactions and mobile money, so having Flow giving me working capital in this bad time is good and I can still feed and take care of the family.” We have also provided high-quality masks to our customers as well as all field staff.

Due to the accuracy of our data analytics and scoring, as well as the general push towards digital finance, we see strong potential for growth - even during the crisis. Having enriched our algorithm with geo data to account for any relevant developments such as virus outbreaks and lockdown measures, we are confident that we will continue to accurately predict business volumes in the mobile money ecosystem. Innovative inclusive fintechs such as ours can facilitate access to much-needed e-money liquidity for mobile money agents and other small businesses, safeguarding livelihoods as well as the broader benefits of mobile money for everyone.

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