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FUTURELINK TECHNOLOGIES UGANDA: SCALING FINANCIAL ACCESS USING A SHARED AGENCY NETWORK

FutureLink Technologies offices are located approximately ten minutes out of Kampala, Uganda along Bukoto Street. The office is a hive of activity with Software Developers, IT support staff, and Co-operative focused staff. 

The Financial Technology and ICT solutions company was set up in 2005 and is keen to leave a mark within the Uganda financial services industry by developing and providing banking systems for savings and credit co-operatives (SACCOs) and microfinance institutions (MFIs). The company leadership wants to support the mass market and approachable financial service providers to serve more Ugandans in an efficient and transparent manner. FutureLink believes that through technology, the SACCOs and MFIs can become more competitive, leading to increased membership and customer retention. Their intention is to accelerate member recruitments, mobilise more savings, and enable additional income generation for the supported financial institutions through transaction revenues.

The Shared Agency Network promise

In 2018, FutureLink applied to the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity challenge fund in a competitive process for financial support. The  intention was to scale an innovative pilot intervention that would see them build on an existing SAVINGS PLUS core banking system. In particular, their MSACCO mobile banking services would enable thousands of SACCO members transact with their respective SACCO accounts, to deposit, withdraw, check account balances and mini-statements through their phones and ATM locations. This focus came at an opportune time when the Bank of Uganda was promoting a nascent agency network business in Uganda. 

FutureLink’s value proposition influenced financial decision making in rural households on their degree of SACCO participation. By equipping SACCOs, the company supported the recruitment of members who would save money as they built their savings capital. This also meant an ability to access financing for future investments or lifecycle needs.

As a consequence, the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity saw an opportunity to create impact at household, corporate and sectoral levels. The project would boost financial inclusion by improving access, transparency and convenience to SACCO members, and extend “bank-like” financial service channels to the underserved across Uganda. Additionally, this solution would extend a cost-effective financial services channel to target customers in rural and agriculturally productive regions in Kampala. This service would help change the SACCO members perspective of hassle-filled transactions by permitting them to access financing via mobile channels from the comfort of their farms and homes.

Fast forward to 2021, and FutureLink has achieved the digitisation of more than three hundred and thirty SACCOs across Uganda, serving more than six hundred thousand unique members across the member institutions. FutureLink also recently launched their ATM card service that allows SACCO members to obtain services at any InterSwitch linked ATMs across the country. The company is also working to equip a call-centre with the right personnel and modern technology equipment to ensure continued customer support as it manoeuvres through the pandemic. 

Key Insights and Lessons

  • Longer term customer support: Customers need engaging, domesticated and personalised training to adopt digital financial services: Despite initially sending push messages on customer onboarding, most SACCO members begin utilising their MSACCO mobile banking and agency services after direct calls from the call-centre agents. As such, FutureLink is increasingly building up call-centre capacity to service customers and promote usage of the MSACCO mobile services and the agency network. 

  • Using relevant language: Using direct calls in vernacular languages, the call centre agents can walk the customers through basic training on using the service. This has resulted in increased utilisation of the services and increased revenues over the last 6 months despite the associated costs.

  • Adoption is driven by relevance: While most digital financial service players perceive convenience as a key factor to people adopting the DFS channels and products, FutureLink has realised that people would not substitute important events in their lives such as market days (in the rural areas) to using digital channels. This has resulted in an interesting transaction pattern. Higher numbers of MSACCO transactions are recorded during market days when the people travel to go and participate in different activities. This realisation has led the company to look at other would-be important use cases which may lead to increased adoption. One use case that is clearly of interest to the target segment is credit access which FutureLink is currently exploring in close discussion with their SACCO network partners.

  • The role of data analytics: Over the years, FutureLink has relied on its ongoing interactions to get feedback from clients. For example, during member education days, the FutureLink team would field questions directly from SACCO members to get a general understanding of their needs and wants. This has been affected following the Covid-19 pandemic that eliminated congregating together in large crowds. The company is building capacity in data analytics in order to continue monitoring transaction patterns and spending behaviour. Through these ongoing efforts, FutureLink is starting to generate useful insights on their customers to evaluate through the ongoing calls. 

  • Key partnerships and involved concessions: FutureLink has built several key partnerships such as those with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Uganda in order to reach their customers. Other key partnerships include Uganda Central Cooperatives Financial Services (UCCFS) which has created awareness among member SACCOs on the company solutions. While many of these partners have made concessions to make this joint venture work, it is clear that drawing up both revenue and non-revenue incentives that will keep all the partners happy is key to a working relationship. 

Evolving use of mobile money: For the most part, customers (both urban and rural) have only used mobile money and agency services as a remittance platform. Most rural people do not realise that they can utilise these products and channels to do more. FutureLink encourages stakeholders to actively automate other processes including agricultural value chain support, school fees payments, etc. in order to introduce new use  and life enhancing cases. 

The Future of Shared Agency Networks and DFS

FutureLink believes that a shared agency network is an effective means to digitise the majority of SACCO and MFI networks across Uganda and beyond. The cost savings achieved and the possibility of improved customer service by accessing robust technology at a fraction of the costs far outweigh the challenges associated. FutureLink calls upon interested stakeholders to continue investing in such initiatives which have the capacity to influence industry innovation.

Finally, the urgency for customer education and increased financial literacy initiatives cannot be understated. The influence of FutureLink’s call-centre intervention on customer activity via these channels confirm that technology adoption requires lots of handholding and support. The company therefore calls upon interested stakeholders to support their ongoing initiatives to educate SACCO membership on the benefits of adopting the innovative channels in performing their financial and non-financial transactions.

Article written by Kevin Genga, Project Manager, Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity.

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