Leveraging data to support the expansion of agent networks in rural areas of Zambia
A recently completed geographic-information-system (GIS) mapping project revealed that between 2015 and 2017, the number of active mobile money agents in Zambia more than doubled, from 3,225 to 6,590. Building on the FINclusion Lab’s interactive country dashboard, which was initially launched in 2014, MIX and UNCDF partnered to gain insights into the remaining gaps in mobile money access in Zambia.
While the overall agent network growth is impressive—bringing the national average to 75 agents per 100,000 adults—and some of the biggest gains have been in previously underserved rural areas, agent network coverage in Zambia remains uneven. 13 predominantly rural districts, including Masaiti, Mporokoso and Kalabo, still have fewer than 20 agents per 100,000 adults. These 13 districts are home to 1.4 million people, 93% of whom have never used mobile money.
We used the 2015 FinScope survey to understand the impact of gaps in the agent networks on mobile money uptake. Nationwide, 91% of rural respondents had never used mobile money, even though 46% of this group owned a working mobile phone and 70% had access to one. 51% of non-users indicated that they had never heard of mobile money or did not know what it was. However, a closer look allowed to identify groups of people who are being left out for other reasons - such as geographic barriers to access, or a poor fit of products to their needs - that could potentially be addressed with targeted interventions.
Expanding agent networks to reach people not currently served
According to FinScope, North-Western Province had the highest rate of respondents (6.5%, 57,000) who indicated that their primary reason for not using mobile money was the absence of an agent or access point close to where they live. This province also has relatively less financial service access points of all types, so there is potential for mobile money agent expansion to fill the existing gap.
At a district level, we identified three that, despite the big rural population, stand out from other rural areas for above-average levels of mobile money awareness, and below-average levels of availability of agents:
In all three of these districts agent coverage has improved significantly since the most recent FinScope survey. Following the next FinScope survey in 2020, we can assess the impact of this increase in agent coverage on mobile money usage.
Expanding agent networks to meet farmers’ needs
The data revealed that those who engage in any type of agricultural activity are less likely to be financially included, use mobile money or have any formal savings. The difference is even greater among seasonal farmers than year-long farmers.
One likely driver of this phenomenon is that the districts with the largest numbers of seasonal farmers tend to have fewer mobile money agents.
Digging deeper into the FinScope data, we found a cluster of districts in Eastern Province with many farmers who have access to a mobile phone but do not report using any formal or informal savings mechanism. This is an opportunity for financial service providers to develop products that meet the financial needs of farmers, including savings products accessible via mobile money.
Supplementing agent networks with Alternate service delivery points
To compensate for gaps in the availability of financial service access points, we explored the potential of enabling people to deposit and withdraw funds at facilities outside the financial sector. Agricultural access points (markets, input providers) were ruled out because the areas where they are widespread are relatively well served already. However, a large majority of FinScope respondents said that they would be comfortable making financial transactions at fuel stations, health centers, primary schools and supermarkets. Primary schools seem particularly well positioned: 74% of respondents said they would be comfortable making financial transactions there, and in almost every district more than a third of respondents reported that their nearest primary school was closer than any type of financial access point.
The rapid growth of Zambia’s mobile money agent network is helping to fill gaps in the provision of financial services and increase financial inclusion across the country. However, gaps still exist, particularly in rural areas, and 91% of rural Zambians reported never having used mobile money. Combining access point locations with survey data about Zambians’ experience with financial services can help deploy resources more efficiently and sustainably to reach underserved populations. Current evidence supports several specific interventions:
- Providers rolling out their distribution, including their agent network, with a targeted approach. This could range from directly recruiting agents in specific locations to setting up partnerships with an existing presence in these locations, e.g. microfinance institutions and savings-and-credit cooperatives.
- Further exploration into the use cases that are relevant to the target market in these locations. As seen from the responses, savings could be a product that drives uptake and usage among the farmers in Eastern Province.
- Leveraging existing trusted infrastructure, such as primary schools, as access points can reach potential customers in communities where the dedicated agent network is sparse.
The next iteration of the FinScope survey will allow us to evaluate the impact of the changes that have been implemented since 2015.
For more information, please contact:
Data Wrangler, MIX
Project & Knowledge Management Consultant, UNCDF-MM4P Zambia