INFITX, in partnership with Thitsaworks and the UNCDF, helped develop WynePay, an interoperable payment switch to help solve the financial inclusion challenges for the country’s mobile wallets and microfinance institutions (MFIs). In this four-part series we’ll share the design solution and the journey of building WynePay, how we simplified the technical onboarding challenges for MFIs and mobile wallets, best practices for designing the business operations of the hub, and the futureproof principles that make Mojaloop unique among instant and inclusive payment schemes
Myanmar’s deep financial inclusion challenges
Incorporating the unbanked into responsible financial services is a complex task that requires solving multiple problems – beyond interoperability alone – in any economy. Myanmar especially has undergone significant political and socio-economic conflict over the last decade – climaxing in February 2021 with a military coup. Myanmar faces a humanitarian crisis that includes food shortages and increased poverty that is further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe. As a result of the political challenges and the banking sector’s structural issues, the population has sought alternative financial services, turning to mobile wallet providers to transact.
The first problem – siloed financial services
Approximately 40 million people living in Myanmar (74% of the population) are unbanked and have little or no access to financial services. And the financial resources that are available to the country’s most vulnerable people are too expensive to utilize. These individuals are forced to primarily rely on cash-based financial transactions that present challenges such as security and health risks associated with handling and transporting physical cash (especially in developing countries).
Thankfully, more than 5 million people (the majority women) in Myanmar have found a solution in the 100+ MFIs that make up the country’s microfinance industry. This industry relies heavily on the personal trust that MFIs have earned with their clients and local communities. This trust enables MFIs to offer relevant products with low rates of default at a much lower cost than informal lenders.
However, MFIs face a greater challenge which is explained well in 4 Digital Essentials for Microfinance to Survive the Economic Rainy Season:
“MFIs face technical and operational challenges in adopting digital payments. Under current business-as-usual operations, MFIs and mobile finance providers must form individual agreements, integrate their systems, and create settlement procedures one at a time. This is complicated, time-consuming work and has to be repeated for each relationship. For example, if the top 50 MFIs were to add digital payments services from the top five mobile wallet providers it would require 250 separate agreements, integrations, and settlement processes. In addition, most MFIs offering digital payments still complete reconciliations on a manual basis using Excel files. We must be more nimble and efficient.”
This lack of interoperability creates siloed financial services, adds exorbitant costs, and perpetuates the exclusion of the poorest from the financial system.
Challenges beyond interoperability
Aside from enabling critical interoperability for the economy’s financial service providers, Thitsaworks identified three independent pillars required to effectively drive financial inclusion. These projects are independent of WynePay.
- Access – Providing access to financial systems begins by addressing the financial literacy of the unbanked. In a separate project (Ready, Set, Go or RSG), INFITX, ThitsaWorks, ONOW Myanmar, and USAID developed digital financial services education platforms for MFIs and underserved clients.
- Digitization – Supporting MFIs to digitise their backend processes and payments to overcome some of the technical cost and risk barriers associated with manual processes.
- Insight – Gaining insight into the risks and issues facing the unbanked to enable them to obtain a credit score and improve their scoring. This helps overcome business risk and cost barriers associated with MFIs while promoting responsible financial inclusion practices.
Driving Myanmar’s financial inclusion responsibly
Achieving financial inclusion requires overcoming these challenges and more. If done responsibly, creating interoperability among financial services addresses the cost and risk barriers for organisations, enabling them to provide financial services to the more marginalised communities. Understanding how and why this helps address financial inclusion, and what ‘done right’ needs to look like to achieve these goals, is complex.
Level One Principles
Over the course of a decade, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor division conducted research for solving financial inclusion for the 1.7 billion people worldwide who lack access to formal financial services. The results of that research are called the Level One Principles which act as a creed for building financially inclusive payment networks.
In 2017, INFITX joined forces with other industry experts including the Gates Foundation, Ripple, and Dwolla to build Mojaloop – the world’s first open source, real-time clearance and settlement management engine. Today, Mojaloop is utilised by central banks for national payments gateways, and major payment processors, fintech startups, banks, and other financial organisations to achieve interoperable connectivity with other financial service providers.
INFITX partnered with Thitsaworks and the UNCDF to design and develop WynePay as a Mojaloop-based, Level One Principles-aligned, interoperable payment switch to connect the country’s mobile wallets and MFIs. WynePay is a participant-governed, shared, and open implementation of Mojaloop, empowering Myanmar’s MFIs to connect to mobile wallets and banks in a cost-effective manner. The current use cases are loan orientated. I.e. the loan repayment and the single loan disbursement use cases. This offering can easily be extended to handle peer-to-peer, bulk-loan disbursements, and electronic cash transfers (ETC) use cases.
Although WynePay is still in its infancy and in the process of becoming live, it is well-positioned to make a real difference in driving financial inclusion for the unbanked. The following figures from WynePay’s scorecard reflect the positive impact that it and some related projects have had on building inclusive and connected financial services in the country:
- 1 million people in Myanmar who do not have bank accounts have received digital financial literacy content.
- 70 financial institutions that serve the unbanked are currently undergoing digital transformation.
- These institutions provide services to 600K unbanked users – about 10% of the unbanked in Myanmar.
- 3 Million credit reports of unbanked borrowers are analysed monthly – about 75% of all unbanked people in Myanmar.
WynePay – participating FIs
- 36 financial institutions are participating in WynePay.
- 17 financial institutions have technically connected to WynePay.
- 3 of these are performing live transactions.
If you would like to learn more about WynePay and the challenges that we helped to overcome in this project, watch the recordings from Thitsaworks’ presentation at the Mojaloop community meeting in Zanzibar and in Arusha Tanzania. The presentations are a real account of progress made, hurdles overcome and lessons learned on this journey.
WynePay Deployment Update
Mojaloop Deployment experience in Myanmar
Hub Operator Perspective
Whether you represent a national payment switch or a mobile money organisation, we can play a number of roles in helping you successfully design and implement a Mojaloop-based payment network. Our extensive experience with Mojaloop and the digital payments industry lends itself to all stages of a project. We help organisations with the planning, business development, and grant acquisition phases of a project, as well as scoping and drafting contracts. We support open-source connection tools and products such as Payment Manager and core connectors that simplify the onboarding process for financial institutions. We would love to discuss your project; contact a member of our team today.