Proud to serve: How bank and agent are empowering women with their first bank account in rural Papua New Guinea

October 8, 2020

© Steven Ereman MiBank

By Eric Sena Morttey

Meet Daphne Haveo. Since July 2019, she has been operating as a MiBank agent in the eastern Highland of Papua New Guinea. By providing basic financial services in her community she is providing women with tools that allow them to make more independent financial decisions. One transaction at a time.

Daphne was one of the first agents to be recruited as part of a MiBank pilot project which aims to develop a commercially sustainable agency banking model to offer financial services in rural areas of Papua New Guinea. The project is supported by the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (UNCDF-PFIP). Daphne and her husband Jonathan Haveo run the Gateway Lodge, a small hotel and bar located on the outskirts of Goroka. As there are many small shops and businesses located in the area, the lodge serves as an excellent location for agent banking.

During one of her regular visits to the Goroka branch of MiBank, Daphne and her husband were introduced to agent banking. Immediately they saw the business opportunity for them as well as that it could really benefit the people and especially women in the area, since there are no other financial institutions to be found nearby. After the registration as an agent, the couple were trained and were quick to grasp the concept and related responsibilities. They received branding and marketing materials such as a signage, posters, t-shirts, and caps. This helped increase her visibility as an agent and it was not long before people in the area found their way to Daphne. From her lodge, people can now open an account, withdraw and deposit cash, and make payments and other transfers.

So far, the business is going well. On a monthly basis Daphne earns around PGK 800 (US$ 230) in commissions. More interestingly, out of almost 800 active customers that she is serving, more than 70 percent are women. When asked how she was able to convince so many women to sign up and transact with her, Daphne says: “The women are more comfortable with me, being a woman just like them. My good reputation in the community also gave me an advantage, allowing me to convince women to open an account.” Remarkable results in a country where women are 29% less likely to have access to formal financial services than men, representing one of the highest financial inclusion gaps in the region.

Designing solutions for women

To identify barriers of uptake of financial services in Papua New Guinea, UNCDF conducted a research last year called the Participation of Women in the Economy Realized (PoWER). Results of this study highlight that:

  • When women earn money, they often have very little control over it. Men often take the role of decision-making regarding financial issues.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by the lack of nearby access points to financial services. In Papua New Guinea, the majority of the population lives in rural areas with people having to travel 4 to 5 hours to the nearest bank branch. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that women are mostly tied to household responsibilities making it difficult for them to travel to access these financial services.
  • Because of this, women are more likely to keep their savings at home or borrow from money lenders due to their need for easy and convenient access to emergency funds. Such practices are typically high risk and more costly.
  • Bank charges on basic transactional accounts, such as account opening, account maintenance, statements and withdrawals also remains an issue of grave concern. The trust of many in the financial system has been eroded over time due to these high bank charges.
  • Materials which promote and explain financial services are commonly written in English, which is not easily understood, in a country where most rural women are illiterate. They therefore rely on family and friends for information. Some women abandon products after sign-up due to a lack of understanding on how to use them. 

To help address these challenges and encourage financial inclusion among women in Papua New Guinea, MiBank launched a product called Hibiscus. This is targeted specifically at women. The account offers a range of fee-free services to help women achieve their diverse goals. The account offers high interest, targeted savings, and offers flexible loan repayment for irregular income earners.

Daphne believes that this new product resonates well with women in her community. Most of her customers are roadside vendors, selling vegetables, fruits, or baked goods. And at the end of each day, these women deposit part of the day’s income at her lodge. Though typically small, the amounts can range from around PGK 5 to PGK 2,000. Daphne proudly adds that “Savings, however small they might be, allow these women to take independent financial decisions. And I am pleased to be serving my community in this way.”

More about the work of the UNCDF PFIP MiBank Innovation Lab and its rural agent network solutions can be found here.