Banking the unbanked with tablets and technology


<p style="text-align: justify;">The region’s homegrown financial institution, Bank South Pacific (BSP), last week became one of the world’s first banks to employ hand-held computers to sign up new customers.<!--more--></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This is the latest strategy used by Pacific islands banks to take banking services to areas traditionally not serviced by the banking system. Papua New Guinea is among the most unbanked countries in the world but the resource boom of the past two decades has begun to take the cash economy into hitherto uncharted areas.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to the resource boom and in particular the LNG mega project, an increasing number of landowners and landowning communities are receiving royalties and therefore see an increasing need for banking services.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Though many of these landowners live in the hard to access highlands, they are now in touch with the rest of the world because of the proliferation of mobile phone and voice and data services. It is on this technology that BSP is basing its foray into the vast reaches of rural PNG in a bid to bank the unbanked.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">“We have got about 350 Galaxy tablet computers, with a wireless card swipe and using that tablet, we can now open an account anywhere in the country in very, very remote areas in 5 minutes and give the person a working debit card that they could, technically, walk up to the next ATM or Eftpos and withdraw the money immediately,” BSP Managing Director Ian Clyne told Radio Australia this week.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">BSP is not alone in its efforts to harness information and communication technologies besides innovative methods. Westpac and the ANZ Bank have also joined the fray. ANZ, for instance, has launched a “banktainer” – a bank branch in a 40-foot shipping container – around one of ExxonMobil’s sites.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">But BSP has a head start and already has almost the twice the number of rural branches than the two long established banks in PNG.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Surveys show rural people in PNG see banks as the safest place to put their money and are keen to open accounts.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;"></p>