Digital Finance’s Little Secret... (Agent Networks)

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The wide reach of digital financial services, such as digital savings, credit, payments, insurance or investment products, can unlock life-changing opportunities for financially excluded low-income and rural consumers, many of whom are women, by helping them save, borrow, and receive remittances. But here’s a little secret about the seemingly endless array of these digital services: their current ability to attract and serve new users largely depends on the expansion of old-fashioned physical interaction through agent networks. These networks enable users to deposit or withdraw cash from digital accounts, which is crucial in cash economies where digital finance has limited use cases. Expanding these networks beyond large cities is notoriously difficult, but significant progress has been made in recent years — and in surprising ways.

In this episode, we explore the latest advances in agent networks and what they mean for the future of inclusive finance.  

This is the fifth episode in CGAP's new podcast, Inclusive Finance Frontiers

Featured Voices

Emilio Hernandez, Senior Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP  
Sasidhar Thumuluri, Managing Director and CEO, Sub-K  
Archana Pandey, General Manager, Financial Inclusion at Bank of Baroda 
Sandhya Rani, Sub-K rural agent  

Special thanks to Anand Raman, CGAP consultant based in India, for his help in leading interviews with Sub-K agents and customers.  


Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Hello, and welcome to Inclusive Finance Frontiers presented by CGAP, a global partnership that works to advance the lives of people living in poverty through financial inclusion. I’m your host Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy, a CGAP Financial Sector analyst. My co-host is Yasmin Bin-Humam, a CGAP Financial Sector Specialist. Welcome, Yasmin.

Yasmin Bin-Humam: Hi Sai!

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Hi, Yasmin. You travel a lot for work. What do you do when you need to withdraw cash?

Yasmin Bin-Humam: So, if I need to get cash, I go to the nearest ATM and put in my debit card and just withdraw the money.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Let's suppose your nearest ATM is 10 kilometers away. What would you do then?

Yasmin Bin-Humam: Oh my goodness! I guess I would have to find a way to get there or get some other kind of cash out option.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Did you know that more than half of people living in poverty in emerging markets live more than five kilometers away from their nearest ATM?

Yasmin Bin-Humam: So presumably they have some other way to cash out money.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Exactly, and they are known as cash in cash out agents or CICO agents, also popularly known as digital financial services agents or DFS agents. Agent networks are a very critical infrastructure that is part of the digital financial services ecosystem. We see a rapid proliferation of digital financial services in the form of mobile money, digital wallets, mobile lending apps. But it's important for us to recognize that people who live in poverty, especially those who live in remote rural areas, continue to live in societies where cash is still king.

Yasmin Bin-Humam: So, what if I didn't wanna keep my money in cash? What if I wanted, like my home was not secure, or I wanted to have another place to store my money? Could the agents help me?

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Of course, they could. You would still want to store it in a mobile wallet or a digital savings account, but then again, you would spend in cash. So, you would need to be able to convert your digital or electronic money into physical money and back as you need. And this is why they're such a fundamental part of the digital finance ecosystem. Not only do they provide valuable cash in cash out services, but they're also the face of financial service providers for people living in poverty in remote rural areas. They have the trust of those people, but they also collect important user feedback.

Yasmin Bin-Humam: I always prefer the human touch over a purely digital interface. I always prefer to speak to a human being about what it is I want to do and make sure that everything went according to plan. So, I personally can see the value of agent networks. Are they as prevalent as we need them to be?

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: You hit on the right point. As important as these agent networks are, they are sadly not as expansive in the areas where they're needed. The most agent networks are much easier to build in urban areas, as you understand, because the population density is pretty high. But in rural areas where there are few people, it is really hard and expensive to build agent networks. However, the good news is that in recent years, significant progress has been made and we are seeing some really good examples of rural agent network expansion.

Yasmin Bin-Humam: Well, I'm looking forward to hearing about the progress in this

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: In this episode, we explore the latest advances in agent networks and what they mean for the future of inclusive finance. To go deeper, we hear from CGAP’s Emilio Hernandez. He has been researching agent networks in many markets and can offer insights on what’s working - and where there’s still room for growth.

We’ll also learn how the long-established Bank of Baroda in India is using agent networks like the Sub-K network, to bridge the urban and rural divide and bring access to formal finance to previously excluded populations.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Amid the hype that fintech innovations and digital financial services have caused in financial inclusion circles, it can be easy to forget that cash still plays a foundational role in the economy of most developing nations – and even in many developed ones - despite the perception that there has been a large shift to digitized income. Emilio Hernandez, a senior financial sector specialist at CGAP, reminds us that in some cases, cash is still king. 

Emilio Hernandez: It is particularly important for lower income customers tend to have their livelihoods related to let's say, semi-formal or informal sectors of the economy where cash prevails. So, it is very important for certain segments of customers that still much of their income and a lot of their expenditure needs can only be made in cash.

The digital financial service offering that we all have read and have witnessed, can bring a lot of value in creating use cases that help our livelihoods, like sending remittances or savings or being able to trade.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: As a result, the potential of digital financial services, including fintechs, to reach low-income, financially excluded groups largely depends on people’s ability to cash in and out of the digital ecosystem. As mentioned earlier, this requires agent networks, and these are notoriously difficult to expand to the rural areas where most of the world’s poor and financially excluded populations live and work, many of whom are women.

But what are agent networks and how do they work? Emilio explains.

Emilio Hernandez: An agent network basically is a network of service points, normally small businesses that are in a way sub-contracted by a financial service provider to represent the financial service provider and facilitate financial transactions to customers. So normally it's the mom-and-pop shop that becomes an agent of a bank or a mobile money company. And the customer can go in and perform a transfer.

For example, I want to send money to another person that has another account. I can load that money at the agent, and I can then send the transfer electronically to that other person. So there is normally a contractual relationship between the agent and the financial institution, or sometimes there's an intermediary.

There's an agent network manager that has a contract with the agent and it's the agent network manager has a contract with the financial institution.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: And it benefits the financial service provider too

Emilio Hernandez: The more limited the agent network coverage is let's say if it's only restricted to urban areas or the big metropolis, that means that you will not be able to onboard and to serve customers that are outside those areas. So, there is certainly an incentive for providers to keep expanding their agent networks so that they keep broadening their customer base.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Financial services providers have been relatively successful in building out agent networks in big cities and urban centers. But they’ve been slower to expand to rural areas.

Bank of Baroda is one of the larger public sector banks in India. Headquartered in the city of Vadodara, or Baroda, in the state of Gujarat, this long-established institution of over 100 years has turned to agent networks as a way to achieve its financial inclusion goals.

Archana Pandey is a General Manager, and Head of Financial Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility, with the Bank of Baroda.

Archana Pandey: Looking at the size of the country, it's impossible to have brick and mortar branches reach out to every nook and corner of the country. Initially when we started, we had the direct model where we were onboarding the business correspondents directly. But over a period of time as we evolved, as we grew in size, we found that it's extremely difficult to manage,

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Emilio expanded on some of the challenges.  

Emilio Hernandez: As a financial institution, you need to make an investment to onboard an agent and keep it functioning. The agent, him or herself needs to make an investment to become an agent. And that investment needs to be recovered by, from the agent side, the revenue that the agent gets for facilitating those financial transactions and the provider from the revenue generated by those that financial service that's provided to the customer.

If an agent is in rural areas, whereby there's very low population density within the catchment area of the agent there are fewer people living, and then you're obviously going to generate less transactions relative to an urban agent where there's a lot of people living around. So that has been the main struggle. It hasn't been economically viable to expand into rural areas and that has left out well, the rural population, for the most part. But in particular, the lower income rural population who struggles a bit more to do frequent trips to a major city where they can have access to agents and, you know, bank branches, et cetera.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: CGAP’s research on cash in/cash out agent networks, has uncovered innovative business models that make rural agents economically viable.

Emilio Hernandez: What we found is that there are very different agent network models across markets. And some of them have been a lot more successful in expanding in rural areas, and it's a relatively recent development for the past, maybe five or seven years that a new model, very much leveraged on digital technology is enabling rural agents to performed viably.

These providers, they come and they have been successful due to different use cases. And we found that those key use cases that have had a lot of demand from the rural population tend to be around P2P, that's domestic remittances, G2P distribution, basic government subsidies going out to rural areas. And in East Asia in particular, the e-commerce use case has become very strong, a use case demanded by the rural population.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: With e-commerce companies in East Asia increasingly channeling multiple types of financial and non-financial transactions through their agents, a new generation of agent network managers have emerged. These are third-party partners that aggregate different financial and non-financial services, on a digital platform. While agent network managers have been around for a long time, their agent networks have traditionally only facilitated a limited range of financial services—such as airtime top-ups, bill payments, and person-to-person transfers—they’re broadening the number and range of services they facilitate.

The agents they work with can facilitate transactions for a wider suite of services with what’s called a single agent electronic float account—that is, an account with funds that the agent places, in advance, in their principal provider's account. It allows the agent to receive cash from customers and then settle them electronically with multiple providers by transferring through their principal provider.

Emilio Hernandez: This aggregation has always existed when it comes to agent network manager, but what's different now is that that aggregation has exploded thanks to digital technology in this digital platform that connects all agents managed by agent network managers and various types of providers, various types of banks, various types of non-bank financial institutions, various type of nonfinancial companies like FMCG distributors, FMCG stands for fast moving consumer goods, e-commerce firms, agri-businesses are able to offer their products through that shared agent network.

So these agent network managers, through API technology are able to integrate into their core platform, those core systems of banks, financial institutions, and FMCG companies.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Indian-based fintech, Sub K Impact Solutions, has been a leader in using digital technology to reach clients across the nation. We spoke with Sasidhar Thumuluri, Sub-K’s managing director and CEO.

Sasidhar Thumuluri: Sub K is a FinTech, that's primarily focused on financial inclusion. The business model is called business correspondence, which is essentially a bridge between banks and unbanked customers. And we try and establish a distribution network on behalf of banks wherein a lot of technologies leveraged primarily mobile technology wherein the local entrepreneurs, actors, business correspondence agents who are the face for customers where customers interact in a local environment where they don't need to really go to a real bank. And we act as a manager of that network and through this network, we offer various financial services, be it savings, payments, credit insurance. So, all that basic banking services that any citizen would like to avail from a bank, we try and offer that through this network.  

Sasidhar Thumuluri: Sub K started in rural with a basic phone as a device to be used. And with biometric, as a matter of identity, and we try to capture and identify those customers who walk into these agent outlets so that we know who is coming in and use a basic phone for enabling the transaction. So, agents used to have a basic phone with an app on that phone, which was a real time, financial transaction that you used to do even with those kinds of situations where mobile connectivity was on telephone network, not even on the more internet network. 

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: The identification process was simplified with the launch of Aadhaar, a verifiable 12-digit identification number issued by the government of India that aim to facilitate the participation of millions of citizens in the country’s economic life. In addition, better infrastructure along with increased connectivity have allowed for greater penetration into rural areas. That means that rural agents are more quickly able to recover the investment costs of becoming an agent.

Sandhya Rani is a rural Sub-K agent in a village near Nizamabad, a city in South Central India. She has managed a local access point for almost four years. She often goes directly to clients – many of them elderly or sick – to them to provide banking services using a micro-ATM device.

Sandhya Rani: We provide ATM withdrawals, ATM fund transfers. ATM means if they give the ATM card, we can insert it in the micro-ATM and withdraw money to give them. We also transfer and deposit money and open accounts.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: She made a significant investment to onboard the access point.

Sandhya Rani: I have invested two lakh rupees, because we had to buy two printers, a camera and a laptop. So we had to spend a lot.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: And while she has yet to recoup her full investment, all of her expenses are covered by what she is earning. Sandhya is one of 3.2 million Sub-K agents operating across India. Sub-K works with ten banks both large and small, including Bank of Baroda. The Bank uses a model where agents are part of an Agent Network Manager, referred to by Archana Pandey as Corporate Business Correspondents or BC agents, which makes onboarding and training of agents much easier and more successful.

Archana Pandey: It’s much easier to handle the larger workforce we have in the form field level BC agents when we deal with the corporate business agents. So, with these assisted model of banking, the infrastructure is very minimalistic, and we link it to our core banking solution.

When we onboard there's a question of due diligence. So, there's one level of due diligence, which is run by corporate business agents. And then once this is already done, then our branches do a second level of verification. We also do a police verification for all the agents we onboard, then billing, etcetera, payments, GST, etcetera. All that is also becomes much, much corporatized. And in addition to that, this also comes with some additional security, because they are also monitoring them and we have certain, with them, like agent agreement, in case of any frauds or any unfair practices, which goes on at the BC points.

Then, we can, make the corporate business correspondence responsible for the misdeeds of these business agents. So that is one more thing. Another thing is like when we have to reach out to our business agent, we give a call to our corporate business correspondents. In turn, they reach out to their agents. So, this becomes very easy for both the partners. So that's the precise reason why we move to all this new system of corporate business agents.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: In addition to partnering with banks, Sub-K has gained insights from data collected about agents, activities, and customers to find additional spaces in which they can serve, according to Emilio.

Emilio Hernandez: They were one of the first to recognize that household appliances were a market that was strong in rural India. So, they sought out this type of providers. They realized that there were several financial services, specific financial services in some regions of India where they operate, where their bank partners were not offering that particular service. So, they themselves became a non-bank financial company and started doing their own financial services that complement the offer that their banking partners provide.

Their ability to know what the agent and the customer need drive their strategy on who to partner with and sometimes what kind of services they can deliver themselves as a provider. They're not only limited to being an agent network manager that distributes other services, but they also provide their own.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Sub-K says that the way they choose agents has been a key aspect in allowing to expand into rural areas and reach new customers, particularly lower income and less financially included people.

Sasidhar Thumuluri: We try and do two things. One is we try to identify locations where still there is a need for agents. We expand in less penetrated markets, so that automatically gives us access to new to bank customers, who would not have had access before. The other thing we also do is we try to engage more and more women agents so that we can then capture the market from that gender side of it as well, because exclusion is higher on the woman population which is an opportunity as well. So, we partner with large government programs, wherein there is a special focus on gender and women, and we try and engage the beneficiaries of those programs as agents, so that their own networks that they operate in then become their customer base.

The other part is, since we also try and load more and more products on the network, that also brings in customers who are specifically looking for the kind of a product not necessarily the one that was offered earlier. For example, if somebody wants to apply for a loan, they're happy to go and do an ATM to withdraw money. But ATMs don't give out loans. So now you can attract their customer to come to an agent network, say, hey, you know what? We give out home loans, we give business loans, you can apply here.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Our colleague Anand Raman, a CGAP consultant based in India, spoke to a group of Sub-K customers at a rural access point near the village of Nizampur in the state of Telangana in India.

Customer (man): The bank branch is 3 kilometers away from here. I used to go by bus, car, bike, auto-rickshaw…  We don’t go now. Our work gets done right here.

Anand: As ladies, do you face any difficulty coming here?

Woman customer: This is the place where we get our work done early. We come here. We are uncomfortable standing at the bank while our work gets completed in just ten minutes here. If we go to the bank, we have to face issues like filling the vouchers, waiting in the bank, etc. Here, our work gets done in 10 minutes.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to ensure that more women customers are being served. Some companies, like Sub-K, are trying to recruit more female agents, but in general, there is still an ongoing need to recruit more women as both agents and customers. Emilio says that CGAP’s research has identified a significant knowledge gap around exactly how big the problem is, and how to address it.

Emilio Hernandez: To address a problem, you need to understand it in full detail. And so far, it's a bit hard because you don't have the data coming from the providers on the ground. The majority of the providers we speak to cannot tell us what percentage of their agents are men and what percentage are women. They cannot tell us what percentage of their customers are men and what percentage of the customers are women. So, we need to start there.

Having said that there's certainly a lot of ground knowledge. When you talk to many of the providers of some of the issues that they face, even if they would want to recruit more women agents and more women customers. So, some of the practical challenges that we've seen has a reason relate to, for example, two fronts, social norms and the skills that anybody needs to become and agent.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Emilio explains that it is often not socially acceptable for women to become agents in many parts of the world.

Emilio Hernandez: Might be that doing the agent job requires you to move around because you're in your shop for a while, but then you have to walk to a near bank branch to balance your float, right? To be able to continue to process your customer transactions in real time. And that mobility, you know, can be much harder for women than for men. It's just not accepted that a woman can move by herself with a lot of cash going to a bank.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Social norms may even cause other impediments, such as providing documents for KYA, or know your agent, which is the compliance with identification and due diligence to onboard new agents.

Emilio Hernandez: The woman is not able to provide the KYA documents that she needs because she doesn't have an ID and she doesn't have an ID because it's very hard for her to get an ID, because the family does not support her having an ID. Or she needs the family permission, the husband, or parents, or sibling’s permission to get that ID, and it's very hard.

Then there's the other aspects related to skills where in order to perform a need to perform as an agent, you need minimum abilities, you know, literacy, right? To keep accounts, to be able to keep your own accounts, in terms of the transactions to facilitate the float that you have. And there's also well-documented literacy gap between men and women.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Female agents may also need additional training to be onboarded. But there are ways to make the process more inclusive and effective.

Emilio Hernandez: There has been anecdotal experiences that show things that can help. For example, the regulator not requiring any permission from anybody for the woman to be able to get an ID and be able to comply with KYA for providers, for example, be able to think very hard at a combination of remote virtual and physical training sessions, specifically targeting women that can have its payoff because women agents not only will they be able to expand the customer base that will bring more revenue in the future, but also, they can really be able to probably serve other women who all have been traditionally under served. You got a business case argument around customer base expansion. Now the problem that, that even if it's true for every market you need a medium, to long-term time horizon to see that investment in women agents pull through.

So, there might be opportunities for the government to subsidize that process to speed it up and make it less costly for providers. So, they're, they're willing to wait that time it requires to recover that investment in onboarding a woman and being able to develop financial services that are more appropriate for women's needs.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Archana Pandey believes agent networks provide greater financial inclusion for female customers who are often disproportionately excluded. The Bank of Baroda is working diligently to serve both female agents and customers.

Archana Pandey: That's a very important segment for Bank of Baroda. Be it on the customer side or we on the agent side. So, if we talk of our agent network out of 45,000 plus, business correspondents, 28% of them are women BCs, which, which is a real good number. If you talk about customer side also, I'm very happy to share that it's equal, like 50% accounts is between men and women so that's the perfect financial inclusion objective, is the government targeted, this is perfectly being met. For women BCs, business correspondents, we are also giving preferred higher deposit incentives. We are giving a higher incentive scheme to them

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: The Bank of Baroda is leveraging its agent networks to provide other services for women's economic empowerment, which also supports customers of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, a financial inclusion program by the Government of India that aims to expand affordable access to financial services among citizens.

Archana Pandey: We had partnered with the World Women Banking, so what they were doing is they were developing, saving habit among women in a way that if you deposit some particular amount per month for five months or six months, you are eligible for a particular loan amount after that period. And in that process, we were incentivizing everybody to develop this habit.

The next part is that there is a lot of financial literacy happening in the process. People are understanding this and that this is, this is getting a way to financial health of the people also. And the same way when we are onboarding female BCs, I am particularly of the view that these women BCs who are learning to use the digital payment system, through our BC infrastructure are encouraging so many women in the in the community and people are getting encouraged to come up to bank to save, to borrow to, I mean, to whatever facilities we are extending. And then same way for skill development. Also, like we have so many rural self-employment training centers also, and 53% of the total peoples trained are women. So that's again, great, so we have many financial literacy centers also where 50% almost are women,

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Sub K uses strategies like connecting with women’s self-help groups to improve markets for women and make them more accessible. The self-help group movement first emerged in India in the 1980s to connect under-served customers with financial services. In 1992, India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development launched its savings group linkage program with the mission of reaching those families who did not access to credit by any formal financial institution. By 2000, savings groups had become a central part of the Indian government’s efforts to mitigate poverty and promote rural livelihoods.  

Sasidhar Thumuluri: This is a very large network and have been, it's been around for now three decades. So, it's a very mature social development programs run on the back of these women groups. And we try and work with the leadership of this woman groups who sometimes are also educated and can quickly become agents. The other segment, which is microfinance segment, where a majority of the customers are women, and they also work in the group model where the most active of these women can double up as agents. So, we try and exploit these opportunities, also wherein more women can come into the agent network, which automatically attract more women customers. And that's culturally how it works in many markets, including India. Also, in the networks where men are the ones who are enrolled as agents, we encourage them to enroll their spouses, or their women folks in the family to be registered as the second agent. And agent to deploy sub-agents that is a possible, so wherever there is a bank that is allowing a sub-agent to be registered, we insist that the subagent should be the spouse or the sister or the mother of the male agent.

We are engaging the family, that is an important thing, family, as a business unit, which allows an agent to operate for longer hours. So about 30% of our agents today are either directly or indirectly manned by female person, whether it's a direct female agent or it's a sub-agent and it's really difficult to know the exact distribution of customers on the gender side, because banks don't reveal that information. But with some indirect mechanisms, we try and do some sampling about 48% of our customer base, our footfalls are women today in our network. So, that is not statistically tested, but this is a sampling that we did to understand our own customer distribution. So, in that sense, we think that's a decent, because that's kind of what population distribution broadly is. So, in some sense, it is helping the strategies are helping to bring more women into the system.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: And rural agent, Sandhya Rani, can speak to the profound effect being a part of system can have.

Sandhya Rani: I love this work! I like it that people wait for me to give them money, they respect me, call me madam. They know they can get money anytime they come here. People trust me. That’s why I love this work. I would like to continue as long as I feel like it. The service here is good, and so is my confidence.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: With great strides being made in financial inclusion for customers in India and to bridge the gender divide, I’m curious, about the role of agent networks going forward.

Archana Pandey: I'm also curious about what the future has in store for us. As India gets more formally educated people, financial literacy improves. And people are already very savvy to smartphone, etcetera. So, a lot of customers will also get migrated to these digital channels. We will be the happiest lot when the people get migrated to digital channels. And so, the requirements of business correspondents to that extent may get limited for certain set of services. It'll take time for hundred percent literacy to happen. It's a tall order. Till then I have ambition of reaching a business correspondent target of 58,000 by 2027. And these business correspondents right now as we speak, we are already providing loan services. So right now, what we are doing is we are providing only lead generations that they only need give leads that this person requires loan. So going forward, what we will see that if we can give more, beyond lead generation, if we can give something. Because, for self-employment, if people go over to go for self-employment, these kinds of loan facilities help people set up their small businesses.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: It would also be interesting to keep an eye out on Digital Banking Units or DBUs and how they can be leveraged vis-a-vis agent networks. In late October 2022, to commemorate and celebrate 75 years of India's Independence, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi dedicated 75 DBUs in 75 Districts. All services at the DBUs will be offered in a digital, paperless and completely secure manner.

Archana Pandey: In our DBUs, we have identified 30 plus services, which can be provided by the business correspondence from a location different from the DBU location. What we will be doing is these BCs will be actively engaged in increasing digital financial literacy. I would say is DBUs have a very strong prospect, but the object of DBU as we speak is to reach out to those customers who do not have infrastructure available with them, like smartphones or laptops or any other things. And they are able to digitally transact, they go to digital banking unit and transact. Next stage will be when we are able to bring those people who are not digitally literate into our field, and they come and transact at our DBUs and gradually they will migrate to self-service units. DBUs and business correspondents are going to coexist, and they're going to complement each other as we look forward to the future.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: So, Yasmin, have you pieced together digital finance's little secret?

Yasmin Bin-Humam: Yes. The secret seems to be that it's not as digital as we make it out to be. There's still a need for a human touch at the point of cashing in, cashing out learning about the services, training people. So this human element is crucial.

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Exactly. And it's no surprise that India has prioritized agent network expansion within its digital financial inclusion strategy. You focus a lot on women, and I'm curious, what does all this mean for your work?

Yasmin Bin-Humam: Women are often the most excluded segments within other excluded segments like rural populations. And so, I was really heartened to hear about the hiring of women agents in India. This is something that has worked in a number of places and it's crucial not just for the women who are cashing in and cashing out, but also for the women who are employed as agents. So I'm keen to see how these business models evolve. 

Sai Krishna Kumaraswamy: Me as well. Can't wait to see how it unfolds.

Thank you for tuning to the Inclusive Finance Frontiers Podcast from CGAP. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast and spread the word among your networks. Special thanks to our episode guests, my co-host, Yasmin Bin-Humam, the CGAP podcast production committee, and CGAP’s production, partner Volubility Podcasting.