AGENT BANKS ADVANCE COMMUNITY RESILIENCY DURING COVID-19 IN BANGLADESH
When the Activity team asked agents how long they could sustain their businesses during the pandemic, 60 percent said they could last more than one year, and 27 percent said they could last six to nine months. The number of women agents responding positively was even higher, with 85 percent of women agents reporting that they could sustain their business for over a year.
According to the Bangladesh Bank’s 2020 agent banking report, agent banking is on the rise, with a higher percentage of women and rural customers in the reported quarter. This highlights the ability and agility of agent banking to succeed during the pandemic as well as bank customers’ increased need for these financial services.
Through the resiliency framework, the Activity found that agent banking can absorb and adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the model has not yet fully transformed, there are positive signs that banking agents are changing how they serve rural communities. The Activity recommends that future development programming continue to support the agent banking model and find new partners, including financial institutions and digital service providers, that are catalysts for agri-SMEs to access finance. Given the increased need for working capital during the pandemic, agent banking outlets should look for new opportunities to increase loan disbursement efficiently and effectively through agent networks. Looking to the future of financial services, a heavy emphasis on digital financial services should be expected.
Agent banking not only survived the shock of COVID-19 but continued to grow. Due to the Activity’s facilitation, banks were more willing to increase financial services within the Feed the Future ZOI, supporting rural communities, which are often unprioritized in times of shock and stress. Agent banking supports economic growth through access and technological progress by facilitating access to formal finance, COVID-19 information, and remittances. The agent banking outlets may be resilient and innovative enough to be catalysts in increasing agri-SMEs' access to finance and increase the broader market system's ability to anticipate and respond to future shocks.