Photograph — Finca International

Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) Africa is looking to improve financial inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through a three-year agency banking project that targets unbanked people in rural areas of the country.

The $2.8 million programme which is in collaboration with Equity Bank Congo, aims to enrol and train up to 4000 people to become “Equity Cash Express” bank agents across 22 provinces in DRC.

After the training, these agents will, in turn, provide the numerous unserved people in rural communities with improved access to financial services products such as savings accounts, credit and micro-insurance packages.

“We know that when people in fragile states, like DRC, have better access to financial services their lives improve, and the economy grows,” Director, Financial Institutions FSD Africa, Paul Musoke said.

Millions remain unbanked

Coupled with the long-standing effect of civil unrests, DRC is a fragile state with poor infrastructure, large geography and low rates of financial inclusion. More than 25 million people are excluded from the financial system of the country’s 88 million population and only 14 percent have bank accounts.

More so, just seven percent of Congolese people are employed within the formal sector, with the remainder working in the informal economy. This means that informal workers without access to financial services are unable to afford health bills, manage the risks that come with political and economic instability or access capital to grow their enterprises.

Although financial institutions have launched more branches in recent times, access to banking services remains limited outside of the country’s key economic cities.

“This project will increase access to finance for previously unserved and underserved customers in DRC, improving their livelihoods and resilience while demonstrating the potential of agency banking in a fragile and conflict-affected state such as DRC,” Musoke added.

Managing Director of Equity Bank Congo, Celestin Mukeba explained that the Equity Cash Express will allow clients to carry out banking transactions quickly, easily and safely through a network of accredited agents and also give customers of three other partner banks the opportunity to make withdrawals through Multipay, which is a FinTech company.

Mukeba also revealed that the new local service will reduce the cost of banking transactions for clients, and generate additional income for our Equity Bank agents, who will earn paid commissions from working with the bank. Authorized agents can be traders, food stores, pharmacies and other stores, throughout the country.

Most of the products will be targeted at farmers and small businesses who lack access to formal financial services. By 2021, the project plans to have opened one million new savings accounts, approved 10,000 loans and issued 5,000 new insurance products.

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