Alyssa Mesich: How to Achieve Financial Inclusion Through Data-Free Mobile Banking

By Alyssa Mesich, Global Partnerships Manager, N-Frnds

Two billion people, or 45% of the developing world’s adult population, do not have a bank account, other financial institution or mobile-money service.[1] Financial services are the lifeblood of an economy, giving households the ability to save, invest, and protect themselves against risk. The promise of digital technologies can give more people access to financial services, but the ability to scale services and create revenue from these services has proven more elusive.


The Challenge – Radical Affordability and Relevant Digital technologies


Most of the 2 billion financially excluded population live in rural areas with no access to bank branches, do not own a smartphone (or can’t afford reliable monthly mobile data packages); lack financial education or even the awareness the availability and/or value of financial services.


While ‘fintech’ and mobile-banking have become buzzwords in the development and business community in emerging markets unless we can find digital solutions that are accessible, affordable and relevant to these populations much of the efforts to ‘bank the unbanked’ will incorporate only the lower-middle class, leaving most of the base of the pyramid behind and in some cases may even widen the digital divide (and associated gender divide).


Data-free Mobile Banking - A Case Study of Success


BTPN Wow! is Indonesia’s leading bank targeting the largely unbanked mass market and today provides mobile financial services to over 4 million people with the support of a 200,000-person strong agent network, the largest agent banking network in the world.


BTPN Wow! recognized from the outset that the only way to succeed in this high potential yet untapped market was by on one hand utilizing the latest digital and financial technologies and on the other enabling their customers to ‘go-digital’ through their existing mobile devices. The bank identified N-Frnds, a global software provider with over 15 million end-users in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia as an ideal partner for achieving these objectives.


N-Frnds provides the digital infrastructure for BTPN’s branchless mobile banking. The N-Frnds platform not only provides previously unbanked users with access to a broad range of digital financial services but also enables the bank to directly engage both its customers and agents on an ongoing manner and increase customer activity through a range of interactive communication features and gamification strategies.


Comprehensive Mobile Financial Services for Everyone, Anywhere


The N-Frnds platform is device agnostic and entirely interoperable making it possible for users to access their bank accounts regardless of their mobile device. Thus, a customer who today has a simple Nokia will access the same services as someone else with a smartphone or tablet and can migrate seamlessly between devices as his income levels and digital capabilities increase.


These services include a full range of the standard mobile financial services (e.g. transfers, top-ups, bill payments) which are both enhanced and expanded to include additional services usually limited to users with PCs or smartphones. The platform which is protected by 21 patents and is based on cutting edge cloud-based technology enables a range of additional features designed for emerging markets. For example, customers can complete an end-end digital loan application through their phones. The software enables the user to complete a multi-field survey (most mobile services offered over standard USSD[2] technology time-out and a session is lost requiring the user to start again and making a fully digital KYC process impossible without the use of clumsy and expensive SMS), once approved the user receives a notification and can then select the terms and amount of the loan with installments, reminders or renewals all similarly done through the platform. The customer never needs to enter a bank branch. Another N-Frnds feature popular in the mass market is our virtual point of sales, enabling micro- merchants in informal markets to issue both invoices and receipts through their phones.  


Engagement of the unbanked through Gamification Solutions


Built into the platforms is a highly developed analytics engine that enables the bank to have real-time visibility into customer activities and usage rates. This compliments the platforms interactive communication features (bank to customer/agent broadcast, agents to customers, customers to bank/agents – all with no additional charge). The combination of advanced analytics and real-time communication capabilities to mass market users enables the development of comprehensive loyalty and rewards plans that would otherwise be costly and limited to higher-end users with ‘smart devices’. Thus, the platform enables the bank to both expand its user base to target further unbanked customers (e.g. through a non-customer landing page that potential customers can access for further information or to find an agent  to open an account) and increases the activity of existing customers (e.g. through targeted marketing campaign tailored to user behavior).


These gamification and interactive communication capabilities are particularly important in training, retaining and driving engagement of the banks 200,000 agents who are core to the success of any branchless banking solution. (Customers can also search for and then interact with an agent in their region through their phones.) Through the platform agents can check their commission, measure past performance, compare themselves to others in the region, identify and communicate with their customers and much more. The N-Frnds platform provides the backend for this comprehensive agent engagement program which agents can access through either simple USSD interface of an easy to use android app.


Given the central role financial Inclusion plays in economic development, finding solutions that are relevant and accessible to the mass market users today but with a clear ability to scale and reach millions of users in the short term, remains a key imperative. We believe that at N-Frnds we provide that solution through our platform that brings the latest technology into the hands of everyone through their existing mobile phones. We welcome partners to work with us in driving the transformation to digital and financial inclusion that leaves no one behind.



BTPN Wow is Indonesia’s leading branchless banking solution for the mass market, driving financial inclusion with over 4 million users and 200 thousand agents. BTPN Wow! was chosen by the government of Indonesia to become one of the banks providing branchless services as part of the OJK (Financial Services Authority) programs which aim to open financial service access to the public who have yet to receive banking services.


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N-Frnds is a global technology provider of  cloud based software solutions for extending the reach of enterprises in emerging market. N-Frnds is a leader in providing financial inclusion, supply chain and government services to mass market with over 15 million users in Sub-Saharan Africa and SouthEast Asia.


More info:;

[1]  2016 McKinsey Global Institute report

[2] USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) has typically been seen as the best available communications technology for delivering mobile financial services in developing countries, and is the infrastructure of most mobile money services however regular USSD has a number of drawbacks that limit its utility. The N-Frnds cloud enabled platform overcomes many of these limitations (e.g. session persistence, interoperability, page up/down, chat and group chat capabilities, multi-tasking (e.g. dynamic help menus), multi-language capabilities, and more.


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