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ISLAMABAD: The Asaan Mobile Account (AMA) scheme - developed under the national financial inclusion strategy — is a game-changer as it brings further ease in remote account opening under branchless banking and plays a crucial role in reaching out to the low-income segments that do not have access to the internet, besides boosting real economic growth.

This was the crux of a ceremony held to commemorate the “AZAADI of the AAM AADMI (Common citizen)” aimed at introducing the destiny-changing financial inclusion scheme “ASAAN MOBILE ACCOUNT” (AMA), as a tribute to Pakistan’s 75th Independence Day.

Moderated by Dr Huma Baqai- Rector MITE, it was well attended by eminent bankers, corporate leaders, regulators, social sector scholars and key opinion leaders.

Dr Baqai stated that digital technologies are impacting the way firms do business through digital transformation leading to documentation of the economy since the majority of the people (the “AAM AADMI”) do not have access to bank accounts.

She praised Ikram Sehgal and his family for their tireless efforts to truly unleash the economic potential of the unbanked.

She called the AMA a destiny changer.

Co-Chairman of Pathfinder Group and VRG Zarrar Sehgal stated that without financial independence the concept of “Financial Inclusion” is incomplete, especially for women. As 80-85 percent of the population have a mobile, this led to the idea of how Virtual Remittance Gateway (VRG) could work for AAM AADMI’s financial freedom by offering Mobile Financial Services (MFS) based on state-of-the-art technology, thus giving “Hope” for real economic growth.

Salman Ali, CEO VRG, provided the details about the pain-staking efforts made over the last nine years with the objective to bring unbanked population to formal banking services. Through the joint efforts of SBP and PTA, AMA is available to all low-income unbanked/under-banked people who face difficulties in opening accounts but also undertaking transactions. Presently, 32 percent accounts are of women, compared with 18 percent for other banking channels, this is very encouraging. The AMA has to explore new avenues such as instant credit, micro-retail payments/insurance, etc. Greater outreach is needed through increased touch points, this may be achieved through the concept of agent interoperability.

Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa (Retd), chairman PTA, in his video message noted that the AMA scheme jointly sponsored and licensed by the PTA and the SBP will revolutionize the mobile banking landscape as the present financial inclusion is quite low resulting in limited use of financial services other than payments.

The AMA is a unique scheme to bring together all cellular mobile operators and financial institutions onto one platform to allow mobile banking. In future, this digital ecosystem can be enhanced with active participation of Fin-techs, AMA scheme will play a pivotal role for the unbanked and women’s economic empowerment as it provides accessibility to over 195 million verified subscribers. AMA has been designed for its ease of use, swiftness, security and cost-effectiveness with complete interoperability between institutions and operators, thus achieving the objective of Financial Inclusion.

In his video message, Shazad Dada CEO and President UBL spoke about the challenges due to lack of documentation, internet, and smartphones, he said the AMA is the solution. The close collaboration of the stakeholders has made it a success as show-cased by the accounts registered, UBL was proud to be part of this scheme. AMA will help Pakistan achieve the goals of financial inclusion and he encouraged all citizens to be part of the AMA family by opening an account right now.

Kabeer Naqvi, CEO and President UBank, appreciated the remarkable efforts of VRG. After one and a half decade, the customer-centric Many-to-Many model on USSD technology is the railroad paving the way for financial inclusion and is here to stay. The banks through technology and efforts have to reach out to the common man and study the dynamics of their lives to find solutions for financial inclusion. The physical bricks and mortar and BB are not mutually exclusive and needed for financial inclusion.

Ali Naseer – chief business officer Jazz, stated that the regulators especially SBP had been very supportive over the last few years to take the digital agenda forward especially, the SBP’s RAAST and AMA Scheme are cases in point. Jazz has always been a partner since inception and encouraged all new developments that have been carried out in perfecting the platform. Presently, Jazz Cash is the largest contributor of accounts registered on the VRG platform. He added that RAAST is a great initiative and the AMA scheme is a step in the right direction.

Sima Kamil, deputy governor SBP, congratulated the landmark event to support the National Financial Inclusion Strategies (NFIS). However, around 10 per cent of total accounts opened have less than one transaction over the last one year, and only one-third of the women population have a bank account which shows potential for future growth. The banks have to increase their efforts to enhance the uptake, SBP is introducing daily monitoring for facilitation. In addition, 16 SBP offices have been instructed to create awareness as there is limited financial literacy. New use cases for payments, savings, investment and credit need to be introduced. The BB agent level interoperability is a key and the objective is to have 10 million accounts by year end.

Former governor SBP Dr Reza Baqir appreciated the efforts of all stakeholders and the stated that digitization in Pakistan is the key and the SBP quarterly payments report shows the tremendous growth achieved in e-payments. It is positive to note that RAAST has been quite successful and 18 million IDs have been created on the 21 million mobile banking apps. He suggested that further growth in the AMA scheme can be achieved by increased awareness through communication, customer journey made easier in undertaking transactions, new merchants on-boarding and link-up with RTGS/ RAAST system to reduce costs.

In his concluding remarks, Ikram Sehgal, chairman Pathfinder Group and VRG thanked all the stakeholders of the AMA Scheme whose efforts have culminated into today’s event. He said he never does business with the government but the SBP and the PTA’s executives were a pleasant surprise.

Pakistani private sector’s perseverance is commendable in successfully confronting all resistance and developing an affordable home grown technological solution; which can be replicated internationally. The Sehgal family’s vision of providing “hope” for the AAM AADMI to be able to have a bank account is truly a game-changer for financial independence for the poor forgotten common person in Pakistan. It has been recognized globally by World Economic Forum, Queen Maxima of Netherlands in her remarks in the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos this year, it has led to Pakistan’s nomination in the Lighthouse Countries program under the WEF EDISON Alliance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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