How Bank-Genie is granting the financial wishes of the unbanked

The startup helps banks open remote branches for just $100.

Rural banks foster the financial inclusion in Southeast Asia, as they fulfil the banking needs of communities living in remote areas; however, some of these banks are not able to provide the best of services to their customers because they cannot afford core banking systems, which "run into millions of dollars," according to Bank-Genie CEO, Ram Sharma.

Why Bank-Genie brings digital banking to the underbanked from Charlton Media Group on Vimeo.

In Mindanao, Philippines, for example, Sharma said there are banks which only have a total of 500 customers operating on "very primitive, very old legacy systems, which do not have an update path."

"There are so many small rural banks or savings banks...and these kinds of banks don't even have the core banking engine, they still are on macros-based spreadsheets," Sharma told Singapore Business Review.

To help address this pain point, Bank-Genie started to also provide core banking systems—where all the technology and all the accounting entries reside—for free for small banks which have less than 500 customers, during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, small rural banks or microfinance institutions which have more than 500 customers only need to pay $2 per account per year.

Democratising financial services

Apart from boosting the capacity of banks in the rural areas, Bank-Genie is also helping them, and other types of banks to open branches in remote areas without the high cost in a bid to "democratise financial services."

"Banks don't open [branches] because it's very expensive. One white paper says that banks take five years to even recover the costs of opening a branch, which is why in rural places, we don't have a lot," Sharma said.

By investing $100 in Bank-Genie, banks can establish their remote branch.

Usually, the front end is an "expensive proposition because they need to have computers, they need to have a network." But Bank-Genie’s front end resides on a mobility device, like a tablet, making it easier to set up.

"When we are talking about unbanked population and rural countryside areas, you don't expect a good network, you don't expect that we can move all the computers, that we can put up servers," Sharma explained.

Apart from tablets, Bank-Genie also uses mobile devices attached to a Bluetooth printer, and to a card reader, to run their platform.

"These three devices put together...can do all the transactions [and it’s just $100]. So there will be a person [performing as] the teller of a bank, typically, and he or she could perform all the transactions on this tablet or a mobile phone sitting on the beaches of the Philippines or in the mountains of Sierra Leone," Sharma said, adding that all transactions made in the remote branches can be communicated back to the core banking over 2G and 3G networks.

Sharma proudly shared that these branches "provide all bank services" which one can get from bank lobbies of UOB, OCBC, and SBS, from a cash deposit, cash withdrawal, bills, payment, applying for a loan, and other retail services.

As these branches are also manned, customers who may not be tech-savvy will not need to worry about their financial transactions.

The branches are also the ones who get in touch with Bank-Genie if there are technical problems encountered during transactions.

What banks need to do for their part is provide Bank-Genie with the structure for the branch, for example, an old shipping container.

Next step

Looking ahead, Sharma said Bank-Genie aims to make in-person bank transactions more convenient, by improving the queuing system.

"When you walk into a restaurant, we reserve a table. When we go to the airport, we do a web check-in, why don't we tell the bank that I'm coming? I can tell that I'm coming at 1 pm to do this particular transaction. The bank is ready. Everybody saves time," he said.

Currently, Bank-Genie has a Queue Management solution which allows customs to book a bank appointment in advance.

“This is the way forward...there are rudimentary simple things in life happening in a bank, which can be made easier, simpler using technology and digital transformation," he said.

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