COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc to our professional and social life. This contagious disease has forced us to take unprecedented actions which have caused massive losses to almost every business sector.
The banking sector is also not spared from its wrath. The reports show that the overall losses in the banking sector can exceed that of the 2008 global financial crisis by about 60%.
It’s quite obvious that with such massive impact would easily trickle down to agency banking as well. Agency banking which is viewed as a bullet-proof method of financial inclusion in many developing nations is also facing the adverse effect of the pandemic.
In this article, we will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on agency banking and also how banks can transform agency banking into a low touch channel to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Read More: How mobile wallets boost financial inclusion
Impact of COVID-19 on Agency banking
Financial service agents all over the world are facing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are not only experiencing the reduced income and transactions but also are receiving limited support from the financial institutions and banks that hired them. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the banks have resorted to working remotely.
Agents have to now rely on ATMs for rebalancing where they have to face cash withdrawal charges which increases their cost to serve by many folds. Not only this, but they are also managing rebalancing by accessing funds through their friends, families, and through other methods that are highly unreliable.
To make the matter worse, law enforcement agents like local council officials and police officials who don’t have enough knowledge about the state of agency banking in the lockdown also harass them.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria in their press release didn’t include super agents in the list of financial institutions that were exempted from the lockdown restrictions.
Obviously, this decision wasn’t received well by the agents in Nigeria. This became a topic of hot debate on whether bank agents should operate as it requires personal engagement which would be quite risky in the times of a pandemic.
On the other hand, agents serve as a pivotal link between unbanked people and financial institutions. So, a sudden strike or ban would affect a lot of people who would want to use banking services like sending money to their friends and family in times of lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every business to think out of the box to operate their business with minimal physical interaction. Banks and financial institutions also need to follow the same path.
The current situation calls for an urgent transformation or fixes that banks and financial institutions must address in their agent banking infrastructure.
How can financial institutions transform Agency banking into a low-touch channel?
Leverage agents to offer value-added services
In many of the agent banking models, the role of an agent is restricted to only cash in and cash out. However, banks and financial institutions can leverage agents to do much more than that. Agents can be used as a medium to offer additional services to the customers which were earlier exclusive to branches.
These additional value-added services could be bill payments, customer onboarding, remittances, government cash disbursements, etc.
Since governments and authorities all around the world have started to distribute social aids, agents can prove pivotal in forming crucial networks to provide services like cash in and cash out. This can be critical in rural areas that lack ATMs and formal bank branches.
Moreover, financial institutions can introduce their low-touch agenda by offering agents to offer merchant services as well. Banks and financial institutions can leverage QR code payments and contactless NFC payments to achieve the above-mentioned agenda.
Banks can also leverage agents to complete tasks like limiting branch interactions and onboarding new customers. They can also use technology like optical character recognition (OCR) to speed up the process at the agent along with eliminating manual capture of pages of the KYC data.
With OCR, you can capture vital customer information that is needed for onboarding with the help of a phone camera.
Financial institutions can also consider bifurcating customers into full KYC and light KYC. Full KYC can be achieved once the touchpoint is established between the customer and the bank through call conversation or any other eligible option. Thus, full KYC enables completion of customer onboarding without any need of customer going to the bank.
Similarly, in the light KYC, the customer can transact within the predefined limitation as configured in the agency banking solution. This limitation can be in the form of volume of transactions or lower value.
Remote agent management
Generally, agent managers have to physically engage with their agent network to provide support. Using alternatives like chatbots and messengers can eliminate or reduce this physical interaction between the agents and their supervisors.
With these tools in place, banks and financial institutions can offer real-time guidance and support to their agents which enhances customer experience and makes the agent network stronger.
Apart from that, employing digital communication channels also lowers the cost of operating in the agent network.
Supporting rebalancing with an agent overdraft credit
Traditionally, rebalancing needs a visit from an agent to the bank branch which is restricted in view of the pandemic. Financial institutions can provide agent overdraft facilities which can help in evaluating the feasibility of reduction in the frequency of rebalancing.
The facilities should be designed in such a way that it considers scorecard that utilizes the transaction history of an agent for assessing his creditworthiness.
This can prove to be pivotal in keeping agents operational in the present time where lower foot traffic to the bank branch has become the new normal. Moreover, this step can also increase their loyalty to the institution.
Low-touch authentication methods
The customer’s authentication with the agents can be one of the riskier physical interactions. For example, the networks that depend on biometric verification have to be very careful to ensure that all the biodevices are safe and clean to multiple customers.
Banks can address this risk by prioritizing the low-touch authentication options rather than the biometric devices and touch-heavy POS terminals.
Examples of such low-touch methods are NFC cards, OTP, and other methods that can be authenticated by the customer through their mobile banking app or a mobile wallet.
You can also use digital receipts via SMS instead of printed receipts to make the transactions even low-touch.
Digital onboarding for new agents
You can also leverage low-touch tools for the process of onboarding new agents. You can provide the potential agent candidates with a mobile app which would enable them to initiate the onboarding themselves thus eliminating the need for paperwork for agents and financial institution.
The information submitted by the agent can be then used for pre-screening. Whereas, the final approval of the relationship can be concluded with a phone call or a visit. After these steps, the agent can finally begin transacting.
You can utilize in-app training videos or digital channels to train new agents.
Take social distancing measures to ensure safety
The banks and financial institutions must train their agent well to maintain hygiene and social distancing measures to ensure safe operations. Banks and financial institutions can leverage digital communication tools to achieve this remotely.
Since agents have a direct point of contact with the end customers for a long period, they have built-in trust in their relationships. Banks can leverage this trust by educating customers about the financial service offering via agents.
Moreover, in the present COVID-19 era, agents can also communicate with the customers to educate them about the pandemic and the measures that they must take to inhibit its spread.
Agency banking is prevalent in countries where Cash is still the king. Moreover, as discussed above, agency banking plays a massive role in financial inclusion in these countries which shouldn’t face any type of restrictions or limitations.
By adopting digital and cutting-edge technologies, financial institutions and banks can adopt lower-touch agency banking which will ensure growth in the emerging new normal of social distancing and digital finance solutions.