Many uncertainties surround the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing is clear: this crisis affects all people, no matter their nationality, race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. We want to help our partners prepare and adapt to disruptions in their communities so they can continue to serve the people who need help the most. One way we’re doing that is connecting with our colleagues from different countries, business models, and levels of digital capacity to learn from the ways they’re navigating this crisis. This week, we convened partners from across the globe to hear their experiences, challenges, and recommendations in a webinar. Kurt Koenigsfest, CEO of BancoSol in Bolivia, Neil Welman, CTO & Co-Founder of Lulalend in South Africa, and Dibyajyoti Pattanaik, Executive Director of Annapurna Finance in India, joined us to share how they’re adapting in this uncertain time.
A commercial bank is bridging the digital divide in Bolivia
When Bolivia enacted a country-wide lockdown to stave off the spread of the new coronavirus, it mandated three types of businesses to remain in operation: grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks. BancoSol, a 30-year-old commercial bank with a microfinance focus, needed to take swift action to empower branch workers and continue serving clients safely. BancoSol’s business model relies on daily human interaction at brick-and-mortar branches. To continue their service during the pandemic, BancoSol’s crisis committee is prioritizing the safety of front office staff by taking proper sanitization, social distancing, and protective measures within their open branches.
Before the virus outbreak began, BancoSol had digital banking options in place, but most clients had not fully adopted them. Now, about half of their transactions are digital, but the rest are still in person. BancoSol CEO Kurt Koenigsfest expects the percentage of digital transactions to continuously rise during and after the pandemic.
When the bank launched its network of ATMs throughout Bolivia ten years ago, employees found that they needed to take each client to ATMs to teach them how to use the machine. Today, the vast majority of BancoSol’s clients already have smartphones and are generally more prepared to adapt to new digital services. Younger clients in urban areas have adopted BancoSol’s banking apps quickly, but older clients in rural areas often find digital services more challenging. To bridge the digital divide for these clients, BancoSol has quickly increased phone-based support for clients that need help setting up digital accounts. They’re even meeting clients where they already are — virtually — by providing online tutorials through social media platforms for those who are online but uncomfortable with digital financial services.