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By Serge Van Dam, Mobiliti Segment Leader, International Group, Fiserv


In developing economies banking services have long been limited. Historically, it has been difficult for financial institutions to efficiently and profitably serve customers. This has seen millions of people and businesses live and operate on a cash only basis, with no bank accounts. While these populations may have fallen out of reach of the traditional banking system, the current ubiquity of mobile phones is changing this.

Mobile phones are everywhere; whether you are in the most advanced city in the world or in a developing economy. It is this pervasive presence in developing economies that makes the mobile phone the ideal platform from which to serve the unbanked population’s financial needs.

This will be a massive topic of conversation at Sibos, as financial institutions debate the best strategies to reach and engage the numerous unbanked populations across the world.

Here are some figures that clearly demonstrate the opportunity of banking the unbanked in Southeast Asia.



Urban population

Rural population

Banked population

Mobile penetration

























Until very recently, banks had not recognised the full potential of the mobile channel – even for high-earning customers. Banks have been slow to recognise the transformational nature of the mobile channel, often setting low targets for adoption rates and ultimately having low expectations of the channel.

But the potential of the mobile channel is remarkable. Mobile is a virtual, self-service channel that allows financial instructions to provide cost-effective, easy-to-use products targeted to specific segments – allowing banks to better serve existing customers while attracting new ones.

The mobile channel enables banks to offer basic financial services to the underbanked and unbanked consumers in both developed and developing markets at profitable levels – something that was not possible with the traditional branch-focused model. Furthermore, customers who are already banked become more engaged as they are able to more frequently check balances, transfer funds and complete other tasks.

Serge van Dam
Serge van Dam

It is by offering banking services via the mobile channel that financial inclusion can be greatly improved in developing economies. There are also very real everyday problems unbanked individuals face that these services can address.

In Saigon, for example, city workers often send money back home to their families in the villages; if they do not have a bank account and they only use cash, they have to give the money to a taxi driver, pay a high fare for them to drive it to the village and hope they deliver it. Using a taxi driver like this involves high risk, low security and a very high cost for the movement of money. In Vietnam, there are only certain days that people can pay their utilities bills with cash, so people often have to queue for hours to pay in person – this is a huge drain on time and often requires people to travel significant distances at significant cost to pay the bills.

While there are typically fees associated with all transactions, including mobile transactions, in Asian markets such as Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia, paying the fee for a secure, simple transaction would for many people be well worth the cost. Furthermore, over time, these fees will likely reduce, as more banked people will lead to greater competition to serve them.

Mobile is already showing its potential in developing markets. In Cambodia, Fiserv worked with ACLEDA to deploy mobile banking solutions that offered existing customers a compelling set of mobile banking, alerting and payment capabilities. ACLEDA then expanded its services with Fiserv to make mobile financial services available to the 85 percent of Cambodians who were without a formal banking relationship, allowing them to make P2P payments, bill payments, mobile phone top ups and even cash deposits and withdrawals via ACLEDA branches, ATMs and offline offices.
Across emerging market deployments from Fiserv within various countries, more than half of consumers who sign up for mobile banking and payment services are ‘net new’ to the bank. And most of those are new to banking altogether.

The opportunity to leverage the mobile channel to reach, engage and bank the underbanked and unbanked is clear. Financial institutions that move quickly to implement appropriate technologies and strategies tailored to the regions they serve can outmaneuver non-traditional rivals and secure new customers as they build lasting relationships with individuals emerging economies.