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Updated: February 13, 2013 10:39 IST

Banking on solutions

Falguni Verma
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Campaign: Eko spreads the word.
Campaign: Eko spreads the word.

Providing banking services to the disadvantaged can be rewarding in more ways than one

Accessibility of formal financial services like savings, remittances, credit or insurance to the low income and low literacy level populations is a major challenge in the country. OkeKey, a project started by Eko India Financial Services Pvt. Ltd, has come up with a solution by providing low cost banking services to the disadvantaged through a secure mobile phone based mechanism.

According to Abhinav Sinha and Abhishek Sinha, founders of Eko India, “OkeKey is as much about empowerment for the customer as it is about security. The idea was to create one-time-use numerical passwords from the users’ PIN using randomly generated paper based tokens. It’s simple, easy and secure.”

Abhinav and Abhishek found there was a huge space for banking services for people earning somewhere between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 15,000. Since, people in this income bracket do not simply walk into a bank to avail the services; this innovation has found a way around it. On the basis of a selection criterion, Eko selects kirana shops, pharmacies, grocery stores, IRCTC booking centres; turns them into bank retail outlets, and trains their employees for providing basic banking services to these under provided people.

Usually, employees in pharmacies, grocery stores, and the like are aware of only basic banking services. So Eko India trains them in the mechanics and technicalities of mobile banking services. This technical training, awareness, and knowledge of the local environment helps in pulling crowds and in making people trust them.

Project OkeKey has 2,000 outlets spread across 11 States. Outlets in Delhi-NCR, Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are more active as compared to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or typically rural areas where literacy rates are low and technology is not prevalent. “The challenge with such a project is lack of awareness. Rural places with low literacy rates lead to more difficulties. In such cases, we need to depend on the familiarity of the people with local shopkeepers, and their trust in them. We also resort to wide public awareness through street plays, dances and games,” says Abhinav.

The impact of this innovation has been encouraging: it is now being used for incentive disbursal for ASHA workers in Sheikhpura district in Bihar; savings for unbanked women in Banaras; and provides remittances into remote bank accounts from migrant workers in cities.

The project recently won an award under the Information and Communication Technology) led Social Innovation by Social Enterprise presented by NASSCOM Social Innovation Honours (NSIH).

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