As a means of reaching underserved customers at low cost, financial institutions have designated authority and responsibility to banking agents to deliver financial products and services. Agent banking is a model for delivering financial services whereby an institution — be it a financial service provider or a mobile network operator — partners with a retail agent to extend services in remote or hard-to-reach areas.

Despite the growing volume of agents, the agent network model is rife with utilization and operational challenges. The good news is that technology offers financial institutions an opportunity to make agent models more efficient and productive for themselves and their customers. Based on in-depth interviews with industry experts and senior bank officers, and supplemented by a review of the literature, this brief examines the role of technological innovation as a potential driver for improving the quality and maximizing the productivity of agent models.

We found it useful to study this topic across two time-horizons: the short-and long-term; and from the perspectives of the main stakeholders in the agent network triad: the financial institution, the agent, and the customer. This structure allows us to account for two key trends: 1) the diminishing role of cash as a payment form, and 2) an increasing readiness of institutions to embrace digital transformation. It also allows us to explore commonly-cited challenges with agent networks through an illustrative, hypothetical narrative lens, giving voice to each stakeholder group. The narratives are accompanied by real-world examples of how technological integration and innovation has helped to improve and streamline processes within agent networks. Finally, we anticipate that in a future financial services ecosystem that is digital and cashless or cash-lite, we will see the role of the agent evolving from transaction processors to solution providers.

This work was conducted in partnership with MetLife Foundation and the Institute of International Finance.

Jacqueline Foelster

Former Consultant

Jacqueline has nearly a decade of financial inclusion experience conducting research and implementing projects in emerging markets. In her previous roles as Senior Research Specialist and Consultant for CFI, Jacqueline contributed to research on various topics, such as financial capability and women’s financial inclusion. Prior to joining Accion, Jacqueline worked as a consultant at the International Finance Corporation supporting the Asia Pacific gender team on data collection and monitoring activities for a variety of projects aimed at improving women’s leadership and combatting gender-based violence. Jacqueline also spent several years working at MIX, where she led the deployment of a series of IVR-based surveys called the Voice of the Client. Jacqueline is a Fulbright Scholar and holds a bachelor’s degree in general business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in international economics and Southeast Asia studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).


Amin Khairy

Digital Regulation Policy Advisor, Institute of International Finance

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