Instructions: Start with a plain white van. Insert several computers. Connect to a power supply as well as a backup power supply. Build connection to a central network. Apply a splashy paint job and finish with enthusiastic staff. Result: A bank on wheels. Okay, the recipe is not that simple, but Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda (UOB)’s newest branch is a mobile branch, a fresh way to provide financial services to Rwanda’s working poor.
UOB’s motto is Bank for All (or Banki ya Bose in Kinyarwanda). Achieving this is a huge challenge in Rwanda, where eight in ten people live outside of cities and most live on less than a few dollars a day. UOB has a network of branches and credit offices throughout this small country (Rwanda is about the size of Maryland), but clients and potential clients still report that the cost (both time and money) of travelling to the closest bank is a major barrier to accessing financial services. The mobile branch provides an alternative banking point where clients can open accounts, deposit savings, apply for loans, withdraw funds and make repayments. It allows UOB to expand its reach by extending banking services to several small communities once or twice a week.
In the picture above, the mobile branch is parked at the market in Kiramaruzi, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. Several vendors in the market were already UOB clients. Thanks to this new economic engine, they no longer have to drive forty minutes to the nearest bank to complete their financial transactions. The mobile branch certainly stands out, promoting the bank and building interest among potential new clients. It also allows UOB to test new markets and evaluate where to build new branches. The mobile bank is driving UOB forward, so that all of Rwanda’s working poor have a chance to steer themselves out of poverty.
Sara Strawczynski is a Kiva Fellow serving her placement with Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda. Stay tuned for Urwego’s first loans on the Kiva website in the coming weeks. In the meantime, consider supporting another worthwhile entrepreneur by checking out Kiva’s current lending opportunities.