During the first three years at the Helix Institute of Digital Finance, we had generated many more insights than publications given we were also growing a talented team, expanding operations to 11 countries, and garnering more institutional support.
The purpose of this project was to publish a series of landmark publications on agent network management that would highlight some of the most important insights we had come to understand through our research, consulting and training work. Through this contract, I worked with the team at the Helix Institute to co-author four major papers on agent network management.
- One of the frustrations of working with agent networks is that an agent network can only ever be as good as the product it is designed to deliver. This is a huge issue in digital finance where mobile money and agent banking systems have trouble garnering more than a couple transactions per customer per month, even for the small percentage of active customers they are able to recruit.
This paper, Finclusion to Fintech: Fintech product development for low-income markets argues that a fundamentally different approach is needed for mass market product development, it will most likely be led by an emerging class of technology companies, and it has the potential to revolutionize digital finance by developing financial products that people find much more useful and use much more often.
- Before the Helix Institute began its national quantitative surveys on agent networks the industry did not have reliable figures on the number of agents on a country or industry level. Data from the Helix Institute allowed us to compare different figures given by the IMF, GSMA, The Gates Foundation, and Central Banks in respective countries. We used this data to give the first accurate estimates of the number of agents in five leading digital finance countries.
The first major finding of Agents Count: The true size of agent networks in leading digital finance countries was that even in well-studied markets like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh and Pakistan, there was only approximately 25% of the agents that industry experts had been estimating. Secondly, with these accurate figures, we were able to calculate key ratios for agent network management like the number of customers per agent in key markets, which were significantly different than what the industry had thought they were.
- While the Helix Institute worked most closely with leading banks and telecoms in the digital finance space, we saw the emergence of technology companies offering fintech services at both a large opportunity and threat for the digital finance sector. However, there was a lot of mis-understanding of what fintech was, and where these opportunities and threats were, so we wrote Redesigning Digital Finance for Big Data to help explain the emerging dynamic as we understood it.
One of the key arguments presented was that banks and telecoms needed to change their business models to either partner or compete with these new agile players, and we presented four key strategies they should use to stay relevant in the fintech era. These strategies were based upon redefining data as an asset and therefore focusing on improving the quantity and quality of it being collected.
- There was a prominent debate in the digital finance industry regarding the use of over-the-counter (OTC) transaction methodologies. Most thought leaders were stating that providers should avoid using the OTC methodology as it limited revenue streams, as well as the potential for account-based financial inclusion.
In the paper, OTC: A digital stepping stone or a dead-end path?, we reviewed the evidence used to make these arguments and showed that it was far from conclusive. Moreover, we made the argument that it was just as likely that the opposite was true, namely that it was a prudent tool that providers could use as a stepping stone to help mass market customers more comfortably learn how to use a service.