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  • ThitsaWorks

Unlocking Financial Inclusion through Digital Financial Literacy


23 June 2023



Myanmar, like many other developing countries, faces significant challenges in achieving financial inclusion, with its rural communities bearing the brunt of financial exclusion. Although agriculture supports many livelihoods and contributes a significant proportion of Myanmar’s GDP, the sector’s key workforce – smallholder farmers residing primarily in rural areas – still lack equitable access to financial services, hindering their productivity and upward economic mobility.


Given the current resource constraints and new challenges, traditional financial institutions, including microfinance institutions, and cooperatives, which have historically served as sources of finance, are currently handicapped in their ability to provide these services, creating a shortage of credit for rural communities. As a result, these communities often rely on informal lending networks and face difficulties in accessing credit, savings, and insurance facilities, limiting their economic opportunities and difficulties to overcome poverty.


Moreover, they heavily rely on cash payments for their businesses despite efforts being made to close the financial access gap. Agriculture is the main livelihood for rural communities, which hosts large numbers of small cash transactions. This poses challenges to farmers as it is risky, costly, time-consuming, and has poor record-keeping, making it difficult for them to manage their finances effectively and limiting their ability to expand and improve yields.



Financial Inclusion Initiatives and the Role of Fintech


Recognizing the importance of financial inclusion, significant steps have been taken at the institutional and national levels to address the challenges faced by rural communities. While traditional financial institutions (such as banks and MFIs) are finding it increasingly difficult and costly to serve rural clients, fintech companies emerge as the new catalysts to help them in bridging the financial inclusion gap.


By leveraging digital financial products and systems, fintech empowers individuals in rural areas, granting them convenient and affordable access to financial services. Through mobile applications, customized financial products and collaboration with responsible lenders, innovative financial technology solutions enable smallholder farmers to access appropriate financial tools, including saving, loans, and payment options, potentially leading to profound transformations in the lives of millions of people.


Expanding financial services to rural areas must be a multi-prong initiative. Availability of FinTech solutions alone, while absolutely necessary, is not sufficient. These solutions need to be customized for targeted demographic and, more importantly, combined with comprehensive digital financial literacy campaigns to ensure meaningful adoption.



Digital Financial Literacy Journey of ThitsaWorks


Since December 2021, ThitsaWorks has been at the forefront of providing DFL training to loan officers from MFIs and entrepreneurs from micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). By leveraging technology to effectively reach target audiences, this program aims to enhance the knowledge of digital finance and safely adopt digital financial services among MFIs, and their clients – primarily rural communities and women, and key stakeholders in Myanmar’s financial landscape.


To date, ThitsaWorks has successfully delivered DFL ToT training to approximately 4,182 staff members (57% of whom are women) from partner organizations. These well-trained individuals, comprising MFI staff and MSME entrepreneurs, are actively sharing their knowledge with clients, reaching over 119,455 end users (67% of whom are women) across Myanmar including women MFI clients, small holder farmers and rural entrepreneurs.





ThitsaWorks’ Collaborations on Digital Financial Literacy Program as Part of the DEAM Project


Through collaboration with LIFT (Livelihoods and Food Security Fund), UNCDF and ThitsaWorks, the Digital Economy and Agricultural Market (DEAM) Support project has developed the DFL gap analysis – screening the existing tools, channels, and stakeholders, as well as consulting with concerned partners. Accordingly, ThitsaWorks has customized the DFL curriculum and tools, and provided digital financial literacy training to the loan officers of the microfinance institutions (MFIs), farmers and rural women in collaboration with the organizations involved in this project. The primary objective of this initiative is to enhance the accessibility of digital financial services while increasing clients’ understanding of digital finance.



As of May 2023, ThitsaWorks has successfully trained a total of 1,185 loan officers. These loan officers have, in turn, effectively passed on their acquired digital financial knowledge, gained through the Training of Trainers (TOT) program, to their clients through in-person interactions. Consequently, this model has enabled us to provide digital financial literacy to a total of 53,457 end users (67% of whom are women).


To disseminate digital financial knowledge and raise awareness about safe adoption of digital financial services and products, ThitsaWorks has also developed informative pamphlets, including information about and access to the up-to-date digital financial services and products available in the market. As of May 2023, a total of 20,800 pamphlets have been successfully delivered to end users through partner organizations.


In addition to these efforts, ThitsaWorks launched a DFL awareness campaign on Facebook page of Re21, ThitsaWorks’ financial mobile app, from February 2023 to March 2023. The campaign featured an engaging video and a survey. This video has garnered over 57,900 reach, while the DFL survey accompanying the video received participation from over 200 individuals.


Re21 is a mobile budget planner which functions as a financial coach to help users develop better financial habits and resilience while educating them on how to stick to their budget and reach their financial goals.
Re21’s DFL module features FIAM Curriculum Part 1 and 2, and have already reached over 4.5 K views. Re21’s Facebook page, boasting around 970 K followers, serves as a platform for sharing digital financial knowledge and money management tips with the public.


Empowering Lives: the Transformative Impact of Digital Financial Literacy


Through partnerships, training initiatives and accessible curricula, ThitsaWorks has been disseminating DFL knowledge and empowering communities. The followings indicate how our DFL program contributes to the positive impact on the socio-economic status of individual lives:


Recognizing the value of DFL in promoting digital safety and financial inclusion, an official from one of the key partner MFIs said, “With the DFL knowledge along with the TOT training, I believe our loan officers can also help to promote valuable knowledge in our society by improving digital safety and financial inclusion. Last but not least, we are delighted to partner with ThitsaWorks in disseminating DFL knowledge to our loan officers and clients.” ​


One individual, Daw San Nwe from Yangon, Thongwa Township, experienced a remarkable transformation through DFL training. She expressed, “Initially, I struggled to even use mobile phones. However, after receiving DFL training from ThitsaWorks, I gained knowledge on various aspects, such as opening mobile wallet accounts, digital financial services, bank transfers, account security, loan interest calculation, money-saving techniques, and systematic financial management. I will share this newfound knowledge with others to help them take charge of their financial well-being.”



Shwe Minn Tha Foundation, which educates people with disabilities, has found DFL to be highly suitable for their needs. “The curriculum is easy to understand for people with disabilities. As it includes sign language for hearing-impaired persons and an audio system for vision-impaired persons, it is the most suitable curriculum to educate people with disability on how to use digital technology”, expressed U Aung Thu, the Assistant Regional Officer at the Shwe Minn Tha Foundation, highlighting the accessibility of ThitsaWorks’ DFL curriculum and its positive impacts on the daily lives of individuals with disabilities.



The Interactive Approach/Progressive Elaboration


Through the implementation of our digital financial literacy programmes, we have gained valuable insights and lessons that will guide us in future endeavors. Firstly, as soon as we had observed the time constraints faced by loan officers caused by many challenges in the current environment, we immediately learned to accommodate this, by means of shortening the lesson duration allowed while maximizing the impact of the programme within their busy schedules. Secondly, we consistently ensured that additional checks to ensure compliance with stakeholder requirements were made, and the strict standards to protect sensitive information were upheld.



Conclusion


In order to build a stronger and resilient economic foundation in Myanmar, it is crucial to continue promoting financial inclusion by expanding not only tech solutions but also digital financial literacy and awareness in Myanmar. Partnerships, training initiatives, and accessible curricula will play a vital role in disseminating DFL knowledge and empowering communities. By equipping individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge, Myanmar can overcome the barriers to financial inclusion and foster greater economic growth and prosperity for all its citizens.



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About LIFT:


The Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT) is a multi-donor fund set up in 2009, aiming to strengthen the resilience and sustainable livelihoods of poor households by helping people to reach their full economic potential. This is achieved through increasing incomes, improving the nutrition of women and children, and decreasing vulnerabilities to shocks, stresses and adverse trends. LIFT is a significant actor in Myanmar’s development. To date, of the most vulnerable people, around 12.4 million of Myanmar’s population have benefitted from LIFT’s programmes.

LIFT has received funding from altogether 16 international donors since it was established. The current donors are the UK, the European Union, Switzerland, Australia, the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Norway.


To learn more about LIFT, please visit: www.lift-fund.org.




About UNCDF:


The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is the United Nations' flagship catalytic financing entity for the world’s 46 Least Developed Countries (LDCs). With its unique capital mandate and focus on the LDCs, UNCDF works to invest and catalyze capital to support these countries in achieving ​the sustainable growth and inclusiveness envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, 2022–2031.


UNCDF builds partnerships with other UN organizations, as well as private and public sector actors, to achieve greater impact in development; specifically by unlocking additional resources and strengthening financing mechanisms and systems contributing to transformation pathways, focusing on such development themes as green economy, digitalization, urbanization, inclusive economies, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.


A hybrid development finance institution and development agency, UNCDF uses a combination of capital instruments (deployment, financial & business advisory and catalyzation) and development instruments (technical assistance, capacity development, advocacy, thought leadership, and market analysis and scoping) which are applied across five priority areas (inclusive digital economies, local transformative finance, women’s economic empowerment, climate, energy & biodiversity finance, and sustainable food systems finance).


To learn more about UNCDF, please visit: https://www.uncdf.org/



About ThitsaWorks:


ThitsaWorks is a FinTech company that provides digital payment and data analytics solutions for financial institutions to transact, collect, manage and analyze data needed to run effective operations and manage risks. ThitsaWorks’ data-driven solutions help financial institutions grow and make better credit decisions, and improve financial inclusion by providing users with access to financial literacy, financial information and appropriate financial products. ThitsaWorks’ solutions include core banking software, microfinance data sharing platform, digital financial literacy platform, and interoperable payment switch platform.


To learn more about ThitsaWorks, please visit: https://www.thitsaworks.com/







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