January 20, 2011—(Karachi, Pakistan) : United Bank Limited (UBL) announced today that it is receiving support from ShoreBank International Ltd. (SBI) through a $6.9 million grant to SBI from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to scale up the electronic services platform in Pakistan called UBL Omni.
Branchless banking regulations were issued by the State Bank of Pakistan in 2008 to foster financial inclusion in the country. In turn, in early 2010, UBL initiated the first branchless banking product in Pakistan with the aim of developing a countrywide network of agents and a mobile payment platform to extend financial services to low income and unbanked population of Pakistan.
UBL has the distinction of being the pioneers in rolling out the first ever mobile wallet service in South Asia that enabled customers with GSM mobile connections to carry out simple financial transactions using their mobile phones. In the next phase UBL established a wide network of merchants/shop keepers to act as agents in order to facilitate both the account holders and the non-account holder walk-in customers to open accounts, deposit and withdraw cash, make utility bill payments, send or receive money, purchase mobile card vouchers and make postpaid mobile bill payments.
In the first 8 months of the launch of UBL Omni, the business has already facilitated cash aid disbursements for several government and donor agencies, including more than 400,000 beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), the World Food Program (WFP) and most recently to more than 1 million flood affected people using the Watan Cards.
SBI is an international consulting and advisory firm that specializes in supporting financial institutions in emerging markets to reach the underserved and unbanked population and has had a presence in Pakistan since 2005.
A simple signing ceremony was held at a local hotel to mark the joint project between UBL and SBI in Karachi, which was presided by Mr. Shahid Hafeez Kardar, Governor State Bank of Pakistan.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Atif R. Bokhari, President of UBL, said, "With SBI's technical assistance, and the strength of UBL Omni, we aim to support the financial inclusion agenda of the SBP by facilitating the conversion of a large number of non-bank-account-holders into regular bank-account holders, and to incorporate them within the fold of the documented economy. UBL continues the tradition of being at the forefront of offering innovative payment services to Pakistanis across the board, nationwide."
Ms. Laurie J. Spengler, President & CEO, SBI, said, "SBI is delighted to be the implementing partner of this project of national importance for Pakistan. I want to congratulate the UBL team for conceiving and successfully implementing a branchless banking model that has the potential of becoming an affordable payment system for millions of financially excluded people. Pakistan's advent in this field is still nascent but international experience demonstrates that UBL Omni can become an important and highly replicable endeavor."
"Access to banking for the poor is a challenge, due to the high costs and inconvenience, as many live far away from banks," said Jason Lamb, acting deputy director for the Financial Services for the Poor initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Delivering financial services through branchless banking can help the Pakistani people take better advantage of their earnings and build financial security."