Digital banking services in the DRC

The offices of the TMB Bukavu bank are located on Avenue Patrice Emery Lumumba in the buildings of the former Volksbank. Right in front of TMB Bukavu is a money exchange office with a billboard that reads: “Pepele Mobile: the solution to manage all my finances via my mobile. Pepele Mobile, let’s revolutionize banking!”

The Pepele Mobile counter is managed by Amisi John who is in his thirties. After studying business economics in Bujumbura, John started working as an independent sales representative in this company in November 2019. From its launch, the Pepele Mobile application has been appreciated by customers. From the 20th of each month, the payroll for civil servants is paid in the provinces of the DRC. During this period, TMB Bank is overrun by customers, mostly civil servants.

Teachers, police, military personnel and other customers flock to the counters of the bank to withdraw their monthly salaries. Some customers come from the immediate vicinity but also from far away and travel up to 100 km to reach the bank in the city. Due to the loss of the internet connection, some customers from the (distant) environment are forced to wait 48 hours for their payment. It was in this context that the Pepele Mobile system was born. An application created in the context of banking services thanks to the creative thinking of young academics.

Despite the banking of Congolese state agents’ salaries, access to banks continues to increase, as evidenced by a senior Congolese authority: “When we arrived in 2007, senators and political and administrative staff received their wages in Congolese francs. They came home with pay packets, exposing them to all kinds of uncertainty. I ended this outdated procedure by dollarising and digitizing the payroll”, says Léon Kengo.

As part of the same dynamic, the new commercial bank Equity-BCDC is committed to meeting the challenge of supporting the Congolese economy. This by promoting access to banks for all Congolese and by financing small and medium-sized enterprises. Célestin Mukeba (Managing Director of Equity-BCDC) sets out the priorities for his action: “The first is to improve financial inclusion or banking. Today it hovers around 7%. That’s very weak. While in other countries such as Kenya, for example, we are at 80%. You cannot have economic development as long as people or companies are excluded from the banking sector. So that’s going to be a change that we’re going to make”.

What is the outcome… more than 5 years after banking?

After all, only 4% of the population has a traditional bank account. So it is the mobile payment applications that are offered to all those people who do not use a banking service.

Professor Mutabazi Augustin is an economist and chartered accountant. He gives his analysis of this reform:

“Access to banks has reduced fraud because many fictitious agents were paid by the public treasury. With this reform, there have been significant savings. But the reform has not been without problems. The main difficulty is that the banks are not scattered everywhere. Banks are only present in a few major cities and therefore domestic officials, who live outside the city, find it extremely difficult to withdraw their money. They are not even informed that the bills have been funded, they come to verify. Imagine: someone who comes to check if the bill has been funded and he arrives and finds that it is not done yet because it is at the end of the month. He leaves again or he stays because he learns that the bill has been filled but is not accessible and because the queue is long. This phenomenon is visible during the pay period to the military, police and other officials. More than 500 people stand in front of the benches. The latter do not open enough counters also because it is a cost problem. Therefore, it happens that an agent stays in Bukavu for 3 days to receive the equivalent of 100 dollars”.

Digital as a way out

Faced with these challenges, digital technology would reduce ticket transportation. The advantage of the DRC is that the Congolese often make technological leaps. This is the case of a farmer who has never touched a typewriter but now has access to the computer; he has never had a home telephone connection, but he does work with a digital telephone. Everyone nowadays knows how to receive money over the phone in their village, despite the high withdrawal fee of about 1%. This system is a step forward from the old way of carrying tons of banknotes every month.