For thirty years, the Sogebank Group, the parent company of Arc partner Sogexpress the leading money transfer and payment services company in Haiti, has been innovating in the banking market. From being an early mover with ATMs in the 1980s, to mobile banking this decade, the company has led the Haitian banking sector in improving the customer experience.Read
Yet, Haiti remains one of the most financially excluded markets in the hemisphere, with only 20 percent of Haitians having a bank account. To help address this, Sogebank has developed a new product called SogeIzi (pronounced Soge-EASY). SogeIzi is a savings model targeted at poor and rural Haitians. The target market includes street agents that sell solar lighting products on consignment with support made possible by technical assistance funded by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the IDB Group, and USAID, and provided by Arc Finance.
Recognizing that like many other Haitians, many of these agents are financially excluded, Sogebank is offering them the possibility to save their income as well as make payments using a debit card (Izicash card). They will be able to use a range of locations within the broad Sogebank Group network (not just the brick-and-mortar Sogebank branches), including Sogexpress stores and ATMs. The clients benefitting from this program, including potentially many of Sogexpress’ solar agents, will be able to access a basic bank account, enabling them to save, earn interest and conduct transactions all over the country, in rural or urban areas, irrespective of whether there is a Sogebank branch nearby.
Simplicity is a hallmark of the program. Sogexpress believes it is important to make it as easy as possible for financially excluded customers to make financial transactions while keeping operating costs low. Accounts can be opened in 10 minutes, using a single identification document and a low initial deposit (HTG 300, or US$5). Customers are provided with a starter kit of an Izicash debit card, explanatory documentation, a PIN, transaction registration, and free enrolment in the Sogemobile (mobile bank account access) and other Sogebanking programs.
SogeIzi is particularly valuable for the agents selling solar lighting products under the program Arc has implemented with Sogexpress. The initiative helps to bring them into the formal financial sector with the associated advantages. It works in tandem with the consignment finance model, which provides solar products on credit to the agent. The extended opening hours of Sogexpress stores (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays) compared to Sogebank branches is designed to accommodate the needs of clients such as agent entrepreneurs, as is the 24/7 access to their account and execution of transactions through ATMs, Sogebanking and Sogemobile.
As Dominique Policard, Executive Commercial Director at Sogexpress, describes it, this new product is timely, “enabling Sogexpress to take another step in supporting the network of sales agents to increase their livelihoods through financial access and by facilitating savings”. Policard says that the Sogebank Group wants to bring the financially excluded in Haiti into the financial sector, ensuring that even the very poor have access to basic and affordable financial services. This effort is particularly significant in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the hemisphere, with very low levels of financial access and literacy.
The agent consignment model launched by Sogexpress with the support of USAID, MIF/IDB and Arc Finance will benefit over 1,000 agents by the end of 2016. Hopefully many of these people will be able to benefit from the financial access and flexibility of this innovative new program. SogeIzi will be an important way to bring these entrepreneurs into the formal financial sector; enabling them to save, pay and transfer money safely, quickly and affordably as they build their businesses and bring quality clean energy to their customers.