Haiti’s First Mobile Money Solution to Maximize NGO Resources and Expand Access to Financial Services
BELLEVUE, Wash. – Wireless phones in hand, the people of Haiti are on the cusp of entering the realm of mobile money, expanding banking services beyond traditional bank branches. Today, Haitian wireless operator Voilà, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Trilogy International Partners, and Unibank, Haiti’s premier financial institution, are teaming with international relief and development agency, Mercy Corps, to announce the launch of a humanitarian assistance program utilizing Haiti’s first mobile money solution. This program will enable Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work, grant and food voucher recipients to use their Voilà phones as ‘mobile wallets.’ This innovative partnership among Voilà, Unibank and Mercy Corps represents a milestone in leveraging wireless technology to spur recovery and development in Haiti. Voilà’s mobile money service provides a safe and convenient form of payment for recipients of donations from organizations such as Mercy Corps.
Looking forward, Voilà and Unibank expect to expand the first-of-its-kind mobile wallet solution being launched with Mercy Corps. Subsequent to Banque de la Republique d’Haiti’s approval (Haiti’s Central Bank), Voilà and Unibank intend to deploy a broad range of mobile money services to the country’s ‘unbanked’ population and expand access to financial services to Haitians in regions unreached by traditional financial service providers.
The program being announced today will enable Mercy Corps to offer, for the first time, cash-for-work, grant and voucher recipients the ability to securely ‘store value’ on their mobile phones, withdraw all or part of their money, transfer funds to family members in need directly from their phones and pay for goods directly from affiliated merchants using their wireless phones. Over the next 9 months, approximately 100,000 Haitians in the impoverished Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions will benefit from Mercy Corps’ cash programs, which will use Voilà’s wireless network to make as many as 250,000 transactions.
“The acute needs of the Haitian people require fast action and mobility,” said Trilogy CEO Brad Horwitz. “Relief organizations need access to the most efficient methods of distribution possible to minimize the cost of providing needed services and programs – historically, up to 40 cents of every dollar was spent on logistics and security associated with moving cash. With the Voilà mobile money solution, this can be reduced to just a few cents. Voilà’s technology platform provides a critical link between relief agencies and the Haitian people. More importantly, mobile money is the key to providing economic opportunity to Haiti’s ‘unbanked’ population. It will help spur the nation's reconstruction."
The program has been in development by UNIBANK and Voilà since last September. For the past eight months, Voilà, Unibank and Mercy Corps have conducted a series of pilot programs to test the new service, gauge user reactions, and incorporate their feedback into training procedures and future service offerings. Overall, the initial response has been enthusiastic, showing that Haitians are ready to embrace mobile money as a safe and reliable option to meet their banking needs.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve had a phone, but this time it is different,” said Pierre Louis Jacques, a 43 year old Haitian father who participated in one of the pilot programs. “I wait for my payment eagerly and without worry. With my money, I’m going to buy food and pay for school for my children. I like this way of paying – the process is easy to learn and there's less risk involved,” said Jacques. Sylmanie Prophete, a 27 year old woman said, “It’s a very good way of paying people because it’s very discrete, people don't know your business -- it’s between us, Mercy Corps and the bank.”
Both Jacques and Prophete participated in the pilot programs as beneficiaries of one of Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work programs, which help Haitians get back on their feet by providing temporary employment to rehabilitate roads, farmland and irrigation systems.
Phil Oldham, Haiti Regional Program Director for Mercy Corps, noted how much confidence the Haitian people have in using mobile banking services. “We’re pleased to see how quickly beneficiaries are embracing the benefits of these new, mobile applications. Mercy Corps is committed to bringing the mobile wallet to Haiti as the first step to “banking the unbanked” – getting comprehensive financial services to the poor. We’re helping build the foundation for economic growth that truly benefits Haiti’s most impoverished families.”
This is the first phase of Voilà’s mobile money service, called ‘T-Cash’ -- telephone cash or, in Creole, ti cash (little cash). Following regulatory approval from Haiti’s Central Bank, Banque de la République d'Haiti (BRH), Voilà and Unibank plan to roll-out T-Cash to NGOs and the larger Haitian population with a full suite of e-wallet services, including domestic and international money transfer, bill pay, top up services, and expanded e-commerce capabilities with a goal to establish hundreds of affiliated merchants and cash in/cash out locations throughout the country over the next several months. As additional banks and wireless carriers prepare their own e-wallet programs in Haiti, UNIBANK and Voilà will develop a comprehensive network that will enable all Haitians to transfer money and complete commercial transactions wirelessly, subject to appropriate consumer protection and financial regulatory safeguards.
“UNIBANK is pleased to participate in this pioneering effort to launch mobile money services in Haiti”, said F. Carl Braun, Chairman of Unibank. “By doing so, it follows its tradition of technological leadership in the Haitian banking sector. Mobile money services will be critical in expanding UNIBANK’s reach beyond traditional bank branches and in integrating the unbanked, particularly in rural areas. Mobile money means that basic financial services will instantly be available throughout the country.”
Voilà is a leading wireless operator in Haiti, serving over a million customers. Since the January 12th earthquake, Voilà has played an instrumental role in providing local and international communications services to over a million Haitian customers, thousands of relief workers, international NGOs, and U.S. government agencies working in Haiti. Since the earthquake struck, wireless has been at the center of first responders’ efforts to identify and rescue survivors, spread critical information on vaccinations and food distributions, and provide health services.
Unibank has been actively involved in providing critical payment solutions for numerous NGOs enabling them to stimulate the economy through job creation programs, and provide lifelines to hundreds of thousands left destitute by the earthquake. The bank’s ability to open its doors to the public shortly after the events of January 12th was key to maintaining confidence in the banking system and provided the peace of mind its many clients needed to start the rebuilding process.
Mercy Corps’ use of mobile technology in Haiti is part of its multi-faceted response to the earthquake. The organization is working toward the long-term economic development of the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley, beginning with temporary employment and small business creation, as well as emergency food and shelter materials, for internally displaced people and local host families. The organization also provides clean water, latrines and emergency income through cash-for-work to thousands of families living in camps in Port-au-Prince.