Step inside the laptop bank

In the world of social innovation, many of the smartest ideas focus on “market inefficiencies” and, in particular, ways of reducing them. As increasing numbers of mobile operators implement airtime transfer systems and mobile money functionality on their networks – particularly in developing countries – opportunities also increase for locally-run microfinance institutions and their customers at the bottom of the pyramid.

In the spirit of social innovation, Ben Lyon recognised the opportunity early. The result? FrontlineSMS:Credit – a first in laptop banking – announced last week at Africa Gathering in London.

FrontlineSMS:Credit landscape

The concept is simple:

FrontlineSMS:Credit aims to make every formal financial service available to the entrepreneurial poor in 160 characters or less. By meshing the functionality of FrontlineSMS with local mobile payment systems, implementing institutions will be able to provide a full range of customizable services, from savings and credit to insurance and payroll

The FrontlineSMS:Credit system is in essence a convergence of SMS-aggregating software and mobile commerce systems, which together provide an efficient and accessible platform for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to deliver and track loans via Short Message Service (SMS). Since FrontlineSMS:Credit utilises the widely available GSM wireless telephone network, implementing MFIs need neither an Internet connection nor a permanent office to conduct business. Not only that, MFIs will be able to make use of alternative power sources such as solar panels, allowing them to operate ‘off the grid’. This could provide a comparative advantage for those working in rural and underserved areas.

FrontlineSMS:Credit Uses

Based on the successful FrontlineSMS:Medic model, FrontlineSMS:Credit is a new venture, and Ben is currently building his team. He has a range of vacancies for anyone interested in helping develop the concept. A number of large microfinance-based institutions, and major international development agencies, have already expressed strong interest in being part of his “democratising finance” movement. Further details of the project, and current vacancies, are available on the project website at http://credit.frontlinesms.com

Congratulations Ben!

(You can read an earlier article on CreditSMS (now FrontlineSMS:Credit) on  PC World here)

293 thoughts on “Step inside the laptop bank

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  35. kiwanja says:

    @Ed – A big thanks to you for allowing us to announce the launch. Africa Gathering is a great platform for initiatives like this

    @Mike – You know about my interest in local currencies and LETS schemes. It’s funny, but we did have a conversation around a similar kind of SMS initiative a year or two ago. FrontlineSMS:Credit will only work on the back of a network operator-provided money transfer system, so we’ll have to wait a little longer in the UK before we can do anything. 🙁

    @Joshua – Tell me more!

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