As a means of reaching underserved customers at low cost, financial institutions have designated authority and responsibility to banking agents to deliver financial products and services. Agent banking is a model for delivering financial services whereby an institution — be it a financial service provider or a mobile network operator — partners with a retail agent to extend services in remote or hard-to-reach areas.
Innovative financial institutions are streamlining and digitizing their processes, and utilizing real-time data and analytics to increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of agent networks.
Despite the growing volume of agents, the agent network model is rife with utilization and operational challenges. The good news is that technology offers financial institutions an opportunity to make agent models more efficient and productive for themselves and their customers. Based on in-depth interviews with industry experts and senior bank officers, and supplemented by a review of the literature, this brief examines the role of technological innovation as a potential driver for improving the quality and maximizing the productivity of agent models.
We found it useful to study this topic across two time-horizons: the short-and long-term; and from the perspectives of the main stakeholders in the agent network triad: the financial institution, the agent, and the customer. This structure allows us to account for two key trends: 1) the diminishing role of cash as a payment form, and 2) an increasing readiness of institutions to embrace digital transformation. It also allows us to explore commonly-cited challenges with agent networks through an illustrative, hypothetical narrative lens, giving voice to each stakeholder group. The narratives are accompanied by real-world examples of how technological integration and innovation has helped to improve and streamline processes within agent networks. Finally, we anticipate that in a future financial services ecosystem that is digital and cashless or cash-lite, we will see the role of the agent evolving from transaction processors to solution providers.