Bridging the gap of financial inclusion in DRC

Mary Kashangaki

Assistant Manager, Digital Innovation

In the heart of sub-Saharan Africa lies the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the largest country in the continent, full of potential, but plagued with high poverty levels with an estimated 62% of the population living on less than $2 a day. This reality of financial exclusion where only about 30% of adults have access to formal financial services, not only perpetuates cycles of poverty but also hinders progress towards achieving several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eradicating poverty, promoting economic growth and ensuring inclusive societies.

Hindered by factors like underdeveloped infrastructure, lack of identification documentation and low levels of trust in the financial system, millions of Congolese struggle to access basic financial services essential for economic empowerment and social development. In 2019, FSD Africa joined forces with Equity BCDC, to roll out a programme that leverages an innovative agency banking model to reshape the financial landscape for improved access to financial services in rural and peri-urban communities and households across 18 out of DRC’s 26 provinces.

 How it started

Progress was slow in the beginning with consideration being made for which internal systems would best serve the needs of DRC’s unique infrastructure, as well as developing the right internal capacity necessary to onboard agents and clients alike. Equity BCDC developed a unique ‘Master Agency’ strategy, branded Equity BCDC Express, which allowed them to successfully address the KYC issues caused by lack of identification and supporting documentation. Through the establishment of a network of over 5,000 agents spread across the country, they were able to open over 650,000 new accounts in rural and peri-urban areas, enabling savings for these new clients.

By partnering with private sector players, Equity BCDC provided internet connectivity and renewable power sources to agents in the rural areas to facilitate account opening via their web-based internet solution. The bank also developed a micro-loan scoring tool and are piloting group lending for their clients to allow them to access crucial capital.


The journey

On a recent trip to DRC, we witnessed the tangible and transformative impact of this initiative firsthand. We interacted with the agents who were once struggling, found renewed hope as their livelihoods improved; and clients who were long excluded from formal financial systems, experience a overpowering shift in self-worth and social standing, as they embrace the opportunity to save and transact securely.

What began as a dream evolved into an evident reality—a reality where farmers in Nsele can send money to their children in Kinshasa with a simple USSD code effortlessly without enduring long commutes. Where garbage collectors in Masina can reinvest their earnings to build a better future and inspire their community. Where women in Bunkeya  foster empowerment and begin to see beyond traditional barriers, recognising the opportunities that access to finance affords.

Transactions to transformation

In collaboration with EBCDC, at the recent project closeout event held in April 2024, we brought together government officials, private sector leaders and stakeholders to celebrate milestones, share insights and mark a shared commitment to continue the drive for a more inclusive future.

It was demonstrable that for those once marginalised, a bank account is not just a means to save money; it’s a symbol of hope and belonging. With each success story, the case for financial inclusion in DRC grows stronger, igniting a ripple effect of change across the region. As the project comes to a close after 4 years, we reflect on the lessons learned that resonate deeply.

Such initiatives will help address the financial needs of 73% of the financially excluded population in DRC and are crucial in building resilience for themselves and their households, enabling them to tackle the challenges of survival with renewed tenacity. While challenges still exist, Equity BCDC’s experience shows that they are not insurmountable, and we will continue to support the bank’s journey in doing so.

Find out more about our work with Equity BCDC here.