Less than a year ago, Donald Beto would reluctantly have to close his primary school for one week every few months just to travel to town and access his salary. Where Donald lives on the Marovo Lagoon in the Islands’ Western Province, life moves at a slower pace, and the infrastructure many of us take for granted is still catching up to demand. He used to spend a large portion of his salary just to get to a bank. “I used to travel sixteen hours in a passenger boat to reach the port at Gizo to do my banking,” Donald says. “I would have to wait for the boat to depart at 12am and it wouldn’t arrive at Gizo until 4pm the next day. Then I had to spend money staying in town and paying my sea fare.”
Such were the difficulties faced by residents within rural communities in the Solomon Island despite today’s vast technological advancements.
Pristine coral reefs, extinct volcanoes and lush tropical rainforests, make the Solomon Islands something of a paradise, but even paradise has its drawbacks. A geographically dispersed population has meant a lack of critical mass in getting key services up and running in rural areas and as recently as 2013, around eighty per cent of Solomon Islanders did not have access to a bank account. Fortunately for Donald and others like him goMoney, a new initiative by the ANZ bank, has changed all that.
The distances involved also meant that Donald was away from work for an entire week, and being a school teacher, the impact was felt not just by Donald, but by his students too. “In the past I was unhappy about going so far because I left my family and students. When I used to go and get my pay I stopped teaching my class and sometimes no one supervised them. My students felt ignored, but I would have to explain the situation to them that I had to go.”
“We really appreciate it. People are accessing banking where they are. We feel that ANZ is taking care of us by providing the service in a rural setting like this.”
Since ANZ introduced mobile banking to the Solomon Islands and many parts of the Pacific in September 2013, managing his finances has been a dream in comparison. It uses mobile phone networks rather than the internet to transform lives in rural communities like Donald’s by giving customers access to deposits, withdrawals and person-to-person (P2P) transfers through selected merchants, who are often existing shopkeepers. “It’s much easier now,” he says.
When Donald wants to make a withdrawal, he calls the merchant up to make sure they have enough cash available and he pays them a visit. The merchant then uses their mobile handset to make a request, they both enter a PIN to authorise the transaction and the merchant gives him the money straight away.
“Now that I have registered for mobile banking , we go over to Seghe in the afternoon to get our pay and it is not necessary for us to leave the students so it doesn’t impact the class. A trip to Seghe takes about 45 minutes and I spend less than SBD$100 (AUD$16) to travel there with other colleagues who also bank there. I’m really happy now because I have enough time to be with the kids in the classroom and I can stay in my house and do other work that I need to do with my family.”
Being able to access this technology is empowering because Donald can check his financial position at the touch of a button. “In the past I had to reach the bank branch at Gizo to see my bank balance. Now I can access it at any time. I just use the mobile phone and all the information necessary is there for me to see.”
He is now seeing a bigger shift taking place as people become more financially literate. “There are certain people who cannot control their money. Whenever they get it, they easily spend it. Mobile banking has reached into our community and helped people save money in the bank and even students are registering for access which means they can start saving early in life.”
In the year since it launched in the Solomon Islands, 23,000 customers had registered for ANZ’s goMoney and there’s no shortage of praise for the service. “We really appreciate it. People are accessing banking where they are. We feel that ANZ is taking care of us by providing the service in a rural setting like this.”
And Donald’s hopes for the future? “I’m hoping to influence others to do their banking with ANZ. I tell people, then they register for access to features like P2P transferring and all that. I believe that I’m helping people.”