Why banQi is now more important than ever
As cashless transactions become the new normal, underbanked Brazilians need a digital banking option.
At Airfox, we’ve always believed that mobile technology can deliver greater financial inclusion more fairly, quickly, and effectively than any other means. The continuing coronavirus pandemic shows that mobile solutions might also deliver financial services more safely, too.
A largely misinterpreted comment from a World Health Organization spokesperson in March led to widespread news reports that cash transactions should be avoided due to increased risk of viral spread via banknote surfaces. While the WHO said they were actually just advocating for frequent hand-washing, the mere possibility of increased risk had an immediate impact on transaction practices and preferences around the world.
As an April Bloomberg article noted, “Even with retail stores cleaning more often than ever — if they’re open at all — handling cash or touching payment keypads stands out as a major risk. With contactless pay, you link a bank account or credit card to your phone and then tap the device on a contactless reader or hover over it to trigger payment.” In the first month of the crisis, cash usage in the U.K. fell by more than 60%.
By May, MasterCard’s multi-country survey found that 79% of consumers were using contactless payments. Globally, contactless transactions grew twice as fast as non-contactless transactions in the grocery and drug store categories. By July, The New York Times was reporting that “retailers and restaurants are favoring clicks over cash to reduce exposure for employees…And governments from India to Kenya to Sweden, as well as the United Nations, are promoting cashless payments in the name of public health.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Unfortunately, the shift to cashless transactions mostly impacts those already shut out of traditional banking and credit systems. Underbanked populations across the globe rely on cash-based transactions because they either can’t afford or don’t qualify for fee-laden bank accounts that offer contactless features such as tap-to-pay services.
Last year in Brazil, we conducted a research study surveying people across A, B, and C social classes (the classification criterion used by the Brazilian Association of Research Companies, where persons of class C2 have a mean household income of R$1,625 per month). Among those interviewed, a whopping 89% overall felt that traditional banks charge abusive fees. It’s no wonder that nearly a third of Brazilian adults have no bank account.
But unbanked Brazilians face having to wait in long lines at financial institution branch offices whenever they need to pay a boleto (bill) for utilities like water or electricity or rent or other services and purchases. This not only incurs time and travel costs but increases exposure risk. In addition to frequent hand washing and wearing masks in public, the best way to avoid the virus that causes COVID-19 is to shun crowds, stay home as much as possible, and avoid close contact with others. You can’t do that if you regularly have to travel to a crowded bank and wait in line.
So in Brazil — which currently has more than 2.4 million coronavirus cases and the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death toll — even if handling cash doesn’t necessarily increase your chances of contracting COVID-19, not having access to contactless payment options does.
banQi for safer financial inclusion
Airfox’s digital banking service banQi offers a better solution. On a mission to accelerate financial inclusion for the underbanked within emerging economies, we launched the free banQi mobile app in Brazil so people could pay boletos without leaving home, top-up pre-paid phones with ease, pay for goods and services, or send money instantly to anyone in Brazil with a smartphone.
Since 2018, our users have been able to avoid bank lines and deposit money into banQi conveniently at Via Varejo Casa Bahia stores or via boleto. And as of June, they can also make deposits at neighborhood lotérica stores, making the service even more accessible.
Even before the pandemic, we believed that mobile banking technology presented the best way forward for greater financial inclusion — that’s why we developed banQi. Now that COVID-19 is causing a massive shift toward contactless payment practices, the services banQi provides are more important than ever.