Geo-spatial mapping for financial inclusion has proven its worth

Charles Marwa

Map circles. Source: Dreamstime stock images.

Geo-spatial mapping, also known as GIS mapping, provides a visual display of otherwise dull financial inclusion statistical data creating a potent and easy-to-understand overview of a country’s financial inclusion landscape.

Essentially, it makes the invisible market visible.

Connecting those dots is important and powerful, for many reasons. It provides the ability to measure the progress of the accessibility of financial services by tracking the location of access points. The integration with population and other domestic datasets gives financial inclusion data context and comparability. And the process offers an opportunity for regular consultation and dialogue between private and public stakeholders.

Still, the decision to commit resources to pursue geo-spatial mapping can be difficult for regulators and stakeholders. It is an expensive and high-maintenance process that involves developing and managing technologies, tools and multiple partnerships, along with expertise, as well as numerous pieces of data that when assembled together form an online map requiring frequent revisions to remain relevant. The effort requires a high level of coordination and collaboration with a clear but flexible leadership structure. Some work will need to be outsourced, and regulators must be willing to cede authority and compromise power while maintaining ownership in a process that can be difficult to understand at times.

Furthermore, specialized IT software and hardware is needed, while data must be compiled from various sources—for example, coordinates of access points from service providers and population data from the national statistical bureau—as well as updated frequently. This last point is particularly noteworthy. In one instance, a member of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s (AFI) Financial Inclusion Data Working Group (FIDWG) reported that after undertaking a national data collection exercise, the data became outdated at the time of completion as a significant number of new access points had been created on the ground driven by enrollment of new mobile agents. This underscores the importance of adequate consultation and involvement of all stakeholders at project inception, lack of which often contributes to low usage of the resulting GIS maps. After all the aim is to produce evidence for use in financial inclusion policymaking, product design and market intelligence.

However, the rewards are valuable enough to regulators that all 42 members of FIDWG are currently in various stages of developing financial inclusion GIS maps. This stands in contrast to two years ago when only a handful of countries (Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia) had geo-spatial mapping projects, most of which were conducted as a part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor mapping project.

In Fiji's Serua Province, GIS mapping revealed most access points were located where there is network coverage, mainly along the coastal line.

In Fiji’s Serua Province, GIS mapping revealed most access points were located where there is network coverage, mainly along the coastal line.

There are several reasons for this dramatic uptake in such a short time. First, there is increasing evidence of GIS mapping providing insights on previously unserved groups (such as the Fiji example in the image above). Additionally technology is becoming more available and affordable. Basic smart phones and computers are increasingly able to undertake a lot of the tasks. There are also many companies providing technical support and many institutions are willing to partner with countries to make the project successful. And most important for FIDWG members, there is the knowledge sharing and support from peers that is inherent from being a part of the AFI Network.

GIS mapping has proven its worth. It is an intelligent investment that leads to smarter policies and better product development by the market. As we move forward, the cost of not investing in geo-spatial mapping is becoming too high—especially when the alternative is choosing to remain in the dark.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Charles Marwa is the Senior Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. He can be followed on Twitter @CharlesMarwa_CM.

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