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Microfinance Now: Roar Bjaerum

Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing markets for mobile banking. In this interview Roar Bjaerum of Telenor explains why branchless banking is taking off across the country. Bjaerum says that Pakistan is seeing a convergence between the need for services coming from large numbers of unbanked people in the country, enlightened regulation, and the business opportunity that banks, telecom companies, and other businesses have begun to identify. Changes to regulation in 2008 sparked an opportunity, and today there are many new players coming into the market. The challenge, according to Bjaerum, will be to move from a transaction-based model into full financial inclusion for the people of Pakistan. “Where we are today,” says Bjaerum, is “very much just the beginning.” Money transfers can help people manage cash flow and absorb shocks. But money transfers don’t address the full set of needs implied by the term “financial inclusion”. The next step, says Bjaerum, will be to launch more sophisticated services like insurance services, savings services, and eventually loans using technology to lower costs so that reaching poor people living in rural areas represents a viable business opportunity.

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