National Bank of Samoa launches Ezibank

The National Bank of Samoa (N.B.S.) and Digicel are removing unnecessary trips to the bank with the first mobile money to bank system in the Pacific.

Their new product is Ezibank, a new feature on Digicel’s *888# menu where users can transfer money directly into an N.B.S. bank account. 

N.B.S. Chief Executive Officer, Tu’u’u Amaramo Sialaoa, said with Ezibank, banking customers don’t wait in long queues at the banks.

With expensive travel and inconvenience out of the picture, people may be more likely to save money by transferring money straight into the bank, withdraw as needed and keep some aside for a rainy day.

Competitive interest rates on savings will incentivise people to keep some money in the bank, he said.

Digicel’s current mobile money system is mainly utilised for sending and receiving of remittances from overseas.

Before Ezibank, users could receive remittances to their cell phones, and withdraw money from the bank. 

Today, they have the option to transfer funds directly into their N.B.S. bank account and withdraw from any of its ATM machines or Digicel agent around the country.

Chairperson of the N.B.S. Board, Va'atuitui Apete Meredith said the amount of money spent in consumption channels rather than being saved was concerning.

“When you have to travel hours on the bus just withdraw money, you withdraw it all and it’s hard to keep it,” Va'atuitui said.

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“This way, customers can withdraw money from lots of agents as they need it and put some aside for later.

“Samoa receives something like $45 million tala every year in remittances. If people saved just 10 percent of that, think of the impact that could have on their lives,” Va’atuitui said.

The partnership between Digicel and N.B.S. is unique, according to Digicel C.E.O. Farid Mohammed. 

Mobile banking and formal banking are usually in competition to receive remittances for customers, he said.

“This product opens a door for more collaboration between banks and telecoms with financial inclusion as the goal,” said Mr. Mohammed.

Financial inclusion is the work of integrating rurally based and low-income people into the formal banking sector to help them better manage their funds.

With this in mind, N.B.S. and Digicel partnered with the United Nations Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (P.F.I.P.), who with funding from the New Zealand Government, helped develop the product.

Mr. Mohammed said he wanted to leverage Digicel’s wide reach across Samoa to benefit people financially.

“We see just how quickly people withdraw the funds they receive on their mobile banking, maybe now they will keep some more of it,” said Mr. Mohammed.

P.F.I.P. Financial Inclusion coordinator, Iris Kissiti said an overwhelming majority of remittances received in Samoa never make it to a bank account.

Bank accounts try to reduce vulnerability to fluctuating income, especially for subsistence farmers, by encouraging saving and offering incentives like interest rates, said Ms. Kissiti.

“With 78 per cent of Samoa using a mobile phone, mobile banking is the best method for financial inclusion,” she said.

P.F.I.P. will continue to work with N.B.S. and Digicel as the product is rolled out to help improve it as demand grows.

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