By Prof. Peter Quartey – Executive Director, ReFinD; Director, ISSER 
Bridging Financial Gaps: The Role of Agent Networks in Inclusive Finance

Image: Mobile money agent with neighbor, Indonesia. Credit: Yunaidi Joepoet / Arete / World Bank

In the global push for financial inclusion,  agent networks have emerged as a game-changer. Powered by Digital Financial Services (DFS), agency banking is overcoming the limitations of traditional “brick and mortar” banks to reach last-mile communities.      

In Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), where traditional banking infrastructure mis often scarce, agency banking has gained significant traction. The World Bank Global Payments System Survey (WBGPSS, 2020) reports that agent networks facilitate crucial transactions globally, including person-to-person (P2P) payments (90% at the global level), bill payments (88%) and international remittances (84%). According to GSMA (2024), agents digitized two-thirds of money entering the mobile money ecosystem (i.e., $307 billion)  in 2023, representing a 12% year-on-year growth.   



Driving inclusion through innovation 

Agent networks are transforming Financial Service Providers’ (FSP) offerings by enabling the uptake and  growth of mobile money markets. FSPs are leveraging new agent models to expand Cash-In-Cash-Out (CICO) networks, bundling financial and non-financial services, diversifying agent revenue streams, and digitizing rural value chains. These models have reduced expansion costs, improved product visibility, and facilitated economic digitization in hard-to-reach communities. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

Despite thriving in urban and peri-urban areas, agent networks face challenges in remote communities. High start-up costs, inadequate liquidity, lack of incentives for rural operators, among other factors, hinder expansion efforts. Evidence-led research is critical to understand and address these challenges and extend agent networks to last-mile communities.   

Thankfully, innovative, research-based solutions are on the horizon, driven by the Retail Finance Distribution (ReFinD) Research Initiative hosted at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana. 

Expanding the reach of agent networks through public policy and commercial solutions 

The ReFinD Research Initiative, hosted at ISSER, University of Ghana is leading efforts to tackle these challenges. ReFinD supports interventions to enhance the reach and efficiency of agent network operations through rigorous research and promotion of scalable policy and commercial solution. 

 Since its inception in June 2022, ReFinD has awarded 18 subgrants to institutions across sub-Sahara Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The research covers themes such as gender and agent network development, market conduct, last-mile extension, competition and agent operation efficiency.  

Text Box 

In an increasingly digital world, agent networks powered by DFS offer hope for financial inclusion among vulnerable and excluded communities. By facilitating a wide range of transactions and driving digitization, these networks are bringing widespread financial inclusion within reach. Initiatives like ReFinD are a crucial role  in realising this promise through innovative research and evidence-based solutions.