The workshop is filled slowly, as the trainees discuss the weekend, the weather and the lockdown measures currently affecting Myanmar’s Yangon District. The workshop, the first day of what is set up to be a groundbreaking project, will see these participants become competent in the operation and maintenance of Cufa’s new DigiCUD program. They are Cufa’s Myanmar staff members, with prior experience in our Credit Union Development Program.
We mentioned in the last newsletter about how Thura, one of Cufa’s existing CUD members interacts with his local credit union, now we are progressing to project implementation, with training commencing designed to take our staff through everything on the BanQin mobile application. This sophisticated and secure application was designed in house by BanQin, a sister company to Bank-Genie, a South East Asia focused telecommunications company. Their expertise in the South East Asian area has meant that they are keenly aware of the context and conditions that are unique to the region. BanQin’s company mission is to improve the lives of the vulnerable and disadvantaged by enabling, through mobile banking initiatives, social mobility, poverty reduction and access to banking for those who do not already have their own bank accounts. In a recent interview with NextGen Core Banking Solutions, Dr Peter Mason, Cufa’s CEO, details how for several years, Cufa has been looking for a mobile banking solution, and it was not until now, that Cufa has been confident with a product.
Now, even though Cufa and Bank Genie share common goals, what does it actually mean for Thura, and more importantly the Rural Burmese who remain unable to access vital banking and financial services? What it delivers for our current and future credit union members is a complete mobile banking service, enabling them to complete transactions, with sophisticated security system, whilst also enabling features like credit scoring to enable further financial services. Each credit union offers their own financial loan and savings products, tailored to their community needs, all available on phones that can be purchased at an affordable price.
For the members of our credit unions in Myanmar, the ability to see their bank balance grow in their hands with the training that Cufa provides enables them to watch their savings grow in their hands, or request a loan application far away from their home.
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A rhythmic hum of sowing machines permeates the small room, as Ohn San attempts to finish her most recent work. Ohn San, who lives in Pin Int Village in Myanmar, began her hand made goods business in 2015, focusing on gift making, and then branching out from there. When she heard that Cufa was running a program focused on business management, she quickly signed up, eager to grow her skills.
The program with support from UNDP, gave her the necessary understanding needed to grow her business. Ohn like many entrepreneurs understand the basics of ensuring your costs do not outweigh your profits, but don’t factor in how important things such as bookkeeping are to a business. Cufa’s training, conducted virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Ohn’s outlook on her business. Ohn has been able to walk away from the lessons with a greater comprehension of the skills needed to grow her business.
Shwe, like Ohn, is an entrepreneur, but is new to being her own boss. Hearing the Cufa was offering a series of workshops to helping inspiring entrepreneurs, she joined up. Joining a separate start up focused pathway, which gave her more pertinent knowledge. Cufa was able to provide her a daily allowance to work around her daily work needs and ran virtual classes to ensure Covid-19 safety. After participating in the lessons, her belief in her future possibilities grew. “I came up with ideas by self-confident on how to do a business at the end of the training, so I will apply the lessons learned in the training in my fishery business” she states cheerfully. She hopes to go forward and share her skills with her community and attend future training sessions.
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We often are asked if we know where the food we eat comes from; but rarely do we ever inquire into the experiences of these farmers, like Daw (pictured above). Daw lives in a village in the Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar and grows Guava in her family farm. She has been a proud Guava farmer for over 20 years, and it has been her main source of income. Growing Guava is quite advantageous, as they are a hardier crop, well suited to many soil types, and well suited to the warm and wet climate of the Ayeyarwady.
As we walk around her guava field, she shows us her guava trees, burdened by ripening guavas, now only weeks away from harvest. In the 20 years she has been growing, she hasn’t been able to see a significant growth in her profits or a growth in her savings. Three years ago, she heard about one of our village savings banks and decided to join up. Daw participated in workshops on saving, bookkeeping and interest rate management, becoming a regular in the meetings that Cufa Myanmar delivered. Working with her village savings bank, Daw took out loans to help grow her farm, buying new equipment to increase production. After paying back her loan, she quickly saw a return on investment.
Due to the pandemic, farming has become tougher. Laws designed to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by limiting social interactions have resulted in village markets, previously bustling with local buyers and wholesalers, unable to operate daily. Daw, unable to rely on her traditional income source, and needing to still support a family of six, turned to her village savings bank. Thanks to the savings she had accumulated and a loan from her village savings bank, she has been able to weather the worst of the pandemic. Daw’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged some of her neighbors to join the village savings bank as well.
There are good odds that you have checked your bank account on your phone in the last week, maybe even transferred money across or used your paywave to buy a coffee. According to a Mozo survey conducted in October 2019, 1 in 4 banking customers had considered or already switched to one of the new all mobile banks. and 3 in 4 Australians conduct the majority of their banking on a smartphone or a computer 1 . The Australian banking experience is well developed, with significant options for the consumer to choose from. Australians also get the latest technology, including the innovations of the neo banks; fully digital banks , without the traditional, physical branches. This wealth of options and continued innovations have made banking ubiquitous in Australia. However, this is not the case in Myanmar.
Thura lives in Shan State, located in the east side of Myanmar. Thura travels 20 mins to his local credit union on his motorbike, a difficult journey through the rugged mountains of the Shan state from his small farm. Thura is a part of the roughly 25 per cent of the rural population which has access to a bank account through Cufa. As he enters the main village, he passes vendors, lorry drivers and police officers all fixated on their phones, as unlike banks, smartphones are everywhere.
93 percent of Myanmar’s population has access to a smart phone, made accessible by the existence of smart phones as cheap as $20 USD. Thura approaches one of his credit union committee members to deposit some of his savings. The process is currently paper based, using traditional bookkeeping methods. This is about to change however, as soon Thura and his Credit Union committee member are about to be a part of an exciting new project, DigiCUD.
Our DigiCUD program, in Partnership with BankQin and PerformPlus, will involve digitising our current 23 credit unions in Myanmar using. This will allow our Credit Union members to facilitate loan originations, approvals, and disbursements, as well as facilitate deposits. This can all be done of the standard 2G Network (for Australian readers; Australia received the 2G network in 1993!). After digitizing our current credit unions, we hope to introduce an additional 90 villages to the power of credit unions, made easy thanks to the new app.
Our Pilot Program launches soon, and we hope to share our successes and insight with you as Cufa goes on the journey to deliver the power of banking into the hands of those who need it most.
If you would like to find out more about our current Credit Union Development Projects, click here
1Watson, T, 2019 ,MOZO, Top 9 Revealed : The Banking Apps that took out the 2019 MOZO Expert Choice Awards, https://mozo.com.au/fintech/top-9-revealed-the-banking-apps-that-took-out-2-19-mozo-expert-choice-awards , 22 February 2019.
Many of us have hoped to get fitter or read more books during the pandemic, but much like our new year's resolutions, it's not always gone to plan. But for Akara Sok, 8, the pandemic has been a time to learn something that will have life changing consequences.
Cufa Staff in Cambodia have been conducting home visits, a strategy we have incorporated into our CFL program since the beginning to encourage families to participate in savings, at an increased rate due to the closure of schools. Traditionally, we would originally aimed for 40 home visits during the April to June Period, but we have been able to visit over 5 times that. Thanks to this consistent effort by Cufa’s staff, Akara has been able to learn and start saving.
In the brief sunny days between the rains of the monsoon, our staff are welcomed indoors by Akara’s family. While Akara, currently engrossed in her schoolwork, sits with her brother, our staff had a chance to speak with her mother. She says before being a part of the CFL program, Akara would just ask her or her grandmother to buy something, and there was no concept of saving because to Akara, it was just such a small amount.
After receiving the financial literacy training from Cufa, Akara quickly took up saving money. She started saving 200 riels a day (Just over 5 cents), and with consistent discipline and a bit of extra savings on the side, she was able to save 30,000 riels. With this amount, Akara was able to buy new clothes.
With Akara having finished her schoolwork, our project officer conducts their home visit. Our project officer reports that now she is trying to save 500 riels a day, which she hopes to put to more clothes.
Cufa has partnered with other Australian NGO’s to help End Covid For All. Led by ACFID, the group involves Australian NGO’s such as World Vision, TEAR, Fred Hollows and Habitat for Humanity, and over 90 other organisations from Australia.
In Australia we are still experiencing the effects of Covid-19, and there is significant work to be done in Australia to further reduce the spread. Though Australia has the capacity to prevent the spread, reduce the impact on families, many countries in the world are not so lucky.
In India cases continue to grow, at over 1.5 million cases; in our northern neighbour in Indonesia, cases have risen to over 100,000. Increasingly it is the poorest countries in the world that are feeling the strongest effects of Covid-19. End Covid- for- All aims to help the poorest countries through three simple steps.
Firstly, End Covid For All aims to combat Covid in the existing crisis areas, which have previously experienced other pandemics before, including malaria, Ebola and polio. By equitable funding and investment in global health programs, we can help prevent further disease outbreaks.
Additionally, a robust response to Covid-19 will require a provision of testing kits, PPE, information campaigns and medical equipment. Vulnerable and marginalized groups, who include women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, are of particular concern, as the health response must be made inclusive and accessible to them. At the same time, we must continue to support existing programs, such as water projects, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health.
Finally, there will be the need to help kickstart the economy safely and sustainably in the Pacific. Safe resumption of regional economic ties between the Pacific and Australia, and the provision of low-cost loans for the Pacific to provide vital health infrastructure is key to kickstarting economic recovery.
As our roads begin to fill up with honking horns of a morning as people return to the office a monastery in Yet Chaung Village remains tranquil. Though Myanmar’s schools are closed, the monastery’s silence is broken occasionally by the sound of children flipping through their Mg Mg the Kyat book. Eager to begin to operate our workshops, Cufa Myanmar has begun to use the local monastery as a place to host our lessons in Financial Literacy and Credit Union Development.
The sound of the bells are interrupted by the children as they form a circle to play one of the program's educational games, a reprieve from the stress that Covid-19 has caused. In a country that is continuing to see its cases grow, a tension sits in the air about when the virus will come to their area. Our project officers are noticing that the children practice better hygiene practices than before the lockdown, something that will prove beneficial post the lockdown. As the children play a game about what they just learnt, the opportunity to learn and play, and for a brief moment forget about it with your friends, is the least that Cufa could do.
In the same monastery the next day, a group of young, entrepreneurial women listen attentively to a Cufa volunteer discussing the best practices for operating their business during Covid-19. Their children would have been in the same monastery the day before, and much like them, the women are eager to return to their lessons. These women are a part of the Cufa Credit Union Development Program, aimed at assisting communities to develop their own community banks. These women have been working with Cufa for sometime, and so we are delighted to share that these women have put into practice their training over the course of the lockdown. Spurred on by the difficult economic circumstances, many have begun to tighten their budgets and look to use their communities credit union to their advantage.
Cufa’s Credit Union Development and Children Financial Literacy Programs having been operating in Myanmar 2016 and 2018 respectively has seen significant positive responses. In Myanmar alone, we have been able to reach over 2,000 students across 22 schools through our CFL programs. Our CUD program continues to grow, with over 30 Credit Unions being maintained across over 2,250 members involved.
The monastery returns to the sound of bells and chimes as the women leave, the sounds of horns intermittently break the sounds of the nearby forest, heralding a slow return to normalcy.
Published Yesterday, Waking the Asian Pacific Cooperative Potential is an academic look into how mutual firms and credit unions have had meaningful change in the Asia Pacific Region. Cufa's CEO, Dr Peter Mason, has contributed an insightful piece on the history of our long term partner organisation, Teachers Mutual Bank.
Dr.Mason’s look takes us through the beginning of the Credit Union movement following the end of the second World War, one of these was the Hornsby Teachers Credit Union, which began in the early 1960’s. Their growth started due to ‘local financial institutions not meeting the needs of the community, due to not only access, but the types of financial products that these institutions offer, perceived unaffordability of interest rates, or financial products that do not meet social needs.’. As they developed, they held a core philosophy of ‘teachers helping teachers’, and their early days reflected that, the early members beginning by recruiting new members during their lunch breaks. The Hornsby Teachers Credit Union became the NSW Teachers Credit Union in 1967, and thanks to automatic payroll deductions, they grew rapidly.
The NSW Teachers Credit Union was one of many credit unions during the height of the 70s, at their peak numbering 833 in total. These credit unions pioneered the first 24 hour Automatic Telling Machines in Australia, and continued to grow into the 80s, and by 1991 they had grown to over 64,000 members and provided over $1 billion dollars in loans to their members.
The book takes an analytical approach to the Asian Co-operative Model, as well as Agricultural Co-operatives, Credit Co-operatives and Worker Co-operatives. Though not written as a coffee table book, it definitely is a book to keep your eye out for if you are keen to understand the intricate and rich history of the Asia-Pacific Co-operative environment.
Naing is an eight-year-old boy who lives in a small rural village in a region of southwest Myanmar where villagers usually spend their time farming crops and raising animals. Like many of the local villagers,
Naing’s father is a farmer and his mother, a housewife. Naing attended his first Children’s Financial Literacy (CFL) training session run by Cufa in 2019. He found that the lessons interesting and attended sessions regularly to learn more. It was after his fifth CFL lesson that Naing decided not to buy any more toys as he was sure it was wasting his money.
In late December 2019, Cufa held its first Children’s Financial Literacy Study Tour ceremony in Tha Yet Chaung Village. At the CFL Study Tour ceremony, committee and savings members of Tha Yet Chaung Village Bank demonstrated
how the village savings bank operated. A question and answer session was also run to interact with participants and make it interesting and fun. Naing participated in the Q&A session and answered the questions correctly and received a piggy bank, for which he was very excited about. In addition, participants took part in other activities like painting a box for savings and using the CFL Tablet for games which they played with their friends.
The CFL Study Tour took around 5 hours to run and a Cufa CFL Project Officer will run these study tours which will be conducted quarterly. A total of 199 people including 84 boys and 67 girls participated in this first CFL Study Tour.
Naing said that the study tour gave other children, not only the students like himself, as well as parents and teachers to become more aware of the benefits of saving money and the interest that can be earned from saving through their local village savings bank.
Jue Jue is a 9-year-old girl who lives in a village in Myanmar. A year ago she attended her first Children’s Financial Literacy (CFL) session and this set the way for Jue Jue to start a strong savings habit, though she did find it difficult at the start she was determined to save money every day.
Jue Jue had a passion for power ranger toys and she used to spend much of her pocket money on these toy as she loved to play with them, as any 9-year-old would. Whenever she had finished her homework, she was usually playing with power rangers as she felt happy while she was playing with the colorful toys. She was always thinking to buy a new one even though she had already owned many toys that was until she attended her first CFL session.
Jue Jue who is a very bright student found the lessons interesting and she attended them regularly even though some of her friends tried to get her to come and play. The more she attended and learnt through each lesson, the more her financial knowledge was broadened. After she had attended five sessions, she decided not to buy toys anymore as she was sure it was a waste of her money. Jue Jue made up her mind to open an account at her village-owned savings bank and she managed to save some money every day. Jue Jue no longer asks her parents for her school materials and stationery. Whatever she needs, she knows she can buy it by spending her savings. To date, Jue Jue has been able to buy for herself with her savings a backpack and basic school materials including an exercise book, pencil and ballpoint pen. She has now set her saving goals with a goal to save every day so she can spend her savings to support her at university.
Jue Jue says, “I share my financial knowledge to my family members and friends. I want them to know how to spend money and how to save money.” She persuades the other people to learn CFL lessons and to save money.
Photo: Jue Jue and her mother happily looking at her savings book.