Local Payments Insights: Bangladesh
The next digital Tiger
After decades as one of the world’s poorest countries, Bangladesh is quietly becoming the next Asian success story. Thanks to an economy that has been growing an impressive 8% annually before the Covid-19 pandemic, the country surprised many last year when it suddenly posted a higher per capita income than India, the emerging economic powerhouse next door.
Today, this densely populated nation of 165 million people is following in the footsteps of countries throughout Asia, with an expanding middle class and rising adoption of mobile technology. Some observers are calling Bangladesh the next economic Tiger, the term used to describe a booming Asian country that has experienced spectacular growth in a short period of time.
By the numbers
- 102 million Bangladeshis access the Internet with phones
- About 8% of the population is regularly using a mobile wallet
- Bangladesh received US$22 billion from overseas workers last year
Bangladesh’s surging economy is a remarkable turnaround for a country that had just half of India’s per capita income in 2007, but despite all the progress there’s still a long journey ahead.
More than 70% of Bangladeshis live in rural areas with little infrastructure, and about half the population doesn’t have a bank account.
Many of Bangladesh’s poor depend on money sent by relatives who are working overseas in places like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and further afield in the US and UK.
Accounting for a hefty 5.6% of the country’s GDP, these remittances play a vital role in driving personal consumption and fueling economic growth. They make another important contribution as well: remittances from overseas workers are helping Bangladesh’s underbanked population transition from a conventional cash economy to much more efficient digital solutions.
The way it works is quite simple. Instead of remitting money that must be picked up in person at a bank in Bangladesh, these remittances can now be sent digitally and directly to a family member’s phone. This mobile money is then used to make a series of digital payments locally, helping to expand Bangladesh’s small yet growing digital payment ecosystem.
The dominant player in this digital landscape is the mobile fintech bKash, which has added over 14 million new users since March 2020. Along with receiving overseas remittances in real-time, bKash wallets can be used to pay for a variety of products and services ranging from gas and phone bills to food delivery and Uber rides.
A recent study even found that household incomes for bKash users had risen over 15%, partly due to the ease and speed of transferring emergency funds during Bangladesh’s frequent cyclones and flooding. While bKash users see remittances jump 60% during a natural disaster, non-bKash users saw their remittances fall by 61%.
Apps like bKash are rapidly expanding their reach and services. A new mobile map from bKash, for example, shows users the location of more than 250,000 merchants and over 1,150 ATMs across the country.
There’s more to come. The government is looking to boost the amount of remittances from US$22 billion last year to as much as US$30 billion. They made one step towards this goal recently when they introduced a 2% bonus for money received from overseas.
The future is bright for digital payments and services too. Having already achieved 95% coverage for its 4G network, Bangladesh is expected to have 6% of the population using 5G by 2025.
This is more than the forecast for Vietnam and Indonesia, and just 1% less than India – highlighting yet again just how far Bangladesh has come on its journey from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most dynamic.
Working in partnership, Thunes and bKash are strengthening an ecosystem that widens and deepens financial inclusion in Bangladesh, leading to better lives for many people.
Thunes is a leading global payments network with access to over 100 countries and a focus on emerging markets.
Thunes’ partnership with Bangladesh’s leading mobile money app, bKash, enables the country’s overseas workers to send money home to family members in real-time. As male migrant workers remain the primary providers for Bangladeshi households, fast and reliable remittances are essential to allow recipient families to meet their daily needs, such as purchasing food, and paying for housing, education and healthcare.
Further enhancements to Bangladesh’s payments ecosystem are in the pipeline. Thunes’ customers will soon be able to benefit from a new partnership in Bangladesh that will make transfers between banks even easier.
Interested to find out more about Thunes’ connections in Bangladesh? Chat with our friendly team today.