Wireless phones in hand, the people of Haiti are on the cusp of entering the realm of mobile money, expanding banking services beyond traditional bank branches. Today, Haitian wireless operator Voila, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Trilogy International Partners, and Unibank, Haiti's premier financial institution, are teaming with international relief and development agency, Mercy Corps, to announce the launch of a humanitarian assistance program utilizing Haiti's first mobile money solution. This program will enable Mercy Corps' cash-for-work, grant and food voucher recipients to use their Voila phones as 'mobile wallets.' This innovative partnership among Voila, Unibank and Mercy Corps represents a milestone in leveraging wireless technology to spur recovery and development in Haiti. Voila's mobile money service provides a safe and convenient form of payment for recipients of donations from organizations such as Mercy Corps.
Looking forward, Voila and Unibank expect to expand the first-of-its-kind mobile wallet solution being launched with Mercy Corps. Subsequent to Banque de la Republique d'Haiti's approval (Haiti's Central Bank), Voila and Unibank intend to deploy a broad range of mobile money services to the country's 'unbanked' population and expand access to financial services to Haitians in regions unreached by traditional financial service providers.
The program being announced today will enable Mercy Corps to offer, for the first time, cash-for-work, grant and voucher recipients the ability to securely 'store value' on their mobile phones, withdraw all or part of their money, transfer funds to family members in need directly from their phones and pay for goods directly from affiliated merchants using their wireless phones. Over the next 9 months, approximately 100,000 Haitians in the impoverished Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions will benefit from Mercy Corps' cash programs, which will use Voila's wireless network to make as many as 250,000 transactions.
'The acute needs of the Haitian people require fast action and mobility,' said Trilogy CEO Brad Horwitz. 'Relief organizations need access to the most efficient methods of distribution possible to minimize the cost of providing needed services and programs -- historically, up to 40 cents of every dollar was spent on logistics and security associated with moving cash. With the Voila mobile money solution, this can be reduced to just a few cents. Voila's technology platform provides a critical link between relief agencies and the Haitian people. More importantly, mobile money is the key to providing economic opportunity to Haiti's 'unbanked' population. It will help spur the nation's reconstruction.'
The program has been in development by UNIBANK and Voila since last September. For the past eight months, Voila, Unibank and Mercy Corps have conducted a series of pilot programs to test the new service, gauge user reactions, and incorporate their feedback into training procedures and future service offerings. Overall, the initial response has been enthusiastic, showing that Haitians are ready to embrace mobile money as a safe and reliable option to meet their banking needs.
'It's not the first time that I've had a phone, but this time it is different,' said Pierre Louis Jacques, a 43 year old Haitian father who participated in one of the pilot programs. 'I wait for my payment eagerly and without worry. With my money, I'm going to buy food and pay for school for my children. I like this way of paying -- the process is easy to learn and there's less risk involved,' said Jacques. Sylmanie Prophete, a 27 year old woman said, 'It's a very good way of paying people because it's very discrete, people don't know your business -- it's between us, Mercy Corps and the bank.'
Both Jacques and Prophete participated in the pilot programs as beneficiaries of one of Mercy Corps' cash-for-work programs, which help Haitians get back on their feet by providing temporary employment to rehabilitate roads, farmland and irrigation systems.
Phil Oldham, Haiti Regional Program Director for Mercy Corps, noted how much confidence the Haitian people have in using mobile banking services. 'We're pleased to see how quickly beneficiaries are embracing the benefits of these new, mobile applications. Mercy Corps is committed to bringing the mobile wallet to Haiti as the first step to 'banking the unbanked' -- getting comprehensive financial services to the poor. We're helping build the foundation for economic growth that truly benefits Haiti's most impoverished families.'
This is the first phase of Voila's mobile money service, called 'T-Cash' -- telephone cash or, in Creole, ti cash (little cash). Following regulatory approval from Haiti's Central Bank, Banque de la Republique d'Haiti (BRH), Voila and Unibank plan to roll-out T-Cash to NGOs and the larger Haitian population with a full suite of e-wallet services, including domestic and international money transfer, bill pay, top up services, and expanded e-commerce capabilities with a goal to establish hundreds of affiliated merchants and cash in/cash out locations throughout the country over the next several months. As additional banks and wireless carriers prepare their own e-wallet programs in Haiti, UNIBANK and Voila will develop a comprehensive network that will enable all Haitians to transfer money and complete commercial transactions wirelessly, subject to appropriate consumer protection and financial regulatory safeguards.
'UNIBANK is pleased to participate in this pioneering effort to launch mobile money services in Haiti,' said F. Carl Braun, Chairman of Unibank. 'By doing so, it follows its tradition of technological leadership in the Haitian banking sector. Mobile money services will be critical in expanding UNIBANK's reach beyond traditional bank branches and in integrating the unbanked, particularly in rural areas. Mobile money means that basic financial services will instantly be available throughout the country.'
Voila is a leading wireless operator in Haiti, serving over a million customers. Since the January 12th earthquake, Voila has played an instrumental role in providing local and international communications services to over a million Haitian customers, thousands of relief workers, international NGOs, and U.S. government agencies working in Haiti. Since the earthquake struck, wireless has been at the center of first responders' efforts to identify and rescue survivors, spread critical information on vaccinations and food distributions, and provide health services.
Unibank has been actively involved in providing critical payment solutions for numerous NGOs enabling them to stimulate the economy through job creation programs, and provide lifelines to hundreds of thousands left destitute by the earthquake. The bank's ability to open its doors to the public shortly after the events of January 12th was key to maintaining confidence in the banking system and provided the peace of mind its many clients needed to start the rebuilding process.
Mercy Corps' use of mobile technology in Haiti is part of its multi-faceted response to the earthquake. The organization is working toward the long-term economic development of the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley, beginning with temporary employment and small business creation, as well as emergency food and shelter materials, for internally displaced people and local host families. The organization also provides clean water, latrines and emergency income through cash-for-work to thousands of families living in camps in Port-au-Prince.
About Voila and Trilogy International Partners
Voila is a leading mobile telecommunications operator in Haiti serving over a million customers. Since its inception over 10 years ago, it has invested over US$200 million in Haiti. Voila employs over 500 local staff and provides indirect employment to more than 15,000 Haitians through a micro - enterprise venture whereby local entrepreneurs sell time and minute recharges on a customized cell phone. In December 2009, Voila and parent company, Trilogy International Partners, based in Bellevue, WA, received the prestigious 'Award for Corporate Excellence' from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in recognition of Voila's record of corporate social responsibility in Haiti. Trilogy also owns wireless communications systems in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and New Zealand. For more information on Trilogy, see its website: www.trilogy-international.com.
Since its inception in July 1993, UNIBANK has emerged as Haiti's fastest-growing bank and has transformed itself into Haiti's leading financial institution, striking the imagination, providing innovation and constantly introducing new products and services. UNIBANK is Haiti's largest bank, with assets exceeding USD 1 billion. UNIBANK is the flagship company of Groupe Financier National (GFN) a conglomerate of 15 enterprises located in Haiti and abroad, with 850,000 customers in Haiti and 270,000 Haitian customers living abroad. The Group has 1,828 employees and 568 points of services comprising 45 UNIBANK branches and 20 additional offices specializing in Micro finance, credit card services, investment banking, retail consumer credit, and financial and economic consulting. UNITRANSFER, the remittance company of the Group, has 186 offices and remittance paying-agents throughout Haiti and 317 International offices and agents in the United States, Canada and various countries in the Caribbean. For more information on UNIBANK, see its website: www.unibankhaiti.com.
About Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps helps people in the world's toughest places turn the crises of natural disaster, poverty and conflict into opportunities for progress. Driven by local needs and market conditions, our programs provide communities with the tools and support they need to transform their own lives. Our worldwide team of 3,700 professionals is improving the lives of 16.7 million people in more than 40 countries. For more information, see mercycorps.org.