Economy Jan 12

China brings fintech to poorer rural areas

Bank of Agriculture leads with way in a bid to alleviate poverty and boost rural citizens' access to financial services; they even have a fingerprint signature function to give illiterate citizens access to accounts 

China brings fintech to poorer rural areas
Two women put lotus roots on a river bank after picking in Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in north China's Guizhou province on 21 October 2020. Photo: Liu Zhaofu / Imaginechina via AFP

(ATF) In addition to lack of infrastructure, poor areas in China are often places that lack financial services. On the snow-covered plateau, in the vast Gobi desert, in the border towns, and deep in the mountains, people's need for basic financial services have sadly not been met. But, as a part of the national government’s anti-poverty drive, new fintech services are being rolled out.

In recent years, with the continuous advance of poverty alleviation work, farmers who go out to work have a demand for remittance services, while local cooperatives have the willingness to lend, and channels for poverty alleviation funds and agricultural subsidies at all levels need to be distributed. As a result, the surplus of customers means bank branches, which are now more rare in big cities, have started appearing in counties, villages and towns in Sichuan, Guizhou, and Qinghai.

Cui Yong, a member of the party committee and vice-president of the Agricultural Bank of China, said that the new five-in-one channel system of “manual outlets, self-service outlets, service points and Internet online channels, plus mobile financial services” has been effectively initially. Over the past two years, the Agricultural Bank of China has established 212 new physical outlets in poverty-stricken counties, especially the deeply impoverished areas of the “three districts and three states”, covering more than 600 surrounding towns and villages, and directly serving more than 12 million people in surrounding areas.

Qumulo, a villager in Tebulo in Sichuan Province's Zhaojue County, said: “I had a Huinong Card 10 years ago, and I used it for subsidies and loans. In the past, I had to go to Zhaojue County to withdraw money. Now there are Huinongtong service points in the village, and mobile financial service vehicles regularly go to villages, towns and markets to handle business."

Fingerprint access to accounts

In minority areas, it is more common for customers not to sign up for these services. However, the proportion of these customers handling business at the outlets is very high. In December 2019, the Agricultural Bank of China selected Sichuan Zhaojue branch for the first batch of pilot banks for the electronic fingerprint signature function, as many rural dwellers are illiterate. After the fingerprint function was launched, customers can easily handle business with a light touch of their finger, so the service was well received by the public. 

And by the end of November 2020, this service had been fully launched in 126 ABC outlets in Liangshan, Ganzi, and Aba, Sichuan, handling more than 400 electronic fingerprint services daily.

With the setting up of outlets and new equipment, they have the basic ability to provide financial services. But grassroots employees of the Agricultural Bank are expanding services.

On September 26, 2019, the Agricultural Bank opened a branch in Mayang Jinhe, in Huaihua City, Hunan Province. This was the bank's first outlet with a 5G network in poor areas. Zuo Tingmiao is president of the bank's internal service. She and her colleagues have used new technology to provide services different from traditional ones for every customer who comes to the branch for business. After more than a year of operation, they have held more than 40 small lectures to introduce new facilities to explain credit, identification of counterfeit currency, anti-telecom fraud and other knowledge. They also use multimedia screens to explain financial products and poverty alleviation policies, according to the Economic Daily. In other provinces such as Hunan, 5G services for banking are being rolled out.

On December 15, 2020, the Agricultural Bank officially opened two new branches in Yemachuan Town in Bijie City, Guizhou Province and Luojishan Town in Sichuan's Liangshan Prefecture. This was the latest development in the bank's construction of branches in poor areas and continuous extension of its service network.

"Relying on outlets, we will serve the surrounding towns and villages by driving Huinongtong service points and launching mobile financial service vehicles. At present, the Agricultural Bank of China has more than 3,800 outlets in poverty-stricken areas, with a coverage rate of 100% in county areas. There are 541 business outlets above 4,000 meters, and 227 business outlets above 4,000 metres above sea level. We strive to solve the problem of financial services for the people in remote and difficult areas," Fan Xiaodong, vice-president of the bank's Operation Management Department, said. 

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Rural e-commerce grows as China’s stay-at-home economy thrives

China Poverty alleviation rural areas financial services poorer areas Bank of Agriculture fingerprint signature function 5G services