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Handheld units link Rwandas co-ops in WOCCU program
KIGALI, Rwanda (3/5/09)--Clement Rugumiriza considers his branch of Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) as up-to-date as many credit unions around the world, now that he can offer member-clients branch-to-branch electronic transaction capabilities through the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) development program.
Clement Rugumiriza (left), aided by a teller, shows off one of the new point-of-sale devices--which offer electronic transaction capabilities--at Banque Populaire du Rwanda. (Photo provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
Rugumiriza and other managers in BPR's 22-branch system--can now offer electronic services through handheld point-of-sale (POS) units housed at each of the credit union branches. The new technology has brought financial capabilities a long way in an African country ravaged by genocidal warfare barely 15 years ago, WOCCU said. Introduced in December, the technology enables BPR’s member-clients to make deposits and withdrawals in real time at any of its branch offices in Rwanda. With 140 points of service, BPR is Rwanda's largest financial network, according to Paul Graslie, WOCCU technical services manager. “This is really a form of shared branching, something BPR was not capable of offering prior to the introduction of POS,” Graslie said. “The system removes the geographic constraints that otherwise have limited member-clients when they travel in the country. Volume has risen to 100 transactions per day since the technology’s introduction.” BPR installed the handheld units inside each branch office. The transactions run through the POS units using biometrics technology that requires both thumb and index fingerprints of the member-clients. The devices may not be used either outside the branch or the BPR network due to Rwandan law. The new technology marks a major step forward in a country that lost an estimated 800,000 citizens during a genocidal civil war in 1994. Rwanda's gross domestic product fell by 50% during the war, and an estimated US$7 million was stolen from the country's financial cooperative system for use by perpetrators of the genocide, according to a WOCCU FOCUS report. Since 2000, WOCCU has been helping Rwanda’s financial cooperatives rebuild, aided by funding from donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. BPR recently launched a major media campaign to promote the new technology, named “BPR Mobile Counter.” While keeping costs low, the technology allows BPR to offer contemporary electronic services to its member-clients. It’s a competitive edge in the country of more than 10 million people that branch managers like Rugumiriza know will set BPR apart in its service to Rwanda’s people, WOCCU said. WOCCU launched a similar effort in Morelia, Mexico, in December to help local credit unions reach out to people living in rural, marginalized areas. Credit unions there use personal digital assistants and mobile printers to perform financial transactions during field visits to their members. The two efforts are among the first in their financial cooperative systems to use such technology, WOCCU said.
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