It's become something of a recurring theme, particularly over the course of the last 12 months: the amount of 'cash-in', the equivalent of deposits in mobile financial services, hit a fresh high in November 2021 as more and more customers found it more and more convenient to make more and more different kinds of payments for an ever-expanding range of goods and services using MFS. As per the latest Bangladesh Bank data, cumulative cash-in in MFS accounts increased to Tk 21,207.7 crore in November from Tk 21,049.4 crore in the previous month. In September 2021, cash-in reached Tk 19,777.1 crore from Tk 18,669.7 crore in August of the same year.

This is perhaps inevitable in a consistently growing digital financial ecosystem, that too where the start is from a very low base, and where the government is committed to providing policy support.

Besides the cash-in, transactions through MFS also reached the second-highest figure ever recorded in a month. In November, transactions through MFS reached an eye watering Tk 67,966.8 crore, that is only eclipsed by the whopping Tk 71,246.9 crore recorded six months earlier, in May of 2021. Prompted by the public's keen interest in new technologies, the MFS operators have brought a wide range of utility service providers under their network, with a view to expanding their business further after the Covid pandemic is officially over and behind us for good, officials of MFS operators say.

Today, one can pay electricity, gas, water, internet, telephone and credit card bills, even your cable operator or DTH, through an MFS account. Education fees and all kinds of government charges are coming under the net. Increasingly we are also seeing small vendors (usually you would call them 'mudi'r dokaan or 'tong' in the vernacular) registering as micro merchants, and operating at least part of their business out of their MFS wallets. And in parts of the country even rickshawallahs are now accepting fares over bKash! Or Nagad, or any of the others.

It was an honest mistake I made there, but who can deny the association in our minds between MFS and bKash, the first-movers who took the country by storm in 2012. It wasn't long before the name became the verb to describe the act of availing MFS in Bangladesh ('bKash it') - the ultimate achievement in branding. And they are still playing the role of pioneers in their field, initiating in mid-December what was surely the most major development in the entire journey of MFS since the start itself: introducing digital 'micro' or 'nano' loans managed entirely through their phones. Eligible bKash users can now apply for a loan ranging from BDT 500 to BDT 20,000 through bKash app, receive the loan instantly and repay the loan in three equal monthly instalments from their bKash accounts. The loan interest rate will be 9% per annum, following Bangladesh Bank's guidelines.

The figures are not in yet, but by all accounts bKash is onto a winner with this, and it can only be a matter of time before the others get to follow.

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