Established in 1997 as a purely Microfinance Institution (MFI) that was mostly popular among women at the time, Urwego Opportunity Bank is definitely Rwanda’s bank for all.
The bank, which acquired its banking license in 2007 extends its financial services footprint to all Rwandans, especially those at the bottom of the financial services pyramid; the unbanked and under banked.
By maintaining its MFI status and developing the commercial banking arm, Urwego is today rated as a bank that meets the needs of all kinds of people, thus its slogan as a bank for all.
The bank is walking the talk and developing new products and services to meet customers from all walks of life.
When the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Tineyi Mawocha shares his and the Urwego team’s targets of not resting until the bank has at least a million active accounts, one has to think twice before objecting.
Mawocha says the plan is to expand through setting up more physical branches and harnessing the power of technology to bank the entire population.
Today, Urwego has 14 branches and plans to increase its presence across the country in the course of the year.
On the mobile based banking technologies, it is already leading the league on Visa Incorporated’s M-Visa M-Hose platform with over 50,000 active subscribers, outnumbering all other financial institutions on the product.
In similar efforts to harness the power of mobile technology, Urwego signed a partnership with the country’s second largest telecom in terms of subscribers, Tigo Rwanda to provide the first mobile phone-based bank-managed savings account dubbed Tigo Sugira.
With Tigo Sugira just like M-Hose, the benefits a customer enjoys are unimaginable as they have unprecedented convenience of their money at the bank being available to mobile wallet too.
This means that no matter what one chooses to use, bank or Tigo Cash, they have all their cash just a click away.
Currently, Urwego, which is Kinyarwanda for ladder in other words the bank that offers customers a ladder to climb onto and reach ones dreams, counts over 400,000 active accounts, has an asset value of over Rwf 19 billion, and a loan portfolio in the range of Rwf 11billion.
Mawocha recently explained that being underbanked in Urwego’s perspective is having a bank account but with limited access to financial facilities.
“Urwego targets to give such people across Rwanda an opportunity to be fully served,” he said.
“My approach which is the broader Urwego approach to banking is simple; understand the customers’ needs and satisfy them by being very close to them.
From our perspective as a bank built on the Christian values as demonstrated by Jesus, every one of our customers is considered a brother or sister irrespective of their religious beliefs or any other factor. This principle which is taught to staff and demonstrated in all our activities has a major influence in the banking services that we provide,” Mawocha noted.
He added that the bank has a tradition called the CEOs tour, held every six months and involves the bank’s top manager visiting customers across the country to get a feeling of their needs and ensure that the bank does not lose main reason of Urwego’s existence of serving the people.
Maintaining MFI and commercial bank status
Maintaining the MFI and commercial bank status is a deliberate choice the bank made with the desire to serve our customers better.
As Mawocha put it, as an MFI, there were some services they could not offer to our customers yet they required them and thus those who would be in this category were always passed on to other financial institutions.
“We wanted to be able to meet our customer’s needs every step of the way and for all.
On the other hand, being a commercial bank alone would mean that there are some customers at the lower end of the market whose needs would not be met as required.
By having both sides as part of the bank’s operations, the bank is capable of reaching customer and meeting their needs, which in fact is what distinguishes it as a “Banki ya bose” (a bank for all).
Affordable lending rates
The other thing to note is that despite a need to make a profit and therefore make the business model of our operations sustainable, Urwego’s shareholders are not entirely profit driven but are transformation oriented.
“Our biggest profit is in how many lives are financially transformed by our services thus our rates are also tailored in a similar manner,” noted Mawocha.
He said that their lending rates are determined by various facts and circumstances surrounding each specific request.
In addition to expanding branch the network and the growing mobile based bank services, Urwego has 31 sales offices in each of Rwanda’s major urban centres, boasts a total of 18 ATMs from which withdraws can be made at any time and over 200 agents distributed in each corner of the country.
With this reach and the ambitions the Urwego team exhibit, there is no doubt the bank is out to make an impact and is a rising star to watch in the Rwandan financial sector.