"Having a bank account is the first step towards accessing basic financial services. But in 2014, only 41% of Guatemalans over the age of 15 had a bank account, as opposed to over 90% in more developed nations, according to the World Bank. And in Nicaragua this percentage drops to just 19%. This regional situation translates into a reduced savings capacity for individuals, a more limited access to loans and an economy based on cash payments. In order to address this situation, José Rivas has developed Fri, a platform which facilitates access to financial services through mobile phones for people without traditional bank accounts. Thanks to this advance, Rivas has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition´s Innovators Under 35 Central America 2016.
""You can create an account without the need to visit a bank in person, and you can start to receive and make payments,"" Rivas explains. ""The objective is to provide access to banking services to people who cannot, or do not wish to, visit a bank in person,"" the young Guatemalan adds. In rural areas, the physical access to a bank can be problematic, while for other people the problem is one of unfamiliarity or even mistrust of the conventional banking system.
In order for unfamiliar or mistrusting users to gain experience with banking systems, Fri offers a rewards and benefits program based on the fiscal information uploaded to their account. ""For example, in order to request a loan, this 'level' must be unlocked by providing documentation which certifies the user´s income,"" Rivas clarifies. This kind of requirement also serves to prevent Fri from being used to launder capital.
Fri is already supported by five financial entities which have signed collaboration agreements so far, a wide network of associated businesses and over 150.000 registered users. In the words of the business development director at Corporación GPF and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Central America 2016 awards, Jeffry Illingworth, ""Fri is a very ambitious proposal and certainly represents an excellent opportunity to mainstream people into the banking industry"" who are not currently active participants."