Handheld Units Link Rwanda’s Financial Cooperatives in WOCCU Program

Technology Bolsters CUs in Country Once Ravaged by Genocidal Warfare

March 03, 2009

2009_3_3_Rwanda POS device
Clément Rugumiriza (left) shows off one of the new POS devices at Banque Populaire du Rwanda aided by one of his tellers.

KIGALI, Rwanda—Clément 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. The new technology, part of a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) development program, has brought financial capabilities a long way in an African country ravaged by genocidal warfare barely 15 years ago.

Rugumiriza, as well as other managers among 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. 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 country. Volume has risen to 100 transactions per day since the technology's introduction."

BPR has installed the handheld units inside each branch office for members to use. 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 thanks to 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 this country of more than 10 million people that branch managers like Clément Rugumiriza know will set BPR apart in its service to Rwanda's people.

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 are utilizing personal digital assistants (PDAs) 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.

World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.

World Council has implemented 300+ technical assistance programs in 89 countries. Worldwide, 68,882 credit unions in 109 countries serve 235 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at

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Organization: World Council of Credit Unions
Phone: (608) 395-2000