Universal access to banking services in Guatemala

Guatemala is a Central American country with approximately 12 million inhabitants, from which 60% are indigenous people who live primarily in rural areas.  Even if Spanish is the official language, 21 mayan tongues are spoken among the population within the different ethnic groups, and within the whole population of the country there’s an illiteracy rate of 36%.

In an environment like this, banking systems are usually  rejected because they demand a set of abilities that one does not posses and can evoke feelings and emotions of inadequacy and inferiority.  Therefore it’s quite a challenge to involve and engage the majority of the population in a service like this…
Banrural took on the challenge in Guatemala back in 2005 by looking for best practices within the industry: they found the use of biometric identification and different languages on ATMs in Bolivia, and a wider national network approach for full coverage from Colombia.
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With an investment of around US$800 thousand they deployed 108 ATMs in rural areas with the possibility to handle five different mayan tongues (kíche, q’ eqchi, mam, kanjobal, kachiquel), other than spanish and at the same time offer audio-visual hints to guide the user through different processes of the machine to perform the desired operation.  They only have to insert their card for the machine to start giving the instructions, and by using only they fingerprint as their personal identification and security measure it makes it very accessible.
The introduction of these ATMs came along with another service: a line of credit linked to the debit card for the user to be able to get cash for their daily operations and pay it back at the end of the same day or at another day at any of the branches the bank has.  This service came as an alternative to the already existing local money lenders, who have operated very efficiently charging a daily interest of 10%!  Whereas the bank is only charging a 22% yearly interest (compared to the nearly 3,000% they charged).
These ATMs have been widely accepted within the population, specially in areas where general access to other services is very limited.  So that, nowadays they have put in place 890 ATMs with this technology in the country, from which 62% are in the rural areas; accounting for 4.5 million monthly transactions.
They expect to add other functionalities and services to their offer, in order to continue their work on financial education and inclusion throughout the whole country, to promote an equal development of the financial system.
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