Building digital financial service networks in Lao PDR

Digital finance expert David Kleiman shares insights from programmes with UNCDF

David Kleiman came to Lao PDR as a Digital Finance Expert from PHB Development for the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) programme MMP4 in 2014. Since that time, David has focused on building multiple and varied relationships within this developing environment for digital financial services (DFS). He shared views on the objectives and impact of his work.

Can you briefly describe your core objectives to enable DFS?

In 2013, when UNCDF MM4P started, there was no regulatory framework or guidelines – and therefore no service providers either. In order to jump-start engagement, UNCDF MM4P applied a market-development approach to creating an ecosystem for DFS to take root and flourish in the country. Much of our success to date has come from a focus on three pillars of engagement:

David Kleiman, left, in Lao PDR

  • A strong and growing relationship with the central bank, Bank of the Lao PDR (BoL), to develop guidelines and regulations for providers who aim to offer DFS and to promote a positive exchange between industry, BoL and the government in general.
  • A direct strategic relationship with UNCDF partners – to promote, support and manage various project activities and to align their business objectives with UNCDF and BoL’s goals for financial inclusion.
  • Broader stakeholder engagement with banks, microfinance institutions, Mobile Network Operators, and even startups to promote activity in the field of DFS.

When UNCDF provides support to enable implementation, partners also commit through their leadership and resource mobilization. It’s through these relationships with stakeholders that UNCDF can generate impactful projects and therefore catalyze the introduction of meaningful services for rural customers.

What can you say about the design and implementation process?

Any effective strategy must take into account the needs of people and the capacities of organizations in the country. Lao PDR currently has one implementation of DFS through agency banking; BCEL’s Community Money Express (BCOME), which allows people to do basic banking close to home. Before BCOME, customers had to travel to a bank branch – of which there are only 700 in the country. Today BCOME has more than 140 agents, so it represents both a turning point for the country and a significant improvement in the points of access for financial services. The upcoming launch by Unitel of their mobile wallet will add another significant dimension to the ecosystem.

What are some unique aspects of working with UNCDF on this?

Within Lao, UNCDF works jointly with BoL in a national implementation program called MAFIPP (Making Access to Finance more Inclusive for Poor People). This joint structure strengthens our communication with stakeholders and solidifies their commitment. Goals are aligned because of joint project nature, which can also help extend the use of DFS services to achieve aims such as enrolling in education, accessing better healthcare and more.

What are the changes you have seen, especially considering a human-centered design approach (HCD)?

In a new market like this, ambitions should be aligned before selling a financial service. It’s important to take demographics into account and to consider what really matters for the people – and why.

UNCDF has worked in numerous countries and has lots of talented people who understand best practices – particularly in engagement and impact. PHB Development has been working internationally with UNCDF on multiple DFS projects in Africa and Asia. The relationship between PHB and UNCDF is significant, and we can gain action-based insights from it. We listen to customers and providers who have aspirations – then work together to develop an implementation path based on best practices while developing services and solutions which are highly contextualized for each country.


MM4P is a programme launched by UNCDF in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. MM4P provides support to digital financial services (DFS) in a selected group of least developed countries (LDCs) to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust DFS ecosystem that reaches low-income people in LDCs.

For more information, visit or follow @UNCDFMM4P and UNCDF MM4P on LInkedIn.

 2 June 2017