Making Digital Finance More Inclusive

June 9, 2022 Rachna Srivastava

With 2 million people living below the poverty line in Pakistan, financial inclusion remains a top priority for the government and the use of cash for day-to-day transactions remains prevalent among Pakistani residents. The cost, distance to travel, and lengthy documentation processes make it difficult for them to open a bank account. At its core, financial access facilitates day-to-day living as well as helps families and businesses plan for anything, from long-term goals to unexpected emergencies. 

To level the playing field and promote financial inclusion, Telenor Microfinance Bank is making mobile banking favored by many, not just a few. Its digital wallet, Easypaisa, empowers people to make financial transactions fast, easily, and from anywhere. It was the first of its kind to launch to customers in Pakistan, and it was the first app in the Pakistani financial services sector to take advantage of VMware vSphere with Tanzu.

“While many people don’t have a bank account, the vast majority have a mobile device. Easypaisa makes digital finance more transparent and accessible to the whole population,” explains Khurram Gul Agha, CIO of Telenor Microfinance Bank. 

Easypaisa isn’t just an app. It’s a multi-channel offering that leverages unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) to allow people without a smartphone to access mobile banking by dialing a code. People can transfer money, check their balance, apply for a loan, and generate bank statements from any mobile phone.

Modernizing core technology

Telenor Microfinance Bank pioneered branchless banking in Pakistan with the launch of Easypaisa back in 2009, and the service continues to grow in popularity. 

“We handle around 115 to 120 million transactions per month from 10 million active users,” says Agha. “That’s three times more users than pre-pandemic, and at peak times we process 6 million transactions per second.”

This growth presented some IT challenges: the bank needed better scalability and the ability to update the app with new features quickly, all without compromising high uptime and 24-7 service availability. 

The bank partnered with systems integrator Premier Systems and VMware Professional Services to modernize its application platform and take advantage of Kubernetes.

“As Kubernetes evolved, we realized moving to a container-based approach was more suitable for our environment. The application footprint of financial transactions is very small and only used for a short period of time,” explains Agha.

Together they rolled out VMware vSphere with Tanzu, which includes Tanzu Kubernetes Grid, to automate the delivery of containerized workloads and proactively manage apps in production. They also deployed VMware Tanzu Observability to provide the bank with monitoring, analytics, and visibility across its Kubernetes environment, helping identify issues with new releases quickly and easily.

Adopting an agile approach

As part of Telenor Microfinance Bank shifting to using Tanzu solutions and transforming its approach to developing apps, the bank has adopted agile delivery and DevOps best practices. Developers can release new code into the Easypaisa app without impacting the user experience. If there’s an issue with any code deployed, the team can simply roll back to an earlier version in minutes instead of having to manually redeploy the old code on its 20 servers. 

New virtual machines can now be spun up or down in minutes, instead of days. This not only optimizes operating costs but also gives the bank the ability to respond to changes in the market quickly.

“VMware vSphere with Tanzu allows us to ship code very, very quickly, which helps product innovation. We can also add more environments based on our development pipeline, so it gives us a lot of flexibility,” explains Hasan Ayaz, head of platform engineering, Telenor Microfinance Bank/Easypaisa. 

The solution has also helped the bank use compute resources more efficiently, reducing compute and memory by 15 percent and liberating resources for other projects.

Always-on availability

For people used to cash, financial services can be daunting. Telenor Microfinance Bank needs to ensure Easypaisa is available 24-7 with no downtime, to make life easier for customers. VMware vSphere with Tanzu has an autoscaler feature that automatically creates new containers and ports in response to traffic spikes with zero downtime. This means customers have fast access to Easypaisa services, even during peak times.

Accelerating Pakistan’s digital economy

With the new environment, Telenor Microfinance Bank is well on the way to achieving its mission of providing affordable and accessible financial services to the people of Pakistan. Customers can manage their day-to-day financial transactions in seconds using technology already in their hands.

“VMware and Premier Systems enabled us to deliver on our promises. We can develop exciting new products faster than ever, to boost Pakistan’s digital economy,” Agha says. “We’re really proud of the impact that has on real people. Citizens don’t have to spend hours queuing in the heat to manage their money, and we can move toward being a cashless nation.”

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