Getting out of a jam

"We wanted to help women overcome usage barriers in online services and enable them to navigate these tools  with proficiency and confidence"

Merisa Kušljugić | Owner | Condiment Bussiness, Bosnia and Herzegovina

For Merisa Kušljugić, retirement did not mean slowing down. The former accountant instead welcomed her new free time to turn her hobby into a business: making jam.

Her local community has come to enjoy the delicious homemade compotes and preserves, and for the past few years, Kušljugić has successfully sold her wares at fairs and markets as well as from her home. She manages the income through her account at MI-BOSPO, a microfinance institution especially dedicated to women's inclusion in financial services and a long[1]standing EFSE partner in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When the pandemic reached her hometown of Tuzla in 2020, Kušljugić felt unsure about going in person to take care of her finances. Waiting in the queue with others did not seem like the safest idea. Yet how else could she accomplish these errands?

That was when she saw an announcement on MI-BOSPO's Facebook page. The institution was partnering with the EFSE Development Facility to offer a training course for online banking. Specifically, the "Our Classroom" course was geared towards women clients who wanted to expand their digital financial literacy but felt they did not have the experience or knowledge to know where to start. "I was intrigued," says Kušljugić. "I already use the internet and keep in touch with friends and family through social media. But I had always gone in person to do my banking."

Kušljugić was not alone in this regard. An advance survey conducted by the Our Classroom project revealed that while 91% of the 400 respondents owned a device such as a tablet, smartphone, or computer, 87% did not use the internet for banking needs. The main reason reported was a lack of skills. "We wanted to help women overcome usage barriers in online services and enable them to navigate these tools with proficiency and confidence," says Mejra Juzbašić Bajgorić, Regional Director at Finance in Motion, which manages the EFSE Development Facility. "The pandemic has really made it clear how important digital skills are in successfully dealing with changing circumstances."

Socially distanced workshops have so far been held in three towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Tuzla, and continuing into 2021. Participants have benefited from practical demonstrations on devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Online banking services are helping these new users save transaction costs, as internet banking costs below EUR 0.3 per transaction as opposed to upwards of EUR 1.50 to accomplish these in person or through the post; travel costs are greatly reduced, especially for rural clients; no time is spent waiting in queues; and, importantly, exposure to the coronavirus has been minimised thanks to the users' ability to transact financial activities from the safety of their own homes.

The programme is being continued in 2021. "We have always been committed to supporting the benefits to women of financial services, and financial and digital literacy are a key part of this aim," says Safet Husic, CEO of MI-BOSPO. "These clients can now take care of their finances in less time and with more convenience. Financial education and literacy are also useful in equipping them to explore various options, such as new loan products, in an informed manner. We are pleased to see that there has already been quite positive feedback from our clients on this project."

That includes Kušljugić. "It's been is a very useful programme," she says. "Learning how to pay bills via mobile phone without going out and waiting in queues - it means a lot to me. It is both faster and safer. Maybe I will even start selling my jams online!"

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