Case Study

Ensuring Accountability in Disaster Relief Funds

How can mobile financial services help those who are in need and most difficult to reach?


In the wake of the 2010 flooding across one-fifth of Pakistan that affected over 20 million people, United Bank Limited (UBL), the country’s second largest bank, helped deliver emergency financial aid to over 1.6 million affected households. While flood victims welcomed relief aid, many faced difficulties accessing the funds in a time of critical need. Compounded by the chaos and opportunism that inevitably accompany natural disasters, relief disbursement was turbulent for program administrators and beneficiaries alike.

UBL engaged Reboot to help understand the challenges beneficiaries faced and to design service improvements to enable more efficient and accountable emergency relief in the future. Based on design research among flood-affected communities and an assessment of UBL’s priorities and business processes, we designed a new service model and communications strategy to enable UBL to effectively serve a low-income market segment through its mobile banking product. UBL adopted many of these recommendations, revising their approach to disbursements and their entire market communications to this population.


Nearly the entire population of Pakistan—89 percent—is unbanked or underbanked. This number was exacerbated during and after the devastating floods in the summer of 2010. In response, UBL partnered with the Pakistani government and international donors to deliver 2.3 million emergency cash transfers in the form of prepaid debit cards to over 1.6 million affected households. But many people were unaccustomed to banking and faced difficulties accessing the funds. Some had never used ATM machines and were forced to pay up to 20 percent of their aid money to opportunistic officials. With no existing financial knowledge base, aid could only go so far.

UBL engaged Reboot to help tailor the delivery of financial services to marginalized populations. In exploring the challenges with the flood relief program, however, we found that many difficulties stemmed from beneficiaries’ history of financial exclusion and the lack of experience among Pakistan’s banks in serving rural customers. The flood program represented the first accessible and relevant application of formal banking for many of Pakistan’s poor. Improving the relief program required first adapting the bank’s offerings to this previously unbanked market segment.

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03.30.2011 | Zack Brisson