What a journey it has been!

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

By Weselina Angelow

A basic account is a secure entry point for previously unbanked people to become financially more resilient. It also opens a whole world of opportunities – be it for investing in education for themselves or their children, or in growing their businesses.

In the words of one of the customers of a Scale2Save initiative, implemented in partnership with Centenary Bank:

“I got to know about CenteXpress account from my friend who helped me open the account. I learned about its benefits from my friend and I also

started opening accounts for other students (through the digital link feature)

I have greatly benefited from CenteXpress through the commissions that I have received for opening accounts for others. Further, my parents send me school tuition digitally via CenteXpress. I also use it to buy airtime. More importantly, it helps me save the little amounts that I can set aside from my tailoring business.”

Nakayima Magret, Student and tailor. Kikuubo, Masaka, Uganda.

Between 2016 and 2022 Scale2Save financially included more than 1.3 million women, young people and farmers in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire that helped us better understand – especially in the midst of a pandemic – how, when and why savings contribute to household wellbeing, financial resilience or (creating) business opportunities of or for the people served.

  • Given that the majority of customers are low-income, investments in expanding, restarting, or opening a business can increase income quickly, thereby improving customers’ economic status and financial stability. On average, about 49% used their savings for investment purposes, and most of the time for business-related investments. Almost all financial service providers recorded use of savings for businesses purposes across nearly half of their customers who’d used their savings, 50% of them being male adults. Business investment was also common among adult women. This largely stems from the fact that certain partner FSPs purposely targeted female micro-entrepreneurs and encouraged them to save toward the purchase of a productive asset or another business-related goal. If small balance savings play such an important role for small businesses to sustain, how much more a loan attached to it can assure small business to grow and help create jobs? Something worth exploring going forward.
  • Beyond business investments, approximately 20% of customers used their savings to cover household needs or to finance educational needs.
  • 32% of customers across the target FSPs, indicated that they had experienced some type of shock since they opened their account. 65% of customers who reported experiencing one or multiple shocks indicated that they had used some of their savings to cope with these emergencies.
  • Gender and age aspects matter hugely, but also location and income levels for driving inclusive savings. The research observed differences between ways in which young female customers and young male customers used their savings. Young males more frequently use their savings for business-related purposes, while young females more often use savings for consumption smoothing and for other household-related expenses.

12 unique business models tested

Scale2Save tested and explored 12 very unique business models with a broad range of financial services partners to prove the viability of low balance savings and understand how the institutional model affects the ability to serve the low-income market. Seven of these service partners being WSBI members of which three (BRAC Uganda Bank Limited, Finca Uganda, LAPO Microfinance Bank Nigeria) joined the WSBI family through Scale2Save.

  • The variety of institutions created a whole world of experience that all worked towards the same goal: build partnerships and solutions that are intentional and simple but meet the needs of the specific customer segments they are serving.
  • Sometime this journey was painful, accompanied by repeated trial and error, endless data segmentation and interpolation, all accompanied by an enormous agenda for cultural change to sensitize all value chain actors for what it takes to offer digital savings to low-income people.
  • Here again, female preferences as for the type of information they wish to receive have to be taken into account. It was revealing to us that, across the board, product features seemed to matter less to women than information about channel features and fee structures followed by the need for personal touch points.
  • Digital has been a game changer throughout and not just during COVID but needs to be handled with a gender lens and accompanied by human touch if it is to be successful. If a product worked for women, it equally tended to work for men.
  • The local sales forces, roving agents, field officers, family & friends equipped with digital devices were incremental for creating the volumes of transactions and deposits needed for making the business case for small balance savings work.
  • Financial education – in particular personal nudges – that take women needs and the digital gender gap into account are considered incremental for improving digital account usage.

 

Research

Scale2Save became a strong brand and a community of practice that conducted useful sector research, collaborated with a wide array of sector players and that facilitates disseminating the learnings amongst our members and strategic partners.

Our sector research

For four years in a row, The State of Savings and Retail Banking Sector Series that we put out in partnership with FinMark Trust shed light on innovative models, applied by the now 27 WSBI member institutions in 20 countries on the African continent, sometimes enriched with insights from other sector players such as MNOs, Fintechs, the national Financial Sector Deepening units, the most recent on the state of SME Finance and separately on Innovative Agric Platform models on the African continent.

 

Collaboration with sector players

  • Jointly with Efina (the lead Financial Sector Development Organization in Nigeria) we piloted a customer segmentation tool that creates different customer personas and allows Nigerian financial sector players to define their pro-women or pro-youth financial outreach strategies and that has already generated interest from other financial markets.
  • Together with Centenary Bank and Bank of Uganda (BoU)– the Central Bank – we tested the CGAP customer outcome framework. This framework could help Ugandan FSPs to assess how they meet customer needs around safety, convenience, fairness, voice and choice of services. It can also help the Ugandan and other central banks to assess how the sector meets the goals of its financial inclusion strategy.
  • Insights from Scale2Save allowed us to participate in the European Microfinance Platform’s Action Group on better metrics for savings.

We now have a better understanding of the metrics that track high-level outcomes. This will help WSBI to better tell the story about the huge impact its network has to develop people, businesses and communities.

 

Ongoing dissemination of our learnings to the membership and the wider sector

Our national inclusion events with partners and ecosystem players in Lagos (Nigeria), in Kampala (Uganda) and our close out event in Paris (France) this year received overwhelming interest amongst a couple hundred sector players. In addition, Scale2Save will has put out more than 100 case studies, learning papers, industry reports and blog pieces over the course of its lifetime.

Scale2Save officially ended on 31 August and closed administratively over the course of October. The team however continues unpacking the learnings coming out of Scale2Save on women, youth and farmers, to highlight what drives their economic activity, empowerment and customer engagement, also with a view of continue contributing with learnings to WSBI member best practice exchange and to the ongoing conversation of industry players about financial services’ contribution to impact and wider outcome goals.

For the past six years, Scale2Save has highlighted our African members’ contribution to inclusive finance. Our aim is to have more members benefit from this experience and join our community of practice, which nurtures the role that WSBI members play. It has been a great pleasure to be part of this journey and we thank all our team members, partners institutions, consultants, researchers, national development bodies and policy makers as well as our sponsors the Mastercard Foundation for six years filled with learnings and excitement. We will continue sharing Scale2Save outcomes to keep the momentum alive and raise awareness of the power of the WSBI network.

About the author: Weselina Angelow is WSBI’s Scale2Save Programme Director.

Scale2Save


The Power of Community-Based Organizations to Mobilize Farmers’ Savings

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

A Scale2Save project in Cote d’Ivoire shares what they’ve learned working with farmer cooperatives as financial agents

In Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, cocoa is harvested twice a year, in May-June and in October-December. Between seasons, most smallholder farmers do not generate revenue, but they still have several costs to cover, such as seeds and fertilizer. Managing cash flows to cover production costs is a common struggle, as 72 percent of farmers are below the poverty line and less than 10 percent have a bank account, according to a CGAP survey.

Scale2Save project, launched in 2018 with the MFI Advans Cote d’Ivoire, aims to help smallholder farmers address this challenge by enlisting farmer cooperatives to act as financial agents which can hold their members’ savings. The project is built on the strong relationship and high level of trust that exist between farmers and their cooperatives.

A successful start

Three years after the start of this project, 24 cooperatives are now on board, each of them enabling about 300 farmers to deposit and withdraw money from their Advans bank accounts at the cooperative’s office. The cooperatives’ location close to the farmers’ fields makes it more convenient for the farmers and is safer than traveling with cash to the closest bank branch, usually located several kilometers away.

Now farmers can systematically deposit some of their harvest season sales revenues into accounts at the cooperative and then make withdrawals later in the year as needed. The savings allow them to smooth cash flows and improve crop production management. Over the long term, the farmers’ savings could help them to diversify their income sources by investing in a wider range of crops and to become more and more financially autonomous from the cooperatives.

The cooperatives were motivated to join this partnership for two main reasons. One, they can receive a profit through the customers’ transactions. And two, perhaps more importantly, it further strengthens their relationship with the farmers, having a positive effect on the cooperative’s reputation and farmers’ networking opportunities.

By the end of 2021, Advans had collected more than $17 million in savings from some 86,000 famers through their cooperative network. Twitter logo Now the target is to raise that amount to over $19 million in deposits from 120,000 farmers by mid-2022.

Challenges and learning along the way

During the project’s pilot, we encountered a few challenges, which helped us understand better how to provide an effective service that consolidates trust in the agency banking system for all players. Here’s what we learned:

  1. Motivation is not enough; training is key. Becoming a third-party agent was a completely new business for the cooperative and, despite their enthusiasm, staff found it more complex than expected. Originally only one training was foreseen, but in reality several trainings were needed at all staff levels to ensure a 100 percent uptake and for the cooperative to become a fully functioning third-party agent. The trainings focused mainly on cash flow management, and financial and digital literacy.
  2. Prepare for growth with automating solutions. As the network of cooperative agents grew, Advans could no longer rely on ad-hoc exchanges with each one, so it had to set up an agency banking solution in the form of a digital application that enabled effective transactions with a growing network. This application ensured little to no errors in the transactions and a speedy service to the customers. Automating the system also enhances the growth potential, taking Advans closer to its goal of reaching out to a larger number of customers in a variety of agricultural sectors.
  3. Develop relations with mobile network operators to ensure a good system network connection. During the pilot, an unstable mobile network connection in rural areas was a clear obstacle to the cooperatives’ ability to provide financial services. The most common problem this created were undelivered text messages that made customers uneasy when they did not receive confirmation of transactions even a long time after they were made. This had a negative consequence on trust, the pillar of the cooperative-farmer relationship. The solution was to approach the mobile network operators and call on them to put everything in place to ensure a well-working and stable mobile network available on site for the customers to use. This challenge remains even now at certain locations.
  4. Design communications to take into account all literacy levels. Since a high proportion of smallholder farmers are illiterate, the usual financial education tools were not appropriate. To address this particular challenge, Advans developed simple graphic financial education material. The material included illustrations and step-by-step guidance on how to make transactions, making it accessible to both literate and illiterate customers.

The way forward

Despite the successful uptake so far, the business model is not yet viable for the financial service provider. After three years of project implementation, data shows a low number of withdrawals at the cooperative, suggesting that the fees are not attractive and that farmers prefer to spend time and money to travel to the closest bank branch where withdrawals are free. Advans Côte d’Ivoire is now reviewing the pricing strategy.

The gender and age gap also remains a challenge. Out of the 86,000 farmers on-boarded by the end of 2021, only 11 percent are female and 6 percent are under 30 years old. Advans is working with international and local NGOs to empower female farmers and is planning to work directly with women’s groups in 2022.

The model’s challenges are not small, but the potential impact is huge Twitter logo, as 70 percent of Ivory Coast’s population depends to some extent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Scale2Save is sharing the learning from this process as widely as possible, with the aim of showing a way forward to build smallholder resilience and contribute to financial inclusion.

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How Can Small Scale Savings Be Offered Sustainably?

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

Only 55 percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 53 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, have an account at a financial institution. Usage rates to make digital payments, as well as to save and borrow are even lower in these regions

How Can Small Scale Savings Be Offered Sustainably?

Learnings from the Scale2Save Program on successful business and institutional models
Vegetable market in Nigeria. CGAP Photo via Communication for Development Ltd.

Only 55 percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 53 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, have an account at a financial institution. Usage rates to make digital payments, as well as to save and borrow are even lower in these regions. Few formal financial service providers (FSPs) in Africa offer attractive small scale savings products because the market potential of low-income segments to save is poorly understood. Twitter logo Plus, low usage represents a real drain on bank costs, making FSPs wary of reaching out to this market.

But can small scale savings be offered sustainably? And if so, how? That is what we wanted to find out at Scale2Save, a partnership between WSBI and the Mastercard Foundation which aimed to establish the viability of low–balance savings accounts. From 2016 to 2022, we worked with 12 FSPs in six African countries to test different innovative business models. After six years of implementation, we have a number of lessons learned that we would like to share – in particular around the key drivers we identified for viable business models and the institutional factors that affect an FSP’s ability to offer low-balance savings products.

Developing a viable business model

While there is no “one size fits all” business model, our work with FSPs in Africa helped us identify three business model characteristics that are key for making small scale savings sustainable. Twitter logo These business model drivers address the following three issues:

  1. Demand: How to create a savings product that sells well.
  2. Cost and accessibility: How to make the savings product accessible for low-income clients as well as affordable for the FSP.
  3. Marketing: How to promote savings products efficiently to the low-income segment.

Demand: In exploring how to drive demand, we found that FSPs need to undertake in-depth client research to get to know their clients and identify their underlying needs to develop a product that motivates savers to sign up. For example, farmers need savings to buy inputs to increase their yield, respond to family emergencies, pay for health care because they are not insured and send their children to school.

According to a study of Advans Microfinance Bank in Ivory Coast, 40 percent of cocoa producers have to send their children to school two months later on average because they do not have the funds to pay the school fees at the beginning of the year. Based on that research, Advans now provides smallholder cocoa farmers with savings accounts and education loans to help its customers overcome cashflow challenges between harvests, enabling families to send their children to school following the school calendar and not the harvest season. This bundled product was developed using client insights and prototyping, with focus groups and studies first assessing client priorities and needs, and then constant testing of products with the target clients during the pilot phase.

Cost and accessibility: To be affordable and accessible for the low-income market, savings products should be free or very low-cost, and should take advantage of digitization, agent banking and doorstep services to reach more customers. But these services are not free, so how can an FSP offer them without sending costs through the roof? Without a doubt, the most successful strategy we saw was through partnerships. Centenary Bank in Uganda, for example, shares its agent network with a competitor, FINCA Uganda, increasing agents profits and reducing the bank’s costs. In Ivory Coast, Advans partners with smallholder farmer cooperatives to play the role of third-party agent network, a very successful strategy to mobilize small scale savings with this target customer.

Marketing: All of the business models we looked at needed to reach a certain scale, generally around 100,000 customers, in order to make a profit and become sustainable. Onboarding new customers quickly, and with a positive first customer experience to keep them using the product, is therefore key for sustainability. Transparency and financial education were among the most successful strategies for making this happen. In terms of transparency, LAPO in Nigeria found that customers liked physical cashbooks and SMS transaction confirmation as evidence of their savings rather than relying on the fully digitized system. In addition, multiple financial education trainings through branch and roving staff were necessary for rural mothers to really understand the insurance product features and potential benefits for their family and then start using the product.

Key institutional characteristics

Besides having a viable business model, there are also certain institutional factors that help ensure an FSP can offer small scale savings sustainably. Upon evaluating the Scale2Save program as it came to an end earlier this year, we compiled the following set of institutional conditions that affected FSPs’ ability to successfully serve low-income segments.

  • A wide reach and a strong brand presence are necessary to build the scale required to reach sustainability. Centenary Bank Uganda, for example, not only has a widespread network of 5,800 agents, but also has a well-established brand in the local community thanks to its partnership with the Catholic church.
  • A social mandate and leadership with a pro-poor vision help to ensure the FSP’s commitment to the low-income market. For example, Kenya Post Office Savings Bank’s primary mission is to provide accessible financial services to all segments in the market regardless of their income status.
  • A flat organizational structure expedites decision-making, which is a critical factor in reaching a new target market with a new product.
  • A dedicated department or a senior-level product champion helps to drive efforts within the business towards successfully developing, offering and selling the product. At Advans, the integration of the project team into the Commercial Department and Business Development Department sent a strong signal to staff that these activities were becoming core activities.
  • Willingness to undergo a change management process to transform the institutional culture. The culture of credit-led institutions can negatively affect how customers perceive the FSP’s savings products, as well as the mindset of staff and how they behave in offering savings. Accompaniment through a change management process, aimed at training bank staff on transitioning from a credit-only FSP to a deposit-taking and credit-offering one, has shown positive results.
  • Established digital systems. FSPs which do not have digital solutions already in place will need to go through a digital transformation first in order to offer small scale savings sustainably.

Where do we go from here?

As the Scale2Save program ends, we are encouraged by the learnings we’ve gathered, which show us that it is indeed possible to offer small scale savings sustainably. But there is still much more work to be done. Twitter logo

FSPs need to make concerted efforts to identify savers’ needs through customer research, and to incorporate data-driven decision-making into the product development process. On an ongoing basis, they must focus on customer activity, not just acquisition, to address the common challenge of inactivity and ensure new services’ sustainability. Donors also still have a role to play in driving small scale savings, as the challenges involved in developing a viable business case for low-income segments in Africa mean that FSPs often require an external push to get started.

The financial inclusion sector needs to come together in recognition of the importance of savings. If we each do our part, we can help advance small scale savings so that all customers, regardless of income, have access to a savings account that meets their needs. Twitter logo

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From Ideation to Iteration: Human-Centered Design of Micro-Savings in Nigeria

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

Five lessons from LAPO Microfinance Bank’s experience using HCD to revamp their child savings account product

By Irene Wagaki

 

In 2019, LAPO Microfinance Bank of Nigeria undertook an audacious goal to onboard over 168,000 savers in three years through a child savings account. To help them meet this goal, management decided to use a Human-Centered Design (HCD) process to evaluate and revamp their offering. The My Pikin & I account, which means “My Child and I,” seeks to motivate consistent savings through incentives including micro-insurance for mothers and scholarships for their children.

Read it on FinDev Gateway

With the support of WSBI’s Scale2Save programme for financial inclusion and IDEO.org, the LAPO team conducted a two-phased HCD process. The first phase involved research, synthesis and ideation, and the second phase was prototyping, iteration and refining. Immersive research techniques such as observation, interviews and focus groups were used, followed by synthesis of findings to draw persona maps and insights that fed into the ideation activities.

Here’s what we learned through this process:

1

Make sure you have a specific strategic outcome in mind that human-centered design can address. In the case of the My Pikin & I product, the goals became clear upon holding initial stakeholder sessions with LAPO Microfinance Bank’s senior management teams. They sought to attract new clients and motivate them to save consistently, thus helping them attain the MFI’s goal for deposit mobilization. HCD was needed to realize that goal as it centers on clients’ personal needs and aspirations while meeting the institution’s strategic goals.

2

Keep it simple. Co-creating with customers requires simplified prototypes. The HCD process helped LAPO Microfinance Bank make communication materials more accessible to its target audience. During the prototyping exercises, customers suggested rewording the messaging to show the benefits one incentive at a time rather than providing loads of information in one poster.

3

Find out what motivates your clients and capitalize on it. Immersive customer interviews helped the LAPO Microfinance Bank team realize that the ability to save was not enough of a motivation for customers. They needed to see tangible benefits from the start in order to save consistently. So the team added a microinsurance incentive, offering premium-free coverage against accident and critical illness, that is tied to consistent savings behaviour. According to the product roadmap, LAPO Microfinance Bank plans to extend the cover to include health insurance. The design team was also intrigued to discover that customers preferred to keep their physical cashbooks as evidence of their savings rather than rely on the fully digitized system the team had designed. This finding provided an opportunity for LAPO Microfinance Bank to build trust by offering a redesigned physical cashbook, thus reinforcing the physical attachment to the cashbook as well as providing a savings tracking tool. Complementary evidence of transactions is also provided via SMS confirmation.

4

Customer-facing agents and personnel require the right tools, not just training. LAPO’s “aha” moment came when they realized that staff didn’t actually need more training on how to explain products’ features to new customers. What they really needed was a handy tool for onboarding customers. The design team created a visual pitch of the My Pikin & I product that spoke to the target customers’ aspirations, needs and concerns. The videos serve as explainers and are displayed on a tablet as part of the customer onboarding process.

5

Take advantage of the transformative potential of the HCD process. At its core, HCD is a highly collaborative process. LAPO’s team brought together people from many different departments, including savings, research, agency banking and customer service. They all participated in prototyping exercises with customers, using the feedback they received to adjust product design. This experience brought about organizational transformation for LAPO Microfinance Bank, as it helped to impart new skills, break hierarchy barriers and develop more innovative mindsets.

Next steps for LAPO: Experimentation Phase

After going through the HCD process, LAPO Microfinance Bank implemented the My Pikin & I product with a heavy on-ground presence of agents and roving staff. These agents continue to complement the bank’s physical and digital banking channels, especially in rural locations.

Their efforts have been successful. Since the products’ re-launch in 2019, over 125,000 new customers have joined LAPO Microfinance Bank and opened My Pikin & I accounts. However, the microinsurance incentive has not experienced a proportionate increase in uptake, with only 7,400 insurance takers. For LAPO Microfinance Bank to optimize the My Pikin & I product fully with its go-to-market strategies, the next step would be an experimentation phase to study which insurance benefits are most effective in sustaining a positive savings behavior.

Ultimately, the human-centered design process should be incorporated as an ongoing way of doing business, as it can help the MFI keep its clients’ needs and desires at the forefront, while also working towards the institutions’ goals.

 

About the author

Irene Wagaki works as a consultant for WSBI’s Scale2Save programme for financial inclusion in Africa. She is a behavioral researcher and designer at Lime Group Africa with experience in leading Human-Centered Design for digital financial services, savings, microinsurance, financial literacy and agri-business interventions. She holds an MBA and certifications in Behavioral Science, Human Centered Design and Digital Identity.

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TCB digitalizes savings groups to serve low-income women and youth

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

On the occasion of World Savings Day 2021, Tanzania Commercial Bank Plc (TCB), a WSBI member and learning partner of its programme for financial inclusion, Scale2Save, shared the experience of working with savings groups in rural areas. TCB developed the digital product M-KOBA to address five main challenges savings groups face. Now, TCB is taking M-KOBA further by targeting Village Savings and Loans Associations.

The development of M-KOBA

Tanzania Commercial Bank Plc (TCB) previously called TPB Bank Plc has always championed financial inclusion by providing services and products to serve the population at the bottom of the pyramid.

TBD conducted a three-year project (2018-2020) with USD 1 million provided by the Mastercard Foundation for the Savings at the Frontier (SatF) programme (Digitizing Informal Saving Mechanisms) and overseen by Oxford Policy Management (OPM). The goal was to bring on board 250,000 customers by 2020 of whom 20,000 would be purely rural. TCB launched the project in 15 locations, all in rural areas. The project led to the development of a pure digital group saving product called M-KOBA.

Launched in January 2019, M-KOBA is a mobile based product meant to facilitate group saving and provides solutions to five challenges that many formal and informal savings groups in Tanzania currently face. These are the challenges and the way M-KOBA addressed them:

  1. Security: Banking through this mobile account, the security of funds of customers is high, compared to the traditional saving mechanisms they normally use.
  2. Transparency: The whole process starting from customer registration to fund transfer (depositing) is transparent in the sense that all group members are involved.
  3. Convenience: The M-KOBA product is very easy for customers to understand and use. With M-Koba, individual members can contribute, apply for a loan and vote through their mobile phones, without physically convening in one place.
  4. Cost effectiveness: All customers transactions via M-KOBA are free of charge except for balance checks which are available for a small fee.
  5. Accessibility: M-KOBA is accessible anytime and anywhere, through the customer’s mobile phone.

Taking it further

To extend the project further, in October 2020, TCB entered into a partnership with Plan International Tanzania (Plan).

Plan is a child centered organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Plan has been working in five thematic areas: Child protection, Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCH&N), Equal access to basic education, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE).

Plan’s YEE programs have been supporting vulnerable youth, especially young women and their families to improve livelihoods. This through provision of market relevant skills, support formation of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) and by facilitating linkage to private sector economic opportunities. VSLAs are informal, have simple record keeping, and members have full ownership and control. This methodology enables VSLAs to provide basic financial services to people in remote areas that lack infrastructure. The group members are 80% women and their main economic activity is agriculture. However, VSLAs face some limitations in offering financial services to its members, including:

  1. The safety of the money is not guaranteed, as VSLA save their money in metal boxes at home.
  2. At the initial parts of a cycle, the group has little money, which makes it difficult to meet its members’ credit needs.
  3. At times, when the loan demand is low, the group has excess liquidity and would rather save these excess funds in a bank account, where the money is safe and can earn some interest instead of lying idle.
  4. Since the loans from the group are based on member’s savings, the group is unable to provide larger loans. Also, the tenure of the loans is short, which is not appropriate for investing in income generating activities which have a longer pay-back period.

In order to address these limitations faced by the VSLAs, Plan and TCB entered into a partnership, whereby TCB would provide 2 products:

  1. M-KOBA, a digital form of saving money, accessing loans and sharing earnings to VSLA members. M-KOBA provides security of the VSLAs’ money, increase transparency and simplicity for members to contribute through mobile agency banking M-Pesa. M-KOBA digitalizes the VSLA processes and increases safety by using bank or M-Pesa savings accounts.
  2. Group savings products and potentially/eventually other bank products and services to the VSLAs formed i.e. Group loans and Group Life insurance.

Photos: ​Between August and October 2021 in Isanzu, Nyang’ingi, Sangabuye and Laela villages, saving group representatives met with TCB and Plan team to be trained on how to use M-KOBA, group loans application processes and life insurance.

Scale2Save


Financial Services That Work for Young People

Scale2Save Campaign

Micro savings, maximum impact.

How Social Norms Impact Financial Resilience Among the Youth in Africa
Descriptive social norms are unwritten rules that people follow unconsciously. These rules shape society and culture, and help differentiate one context from another. Social norms apply to people across age groups, but young people between the ages of 15-24 feel particular pressure to conform to them, as they’re in the process of building the foundations for adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it.

FSPs have proven they are capable of reaching and including vulnerable groups of the population, but they face challenges in assessing how social norms and expectations might affect young people and their inclusion. Our research finds two elements relevant to determining young people’s financial behaviors: social norms related to age and expectations related to life stages.

SOCIAL NORMS RELATED TO AGE IMPACT FINANCIAL INCLUSION
A typical household is made up of adults (parents or guardians), young adults, youth, children, etc., and the age of these residents naturally affects their position and roles in the household. These household structures influence financial inclusion and the social norms and expectations placed on young people by their families, friends and other community members. And these social norms are often first taught at home. Young people’s understanding of these norms — and the ages at which they adopt them — can partly be deduced by studying population pyramids that show the life stages of people in typical households, and when young people transition from one stage to the next. For example, the age until which young people are expected to remain in education is determined by how many young people, at any given age, are still in education and the age at which they usually lead their own household. Graph one below shows analyses of these household transitions for Nigeria and Senegal.

We found that the transition to heading a household, in line with increasing expectations to become more financially independent, starts around the age of 15 across the three research countries, and may continue well beyond the age of 30. This should encourage FSPs’ interest in actively serving people as young as 15, because social norms themselves do not appear to limit young people’s financial inclusion. Rather, social norms create pressures and expectations for financial inclusion as young people become old enough to head their own households, but young people are unable to meet those expectations because FSPs are hampered by regulations that hinder their ability to cater to their needs. For example, because FSPs in these research countries do not allow for the autonomous use of accounts by people in their mid-teens, young people cope with these pressures by accessing formal financial services through mobile providers that aren’t subject to those restrictions.

But though social norms can be seen as an enabler of financial inclusion for young people in general, they can also hold young women back from using digital finance, accessing sources of funding and becoming economically independent. For example, women in Morocco who feel free to work before marriage face social pressure to stop working after marriage because, they said, working while married suggests their husband could not care for them financially. This sort of social norm is sometimes validated and perpetuated by FSPs’ policies, hampering women’s access to finance and capital. For instance in Nigeria, these policies may even prevent young women who are employed from accessing loans, unless they are married and their husbands have a job. This policy approach suggests that social expectations are that all women should be married, and all husbands should have a job.

Likewise, social expectations in Senegal put pressure on young men to secure an income and achieve enough financial independence to head and support their household, which might include multiple generations. The expectation and pressure young men feel in Senegal increases with age, survey respondents said, because both the size of the household and occupants’ needs increase. Hence, FSPs could support young people better if they came to understand the ways these social norms impact financial inclusion at different customer ages.

EXPECTATIONS RELATED TO LIFE STAGES
But age alone isn’t the only factor that can impact financial inclusion in the communities we studied: Stages of development were also an important factor.

Stages of development are periodic phases that characterize developmental milestones and can alter a young person’s life trajectory, such as completing school, finding employment or becoming a parent. They can be categorized by age and are often gendered. The surrounding social context also influences how young people experience each stage of development.

For example, the parental household is typically a springboard for young people transitioning through life stages, from education to employment. We found that even among young adults (aged 18-25), parents remain a financial support mechanism and social norms partly influence how much of this support young people receive from parents. For instance, parents in Morocco supported their children attending university more than those not pursuing education, while in Nigeria and Senegal, financial support from parents decreased steadily over age groups, regardless of whether the children were pursuing education. This is because young people remain financially vulnerable during the initial stages of their growth toward independence, at least until they marry.

Marriage itself represents another key life stage that has an important impact on social norms and financial inclusion efforts. Once married, women in Senegal are expected to cook for the whole household. So young unmarried women have more time and flexibility to study or work full-time. This, however, was not the case in Nigeria, where both young women and men in our study agreed that marriage did not determine the limitations of young women’s work and financial aspirations (though as mentioned above, remaining single was a limitation in accessing loans). These social norms mean that young women in Nigeria are better placed to negotiate financial independence from their husbands, whereas young women in Senegal must adapt to new responsibilities after marriage that could impact their financial resilience negatively.

These findings suggest that financial service providers in these countries need a new approach to serving young customers and potential customers. To improve financial resilience and allow young people to benefit from opportunities, FSPs working to build digital services for young people must also take into consideration their life stage development and social norms. Generally, we find that FSPs are not very strong in customer-centric and outcome-focused design. This needs to change if they are to reach new young customers.

Such an approach will help FSPs understand how and under which circumstances young people’s resilience and opportunities are impacted by the expectations of their surrounding communities. The approach must include research to gain an understanding of young people’s realities and needs, which could inform the creation of detailed depictions of potential customer personas, market scoping exercises and customer journey maps. These methods must be based on young people’s experiences because the best way to understand them is by talking to them. By building this understanding, FSPs will be better able to support young people — and more likely to retain them as active customers in the long term.

Lise Paaskesen is an independent consultant at Lise Consultancy, and Weselina Angelow is program director at Scale2Save at the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute.

Social norms also shape people’s experiences in using financial services. But according to the findings of the Young People in Africa study, the opposite can also happen — i.e., financial service providers (FSPs) can influence social norms through the services they offer. The 2019 study — conducted by Scale2Save, a World Savings and Retail Banking Institute programme for financial inclusion in Africa supported by the Mastercard Foundation — included 909 stakeholders in Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal. It examined young people’s experience through a mixed research approach: financial diaries and macro quantitative data analysis, both complemented by qualitative research to better understand young people’s aspirations, support structures and financial behaviors. The findings suggest that FSPs have the potential to improve young people’s opportunities and resilience by offering services that foster more autonomy, decision-making and bargaining power, thus contributing to changing social norms in those areas. Below, we’ll discuss these findings and their implications for FSPs and their customers in Africa and beyond.

ASSESSING FINANCIAL ACCESS AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE IN AFRICA
Most of the young study participants were economically active, preferred to diversify their sources of income, saved in case of unexpected emergencies and increased their savings in line with rises in income. Our research revealed that the formal financial system works much better for young people older than 18, which leaves many younger people marginalized by the sector. However, this does not mean that under-18s cannot benefit from being financially included: They also feel social pressures to grow their finances. Hence, young people — those aged 15-18 in particular — have found a way to negotiate these social pressures by accessing digital routes. In some cases, they are even closing the digital access gap between them and their older peers. In Nigeria and Senegal, for instance, it is increasingly possible to use the formal financial system’s digital infrastructure without owning an account or wallet in one’s own name, opening the door to greater access to digital products among young people who use accounts opened by their relatives. However, this is not possible in Morocco, where young people are disproportionately represented among the financially unserved population.

Data analysis based on Findex data (see table one below) shows that among all young people, regardless of the life stage they are in, digital access to finance is higher than access via an FSP, even by their mid-teens (age 15-17). Note: In this chart, digital access refers to both access to formal FSPs’ digital products (via an account opened by an adult) and digital access via their own accounts at mobile money and other non-FSP providers.

Source: Findex and Young People in Africa research report, pp.14-15

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Keeping Finance in the Family: How Intra-Family Accounts Can Help Low-Income Customers During COVID-19 – and Beyond

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We all know that banks struggle to generate active usage of the accounts offered to young people. This is for a few reasons. Young people tend to have limited amounts of money, so balances are typically low, and the accounts are less profitable to the bank. Furthermore, regulations may bar young people below 18 years of age from opening a bank account without parental consent. And finally, young people do not always feel at home in a bank, and banks may not be skilled enough to catch young people’s attention.

Last year I was part of a team that conducted a Financial Diaries study of young people in Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal as part of a comprehensive research on “Young People in Africa” that was conducted on behalf of the Scale2Save Programme—a partnership initiative between the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute. The team has produced a comprehensive report on our findings, but we also wanted to share some of what we learned in more accessible blogs and draw out the implications for the time of COVID-19. This is the third of three articles coming out of that study – you can read the first article here, and the second one here.
Editor’s note: This article is part of NextBillion’s series “Enterprise in the Time of Coronavirus,” which explores how the business and development sectors are responding to the pandemic. For news updates and analysis, virtual events, and links to useful resources related to the COVID-19 crisis, check out our coronavirus resource page.

As you can read in the second article of this series, the financial diaries found that young people definitely save frequently and significantly, and when their earnings rise their savings increase more than proportionately. In the first article, we described the intense financial relationship between young people and their mothers and, to a lesser extent, their fathers. Young people don’t only receive money from parents, they also contribute financially to parents – even after they have moved out.

THE BENEFITS OF FAMILY ACCOUNTS FOR CUSTOMERS
Even before COVID-19, the above findings led us to think about intra-family accounts—accounts that serve multiple people in the same family. The family account we have in mind would be a digital account with sub-accounts that have priority access to each other: It would enable free intra-family transfers and intra-family requests for advance payments.

Such a family account would have sub-accounts for each family member, whatever their age. There are already variations on this type of family account in different markets, and based on our research, we believe the following account functionalities would be appealing to all members of a family:

Main product features: There would be one main account and as many sub-accounts as needed to accommodate other members of the family. The sub-accounts would offer complete confidentiality for the user, except in cases where regulations allow parents to access and control minors’ accounts, and they would work as a normal individual account for the sub-account holders.
Pricing: All the money in the main account and sub-accounts could be transferred instantly – and we recommend for free – to the main people the account-holders give money to and receive money from. No fees would be charged for transfers between accounts and sub-accounts or across sub-accounts, by either the financial service provider or, if it is a mobile money account, the telco. But fees would be charged if money were moved out of the account into the open ecosystem—for example, to cash out or bill-pay from that wallet. In this case, normal charges (i.e.: the same fees as accounts that don’t have attached sub-accounts) would apply. Equally, if a family member wished to send money to another account rather than to one of the sub-accounts, then a charge would also apply.
Specific product features: Some payments could be programmed. For example, a parent could set a weekly transfer for bus fare to a daughter attending secondary school, or a monthly contribution for clothes to a son doing an apprenticeship. Young people could program their account to pay a percentage of any income they receive in their account as a contribution to family costs—the first article in this series showed that many young people give a contribution (in cash) to their family out of their earnings. In the event that individual wallets do not have an integrated loan feature, family members could ask each other for advance payments (“family loans”) that could be administered through the account. The advance payment could be set to be automatically repaid when funds arrive in the borrower’s account.

THE BENEFITS OF FAMILY ACCOUNTS FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES PROVIDERS
For the financial service provider, offering this service could be attractive, providing:

Higher balances on the family account: Financial service providers would issue one account, but would capture the savings of all family members in one go.
Data about all family members and how support mechanisms work: The provider would get access to rich information about transactions which currently take place in cash, and which are not on the bank’s radar. This data could be useful for supporting loans to members of the family – or even to the family as a whole, once the bank can see how much of a financial safety net the family has – due to the range of earning sources of different family members.
Access to young people without marketing and regulatory barriers: Probably the biggest benefit would be that financial service providers could quite easily reach young people and start building a relationship with them, without having to directly market themselves to the young, which may not come naturally to them. Moreover, having a family account would overcome the regulatory challenges of serving minors. The parents or family head would apply for the family account, and would give the permission needed for the minors in the family to get and manage an account.

A USEFUL FINANCIAL TOOL DURING COVID-19
An account like this could play a vital role in strengthening the resilience of young people and their families in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, both by maintaining the mutual support between young people and their parents, and by enabling them to build savings and use those funds as a family during the crisis – and over the longer-term.

During lockdowns, when different family members may not be physically close, these digital accounts would allow mutual support to continue through the sharing of the modest earnings of one or two members of the family. Knowing that all earnings and savings during that period can be pooled could save a family much stress and frustration. For example, let’s say a daughter works in a small shop in town, and the lockdown prevents her from reaching home. Having a shared account would make it possible for her to send some of her earnings to her parents to help them survive, for free.

It is likely that countries will face multiple waves of infection over the next 18 months or so. In the face of limited government support, families will need to rely on pooled savings, with everyone in the family setting money aside during the periods when lockdown is relaxed and some earnings are possible. Through this type of account, families would be able to help all their members ride the waves of disease and lockdown.

Scale2Save is testing the viability of low-balance accounts for different segments with 10 partners in six countries in Africa. Testing digital account features that can be used by family members is part of the journey. For More on Scale2Save, please visit www.wsbi-esbg.org/KnowledgeSharing/scale2save.

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Turning Crisis Into Opportunity: Advancing Digital Financial Inclusion in Morocco

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Increased government-to-person payments help pave the way for a growth in mobile payment accounts.
As COVID-19 has severely limited travel and made it harder for people to visit bank branches, the quest for digital financial inclusion has become more important than ever. Many developing countries with strong cash cultures are now receiving support from governments as they take action to accelerate the move from cash to digital. During the last few months, governments have set up government-to-person (G2P) payments to send much-needed financial support to low-income families and small businesses, outside of the usual social protection mechanisms

Taking advantage of the opportunity in Morocco
Scale2Save’s project in Morocco, in partnership with Al Barid Bank and its payment institution subsidiary Barid Cash, has taken advantage of this opportunity to further our work digitizing G2P payments and developing a mobile payment ecosystem.

After strict lock-down measures imposed in March began to impact the economy, the Moroccan government released an emergency fund aimed at supporting low-income people. Grants ranged from $90 to $130 per month depending on household size and were disbursed in April and May. Beneficiaries could collect their grants in cash at any financial service provider (FSP) within the country.

With its large network of payment points within the country, Barid Cash became one of the disbursement centers where beneficiaries could receive their payments. As G2P recipients visited Barid Cash outlets to collect their grants, the FSP tried to incentivize them to open mobile payment accounts and thus shift from cash to account-based government transfers. Barid Cash used several methods to encourage the opening of mobile payment accounts, including:

Waiving the costs on mobile payment accounts for G2P beneficiaries.
Adding useful services such as water and electricity payments and mobile top-ups.
Conducting an information campaign to highlight the advantages of mobile payment accounts, which include quicker access to funds, avoiding queues at payment points and the “stay safe at home” advantage of digital transfers over cash.
Accessibility got a big boost when the Moroccan Central Bank, Bank Al-Maghrib, temporarily simplified account opening procedures during the pandemic, allowing anyone to open a basic payment account, capped at $555, without going to the branch. Based on a client’s phone number and digitized national ID card, the new rules deferred KYC (know-your-customer) regulations when a basic account opens.

A dip and then a significant increase
When the crisis first hit Morocco in March, client enrollment rates for Barid Cash suffered from the effects of the lockdown and lack of branch visits, going down 36 percent in March, compared to the average of January and February.

But the digital account narrative soon flipped. In April, the client enrollment rate jumped suddenly by more than 80 percent compared to March, and May experienced a similar growth rate. The spike in uptake came from the COVID-19 emergency funds released in April and May, as well as the measures taken by Barid Cash to persuade customers to open a payment account. The average client enrollment rate for April and May showed a 62 percent increase compared to the average of the pre-crisis period of January and February.

Lessons for building a digital payment ecosystem
From this experience, we have learned that agility is key. Barid Cash was able to act fast to become a key disbursement point for COVID-19 funds, and took advantage of this position to bring more clients into the mobile payment ecosystem. Bank Al-Maghrib served as a key enabler here, having decided to ease KYC requirements for remote opening of low balance accounts for the entire sector. There is hope that this measure is not temporary.

Clients also need a reason to switch to digital. Barid Cash paid attention to what their customers needed and used a mix of measures that met these needs to encourage the opening of mobile payment accounts.

In the end, circumstances also played an important role in building trust and confidence in a new service. For many lower income people, a digital payment account came at just the right time, when lockdown measures were making it very difficult to withdraw cash. Customers can now use these accounts going forward to access their money more quickly, send and receive funds and pay bills. We believe that these convenient features will encourage people to use their accounts more actively, thus helping to boost their economic resilience.

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Giving and Receiving: Understanding the Financial Flows Between Young People and Their Parents

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Editor’s note: This article is part of NextBillion’s series “Enterprise in the Time of Coronavirus,” which explores how the business and development sectors are responding to the pandemic. For news updates and analysis, virtual events, and links to useful resources related to the COVID-19 crisis, check out our coronavirus resource page.

Last year I was part of a team that conducted a Financial Diaries study of young people in Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal as part of a comprehensive research project on “Young People in Africa” that was conducted on behalf of the Scale2Save Programme — a partnership between the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute and the Mastercard Foundation. The team has produced a comprehensive report on our findings, but we also wanted to share some of what we learned in a more accessible format, and to explore the implications in light of COVID-19. This is the first of three NextBillion articles coming out of that study – you can read the second article here, and the third one here.

Young people in Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal tend to live in their parents’ homes until around 25 years of age. They maintain a strong connection to their parents when living at home, and that bond remains when they move away. In this context, parents often provide financial and other support to their children. But is this always the case? And if not, what are the implications for financial service providers and financial inclusion promoters?

In this study we asked young people to tell us about any support they had given or received from various members of their family, as well as friends and neighbors. The answers suggest a complex, dynamic interplay between parents and their children that extends beyond a one-way dependency of young people on their parents – especially among the Morocco sample of young people.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it entails, opportunities for young people to earn money have been hit hard – and their parents are facing similar challenges. We do not know the ultimate impact of the pandemic on families, but the financial diaries data we’ve gathered suggest that it will affect both the economic activities of individual family members and the economic relationships among family members.

 

CONTEXT MATTERS

There was considerable variation in the amount of money young people gave to or received from their parents during the study. This variation may not be generalizable to the young people in the country as a whole because of the small sample size, but it is indicative of how different parent-child financial relationships can be. For instance in Morocco, young people gave more to their parents than they received, while in Senegal young people gave less than half what they received from their parents. In Nigeria, it was less than a quarter. Furthermore, in Morocco transfers of money were far greater as a share of the total earnings of participants in the diaries studies: Transfers there amounted to 41% of the participants’ earnings, while in Senegal they were 25%, and in Nigeria only 7% (Figure 1).

 

In Figure 1 the size of each pie shows the total amount of transfers as a share of earnings—the bigger the pie, the bigger the amount of transfers relative to the respondents’ earnings – while the slices of the pie show the share of transfers received by the diaries participants and the share of transfers they gave.

 

These financial support patterns should be seen in light of the overall support that young people receive and give. For example, the Moroccan young people overwhelmingly reported giving their parents financial support as opposed to in-kind or work support. In contrast, in Nigeria, young people only gave financial support in less than 20% of all instances when they gave their parents support. In most instances, they supported their parents with work. In Senegal, 34% of instances were in the form of money and 54% in the form of work (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Type of Support Given by Young People to their Parents

 

MOTHERS MATTER

Generally, young people in each country worked or participated in a business activity about half the time or less: 46% of the time in Morocco, 52% of the time in Nigeria, and 34% of the time in Senegal. But when they did work, they gave money to their parents, especially their mothers and especially in Morocco — in almost every week that they worked, young Moroccans gave money to their mothers. In contrast, they only gave money to their fathers in less than a quarter of the weeks when they worked. Young Senegalese and Nigerians were generally less likely than young Moroccans to give money to their parents in weeks when they earned, but, as in Morocco, mothers were still their priority (Figure 3) when they did give money to their parents.

 

Figure 3: Share of Weeks when Money Given to Parents, by Week Type

 

Finally, we are able to use the diaries data to see how much of their income young people gave to their parents in weeks when they did give them money. We calculated the amount they gave as a share of their reported earnings during the week when they gave money. As shown in Figure 4, the data suggest that in Morocco, when young people gave money to their mothers, it constituted about one-third of their income for that week. The same was true when they gave money to their fathers — but note that they gave to their fathers far less often, hence the total they gave to them was less. In Senegal, when young people gave money to either their mother or father, they gave around half of their earnings. In Nigeria, they gave about half of their earnings to their mothers, when they did give money, but little of their weekly earnings to their fathers. But, again, it is important to remember that these calculations are just for weeks when a young person gave money.

 

Figure 4: Share of Weekly Income Given to Parents During Weeks when Young People were Working

 

GIVING: A TWO-WAY STREET BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD

The data on the behaviors of the groups of young people in the countries covered by the financial diaries study suggest a wide variety of relationships between young people and their parents. This may have something to do with the differences in the cultures of the three countries, but it may also have something to do with differences in sampling—i.e.: who we were able to talk to and the type of communities they lived in—across the countries.

In a nutshell, the data show how young people support their parents, both financially and through work and in-kind gifts, as well as how they receive support from their parents. In the case of young people in Morocco, the amount given exceeded the amount received, and their giving was common and frequent and constituted a third of their earnings (when they did earn). In Nigeria and Senegal, young people were more likely to support their parents by working for them. In the time of COVID-19, economic resilience is more important than ever. Depending on which generation in a family is most adversely affected by the pandemic, we would expect the other generation to increase their support. In many families we’d expect young people to play a critical role in strengthening family resilience through the support they give to their parents. On the other hand, in cases where young people have been disproportionately hit, we’d expect parents to step up their support for their children, whether they’re still living at home or not.

What does this suggest for financial service providers and others interested in promoting financial inclusion? One key takeaway is that taking a close look at the relationship between young people and their parents – and especially their relationship with their mother – can help providers work out the best ways to connect young people to financial institutions. This raises the question: Could mothers become allies in promoting the accumulation of savings in a young person’s bank account, in the purchase of health insurance, or in the use of other types of financial services? In the next two articles in this series, we’ll discuss these questions – and explore ways that providers can strengthen the resilience of families in the context of COVID-19 by making it easier for money to flow among family members in mutual support of each other.

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Banking in Africa: Business model re-think

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Low-income segment demands it, Scale2Save report says

The following piece by WSBI Director for the Scale2Save programme Weselina Angelow .

People always look for the best deal. That’s certainly the case when it comes to Africa’s low-income population. They search for customer-centric banking services that work for them. Financial service providers (FSPs) understand this and try to keep pace. Oftentimes it seems banks struggle to connect right product with right person. The question is “why?”

In findings from the new research from WSBI’s Scale2Save programme, FSPs have taken different paths to meet market need. In fact, their service offerings differ considerably across countries, especially for low-income people, a segment increasingly viable for their operations. Despite their best efforts and growing appetite to serve them, customer-centric product design remains a challenge.

Customers warm up to customer centric products and services designed by banks. In fact, 37 FSPs in Africa surveyed in a research commissioned by Scale2Save – a partnership initiative between the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) and the Mastercard Foundation, are responding with new accounts, products and different fee structures. Surveyed FSPs are hosting about 12% of Africa’s retail bank accounts and 26% of accounts in countries covered by the survey. Their efforts to win new customers, however, too often fail to appeal, and accounts lapse into inactivity.

Getting customer centricity working depends on a lot of factors. For example, some surveyed FSPs think that cost is as important as convenience or is becoming so, others highlight product design as something they think is important to meet customer needs. They also emphasise flexibility of deposits (convenience), and appreciation of market needs. Markets face different ground rules to enable financial services for low-income people. There are diverse ways to coordinate approaches and enable environments.

Despite the differences, financial inclusion in Africa overall is on the rise with mobile money driving it but access gaps remain and that is no different for the African markets surveyed. At the same time, uptake and productive use of financial services still have a long way to go. Low levels of income and economic activity at the bottom of the pyramid remain constraining factors. It is difficult to determine the positive impact of increased financial inclusion but we hope to believe that financial services improve resilience of low-income households and that WSBI members in Africa substantially contribute to it.

Sharpened focus on customers, who see mobile banking upside

The latest data show that FSPs have sharpened their focus on customers. The number of accounts offered by the 21 WSBI members surveyed surged by 24% from 2017 to 2018. Meantime, the savings products tally jumped 27%. Despite this double-digit growth, disappointingly low account activity persists. Only 43% of transaction accounts are active.

Respondents – both WSBI member and non-WSBI member banks – see many advantages to mobile banking. Non-members appear sanguine on deploying roving agents, the channel of choice to reach the unbanked, drive account growth, and put downward pressure on fees that cost-conscious customers shun.

As banks stay bullish on digital, bankers who responded to our survey see aactivity rates persistently low as only 17% of mobile banking accounts remain active. Digital payments use keeps expanding, but still hasn’t swept away cash-based transactions and payments. Cash is still king with African member banks. But as digital is on the rise, a marked fall ensures in new bank branches and ATMs deployment. This is expected considering the emphasis placed on alternative distribution channels.

Mobile money: Mismatch for less digitally, financially literacy

Mobile money offerings, despite their convenience, seem a mismatch for customers with limited digital and /or financial literacy levels. FSPs reported to us how rrelatively low levels of client financial literacy result in low product usage, typically lower than transactional bank accounts. That surprised us.

Many experts in the financial inclusion field have witnessed first-hand the problems that emerge with design and fit. But Africa always seems to come up with creative ways to remedy it. Take countries like Kenya: there, digital and mobile thrives while agent banking focus intensifies. But it goes beyond there, as we observed banks across the continent setting up and broadening banking agent networks. Our research concluded that FSPs without suitable agent networks plan to acquire, expand or share such networks. Doing so allows them to better compete in the market and drive down costs.

As programmes like WSBI’s Scale2Save aspire to help make small-scale savings work, experts critical of pricing schemes for low-income people have a point. Banks are only partly listening. In fact, we see a discernible shift away from account opening fees, with a view to boost usage which derive revenue from transactional activity, but also more ledger fees that derive revenue from account acquisition. Evidence emerging within the sector supports the validity of the first approach, although greater use of ledger fees still hampers account up-take.

African banks must re-think business models to compete in the low-income market

There’s a saying that successful companies “change their best”. That means change that improves performance. Financial service providers in Africa need to do it too. They see value in serving low-income people, to be sure, but need to overhaul their business models in an increasingly cost-competitive environment.

To reach low-income people better, FSPs must research markets, taking pains to find opportunities while grasping better what different market segments need and tailor products accordingly. FSPs need to optimise processes and boost digitisation, sometimes via partnerships which can help pare down operating costs.

When banks transform themselves, a true opportunity takes hold as customers enjoy lower costs and enjoy a product that fits their needs, and in the best case, contribute to people’s resilience and improve their wellbeing. That’s a good deal and the double bottom line that the WSBI movement has always meant to strive for.

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