Scale2Save Campaign

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African banks must re-think business models to compete in the low-income marketScale2Save research shows banks value efficiency, a digital offer, and customer-centric service, but must boost all in a fiercely competitive segment

BRUSSELS, 12 March 2020 – ​A new report released in March shows that financial service providers (FSPs) in Africa see value in serving low-income people but need to overhaul their business models in an increasingly cost-competitive environment. The report, “Savings and Retail Banking in Africa”, was released today by the Scale2Save programme, a partnership between WSBI and Mastercard Foundation to establish the viability of low-balance savings accounts in six African countries.

Low-income markets valued by banks surveyed

Based on survey data harvested from 37 FSPs in Africa, the report finds that they see low-income markets as more and more viable for their operations. Hosting about 12% of Africa’s retail bank accounts and 26% of accounts in countries covered by the survey, these providers are responding with new accounts, products, and fee structures. Their efforts to win new customers, however, too often fail to appeal, and accounts lapse into inactivity.

WSBI’s Weselina Angelow, who leads Scale2Save, said: “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,” she added, “sometimes via partnerships which can help pare down operating costs. When banks transform themselves, a true opportunity takes hold as customers enjoy lower costs.”

The 2019 report builds on the 2018 edition and goes beyond the WSBI membership to a broader set of FSPs in more African markets. It also draws on a richer data set and includes case studies that highlight innovation, partnerships, and listening to people’s needs on the ground, thinking differently about how to serve them.

Banks’ prefered chanels: Mobile banking, roving agents

The latest data show the FSPs have a sharpened focus on customers, targeting different segments of people with tailored accounts and savings products. 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.

The number of accounts offered by the 21 WSBI members surveyed surged 24% year on year. Meantime, the savings products tally jumped 27%. Despite this double-digit growth, disappointingly low account activity persists. Only 43% of transaction accounts are active. That measure falls to a mere 17% for mobile banking accounts.

Regulatory concerns: Know-Your-Customer, enabling innovation

A surprising 63% of WSBI respondents expressed concerns over regulation. Know-Your-Customer regulations, conceived to combat money-laundering and terrorism, are increasingly seen as a barrier to extending financial inclusion.

“Proportionate rule-making hugely matters,” said Weselina Angelow, “but appears inadequate to protect customers, provide value, and bolster outcomes. Beyond regulation that protects customers, authorities play a vital role to enable innovation and support – or even direct – broader and deeper access to financial services.”

Notes to editor:

About Scale2Save: Scale2Save is a partnership between WSBI and Mastercard Foundation to establish the viability of small-scale savings in six African countries. The six-year programme aims for 1 million more people banked in those countries through projects using innovative models. Learn more about Scale2Save online and @Scale2Save on Twitter.

About Mastercard Foundation: The Mastercard Foundation seeks a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn and prosper. The Foundation’s work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion for people living in poverty. One of the largest foundations in the world, it works almost exclusively in Africa. It was created in 2006 by Mastercard International and operates independently under the governance of its own Board of Directors. The Foundation has offices in Toronto, Canada and in Kigali, Rwanda. Visit for more information and to sign up for the Foundation’s newsletter. Follow the Foundation at @MastercardFdn on Twitter.

​About WSBI: The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) represents the interests of 6,760 savings and retail banks globally, with total assets of $16 trillion and serving some 1.7 billion customers in nearly 80 countries (as of 2018). Founded in 1924, the institute focuses on international regulatory issues that affect the savings and retail banking industry. WSBI supports the achievement of sustainable, inclusive, balanced growth and job creation, whether in industrialised or less developed countries. Learn more at

Methodology: WSBI conducted primary research in a similar way to its study released last year, using the same survey questionnaire. WSBI surveyed the 31 WSBI members in Africa, and 21 responded. In addition, WSBI contacted banks within the Financial Sector Deepening/FinMark Trust network and received another 16 responses. Responses were provided by FSPs of varying types and sizes, and market positions. Any analyses of aggregated responses will tend to be influenced by the larger FSPs. Similarly, analyses dealing with responses “on average” will give greater significance to the smaller organisations. The number of respondents is not large enough to provide categorisations based on type of FSP (often related to size). This is an area where additional work in later studies could be worthwhile. The results from the survey should also not necessarily be interpreted as being indicative of the market, since they represent the views of the FSPs that responded to the survey. The respondents were not chosen at random, so the results only apply to the respondents. WSBI gathered demand-side information and insights from the Global Findex surveys for 2011, 2014 and 2017 and from FinScope surveys conducted in Africa in the past five years. The FinScope surveys are nationally representative consumer surveys covering all aspects of financial inclusion and issues that are pertinent to a particular country. These surveys stem from the original FinScope survey conducted in the early 2000s in South Africa by FinMark Trust. Apart from the WSBI surveys, researchers obtained additional supply-side indicators from the IMF Financial Access Survey. Market insights came from interviews with market facilitators in eight African countries. Authors consulted existing published research on the African low-value savings and transaction market, and relevant insights are shared in this report.