BRUSSELS – WSBI’s Doubling Savings Accounts Programme, which aims to double the number of savings accounts at 10 WSBI member banks, is using so-called "small data" tools to help tackle the issue of account dormancy among some of these members.
The programme has tracked the accounts data of the 10 participating banks for the past three years, and then determined the number of active/dormant accounts among these banks – employing a "not used within six-months" definition for account dormancy. These members together hold accounts for 6.3 million poor people – living on less than $2 a day – but only 2.9 million of these savings accounts are "active" under the six-month definition.
Dormancy is an industry-wide issue and clearly a sensitive one. Stephen Peachey, technical advisor of the programme, commented: "It is also not without reason that the deposit side of the balance sheet is described as passive in many countries with the term active reserved for the asset side. If you do not maintain active contact with a borrower you end up with a bad debt, but a depositor who leaves their money with you gives you funding and may even have agreed to you taking a little bit of their savings each month for the privilege of causing you no work."
The World Bank’s Global Findex Database, which measures how people around the world save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk, shows that only a of all adults do any kind of saving in any one year, regardless of their income.
It may just be part of customer behaviour to save in periods of activity and then go quiet for a period before starting again. If this is the case, a six-monthly measure of activity ignores this kind of savings behavior.
The rationale behind our research
We may be misunderstanding the nature of savings by applying the same approach and definitions that we use for transactional banking. Our six-month definition of an active account, as agreed with the programme‘s sponsors, is longer than the definition used for transactional services such as mobile money, but shorter than the contractual definitions of inactivity for many savings accounts – typically closer to two years. This begs the question of whether our Doubling Savings Accounts Programme focuses too much on account opening and not enough on sustaining activity.
The data analytics project will give us a better understanding of customer transaction behavior. It uses a basic built-in Excel spreadsheet function for specific products, and will show how many "dormant" accounts come live again, particulary between months seven and twelve.
WSBI training and consultancy is implementing the project in partnership with three WSBI members in East Africa: Postbank Uganda, Tanzania Postal Bank, and Kenya Post Office Savings Bank. The results of the project will be available in the second half of 2015.