Savings: A Gateway to Financial Inclusion

Published: February 2014

This document presents recent savings work and includes a three-year project with four of our network members. At the outset of the project titled Safe Places to Save, Women's World Banking conducted targeted research and diagnostics in four markets (Colombia, Pakistan, Kenya, and the Dominican Republic) but our analysis of the impact of savings on women's lives dates back to 1999 when Women's World Banking began building a significant body of market research on savings. Four of our early studies focused explicitly on the demand and feasibility for savings services. Data were also drawn from research into the drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty carried out in multiple markets. In addition, Women's World Banking has conducted in-depth research studies to better understand the ways in which women's roles within poor households affect the allocation of time and money and financial behaviors. Unique in the field of microfinance, these five studies yielded striking insights into the ways men and women see themselves, and each other, as economic actors, and what those perceptions mean for financial institutions seeking to provide savings.

Key Findings

  • Many low-income women are not being served because of the industry's historical focus on credit. For some this is because they are not interested in borrowing, while others do not qualify because they work for wages or in marginal or irregular activities.
  • Women's World Banking knows from its research that poor women are inherent savers.
  • Women play an accepted and expected role in the household as money managers, juggling day to day needs while making sure that school fees are paid and health emergencies are covered.
  • Although their incomes are often low and unpredictable, they manage to save on average 10 to 15 percent of their income. However, they are forced to save informally in unreliable ways: at home in a drawer, by buying excess stock for their businesses or in neighborhood savings clubs.
  • For financial institutions, targeting women is a good long-term strategy for growing their client base.
  • Offering savings also provides an inexpensive source of local currency funding for institutions.
  • Asking for a client's trust with hard-earned savings is an inherently different proposition than offering a business loan.
  • The key is in listening to women -- understanding how they are currently saving, what they want from a savings account, and offering a service that improves on their existing options while ensuring that the solution is financially viable for the institution.
  • Women's World Banking recently concluded a three-year program to expand savings services to low-income women in Latin America, South Asia, and Africa. As a result, nearly one million savings accounts were opened, the majority by women.
  • Women's role as household money manager and saver is both accepted and expected
  • When income is unpredictable it becomes much harder to manage money, to plan and to set financial goals, and most importantly, to meet regular financial commitments.
  • During focus groups and interviews low-income women repeatedly say that the amounts they save are not worth bringing to a bank.
  • Banks are not top of mind or do not meet women's needs
  • Women have different savings patterns and goals from men, and they also respond to different messages than men and consume other media.
  • Investing in marketing is critical to promote the brand to new segments, to raise awareness of the new savings products and to stimulate regular use of accounts.
  • Bringing financial services physically closer to women and making them more affordable makes a difference.
  • The four banks in the Safe Places to Save project recruited nearly a million new clients, in aggregate. They are holding $225 million in deposits as a source of local, stable and inexpensive funding, reducing their reliance on expensive lines of credit, which has a positive effect on risk management.

Populations Women

Industries Business, Finance

Publishers Women's World Banking

Geographic Focus South America (Northwestern)-Colombia, Asia (Southeastern)-Pakistan, Africa (Eastern)-Kenya, North America (Caribbean)-Dominican Republic

Funded by Credit Suisse