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Boosting access to formal financial services for village groups: A case study on linkage banking in Uganda08.06.2016,
How do we reach out when 85% of the unserved population lives outside recognized urban centers? Many Ugandan banks now offer mobile money links to group accounts, and many offer credit facilities too. The WSBI Programme and PostBank Uganda (PBU) wanted to sustainably offer both: encourage active individual savings for group members and provide efficiency gains through an attractive loan offer to the entire group.
The WSBI- PBU Programme was set out to capture the big bulk of money moving around in small amounts in Ugandan villages. We were looking for something less expensive than mobile money for very local, extremely low value domestic transaction activities and from small balance, but regular savers.
WSBI's own calculations suggested that roughly $10 million per day must be moving around in small villages of Uganda. What a fortune for a bank's deposit base if it was able to tie up with village groups! The amounts being saved are not trivial. Up to $10 per group member per month are possible in Uganda. Moreover, the frequency of transacting is relatively high, given that 40% of users of informal groups transact weekly or daily.
PBU in 2012 started to put in place a dedicated team for promoting the idea of linkage banking for village groups. That team included a chief executive with a vision and a good deal of gut feeling, an experienced linkage banking manager, dedicated village banking field officers, motorcyclists to get out regularly to the groups, motivated regional branch managers and tailored savings and loan products. PBU's Java- enabled software used for mobile banking was adapted to replicate the triple lock on the cash-boxes village groups normally use to control access.
A "zero" tariff was introduced to provide free weekly deposits and withdrawals matching the group meeting cycle. It contributed to keeping value in a closed loop (member to group, group to member and member to member) and earning the bank a significant margin. The monthly ledger fee was dropped, although aggregator push-and-pull charges continued putting some financial burden on group members, currently at 7 U.S. cents per session for a max of USD2.50 per transfer from e-wallet to mobile account. Sub-accounts were created electronically for the different savings goals of a group. PBU's low-cost VSLA Group Account was born.
The impact was startling. Within a year 5000 groups with almost 150,000 members had signed up and group accounts were staying 95% active. Something interesting was happening: PostBank's retail customer base was growing and the active portion was growing fastest. At the same time, PostBank's funding base was growing with the bottom-end driven by individual accounts and the top-end by group accounts. The growing funding base led to an imputed income of more than USD 400,000 by end of 2014.
By late 2015, the bank had signed up 28,000 groups with more than 500,000 members. By then, PBU also had an active overall customer base of almost half a million accounts with 60% of these active, small-balance accounts with an average balance of around $35 increased six-fold since PBU started working with the groups. The big number of small-scale savings coming from the groups brought in valuable funding and a reduction in fixed costs per client.
PBU's goal is to have groups and their individual members constitute 50% of the bank's business by 2018. The bank's journey towards customer centricity will continue to depend on channel and product innovation. With the Central Bank of Uganda's approval of the new agent banking regulation, the groups are becoming potential agents, multiplying PBU's customer acquisition points for serving the mass market and generating additional income for the groups and their members with a particular focus on youth and women. With a redesigned, technology-driven youth product in place, PBU has just started stretching its linkage offer to other 475 youth groups under a newly established partnership between PBU, Airtel and Care Uganda. The most recent product innovation encourages female household members to join the bank by offering an individual "women in progress" account attached to the group account.
 PBU works with CARE (40% of the PBU group base), IRC, NUDIPU, AVSI, IFDC as well as several local self-help and farmer groups.
About the Authors
Weselina Angelow is part of WSBI (World Savings and Retail Banking Institute)'s global efforts to providing an account for everyone and making a contribution to universal financial access. She manages the WSBI Programme for making small scale savings work, a Programme run with WSBI member banks worldwide.
Esther Mututta Ssenoga is a Senior Manager for Linkage Banking & Special Segments at Post Bank Uganda (PBU). She's currently supporting PBU's relationship-based banking and group-based models to achieve a wide customer base and customer numbers.