Credit matters differently

More than 10 years ago, I took a course in microfinance and then spent some time in a village in Ghana’s Central region designing a village savings scheme for the villagers to pool capital in a manner that allowed them to access the mainstream banking system and also to invest in machines that the farmers could share in, and enhance productivity. It was microfinance but applied differently, a model the team created after consulting the people in the village and concerns around creation of debt.

Microfinance was quite popular then and the common belief was that there were productive people with the opportunities to put capital into productive use but did not have access to credit to allow them to do so because traditional finance were not accessible by these folks.

What was missing from the picture was that these people had struggled to save as well because they did not have places to safekeep cash or other asset instruments they had. This could be why the pre-paid mobile credits were popular and important economic enablers in some of these environments. Credit and savings are different sides of a coin and the way these services are valued works differently in different cultural contexts and markets.

The next generation of retail finance will have to start examining these cultures more to develop stronger value propositions. Central banks paying attention to consumer credit and savings behaviour would be wise to appreciate these elements too.