SPECIAL REPORT: Sounding the Alarm on Financial Health: Inclusion is Not Enough

On Friday in Luxembourg, a panel of experts sounded the alarm on trends in financial health. Amrik Heyer of FSD Kenya noted that financial health in Kenya, for example, has declined significantly since 2016, the first year for which his data is available. This happened as the use of digital financial services (DFS) increased.

The panel was adamant that financial inclusion alone does not improve financial health, which encompasses the ability to meet current needs, absorb shocks, and pursue financial goals. In fact, Jaspreet Singh of the United Nations Capital Development Fund argued that Account ownership and financial health numbers can move in opposite directions. Anup Singh of MicroSave Consulting (MSC) agreed, saying, “We also need to focus on other dimensions, not just the number of people opening accounts.

Mr. Anup Singh warned that traditional financial education courses do not improve financial health and that failed deals reduce trust in DFS. Meanwhile, there is a gender gap of 28 percentage points in the use of DFS. Although mobile phone access is strongly correlated with financial inclusion, the most strongly correlated factor with financial health is ‘social capital’.

Lydia Baffour Awuah of Opportunity International argued for the need to combine savings, insurance and loans with training and support for building social capital. In one example of social capital leading to better financial health, the women worked together to buy maize in bulk from a nearby town, where it was cheaper. (Without working together, any cost savings were offset by the cost of travel.) In another example, to address dormant accounts in India, Opportunity International launched an apprenticeship program targeting women with reminders of saving. Within nine months, 2,000 women reactivated dormant accounts and started saving regularly.

Ms. Heyer agrees that social capital is important. His data indicates that people participating in savings groups known as chamas are twice as likely to report being in good financial health. Mr. Jaspreet Singh agreed that savings are vitally important to move beyond financial inclusion towards financial health.

Mr. Anup Singh described the success that financial service providers have had in their work with refugees in Tanzania. One program combined in-person and digital training on how to perform financial services through phones, agents and tablets. As part of the training, participants took home a tablet to practice with their families. Regarding training methodologies, Mr. Anup Singh cited experimentation with “play money” as helping to build user understanding and confidence.

This feature is part of a sponsored series on European Microfinance Week, which took place in Luxembourg and online from November 16-18. MicroCapital has been contracted to report on the conference every year since 2012.

Additional Resources

European Microfinance Week 2022

MicroCapital coverage of European Microfinance Week since 2012, including the European Microfinance Award

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