Households with access to a range of appropriate financial services are more likely to develop sustainable livelihoods, invest more in health and education, and interact with and benefit from markets.
In low-income countries, only 28 percent of adults have an account with a financial institution; and financial exclusion is more severe among the rural poor, youth, women and other marginalized populations. Low population density, high transaction costs, the demand for small frequent transactions, adverse social norms and regulatory restrictions on savings deposits are serious constraints to the sustainable provision of formal financial services in many underserved markets. In fact, the extreme poor expend as much as five percent of their annual income on financial services, mainly in the form of informal instruments that are riskier and costlier – limiting their ability to interact with markets and the range of investments in health, education and nutrition.
A Savings Group is comprised of 15-25 self-selected individuals who save together and take small loans from those savings. Savings Groups provide members the opportunity to save frequently in small amounts, access to credit on flexible terms, and a basic form of insurance. They are owned, managed and operated by their members; they are, by design, financially and institutionally sustainable, and continue to operate independently after a 9-12 month training period.
The community-based microfinance model – pioneered in Africa in the 1990s and now promoted by hundreds of international and local NGOs – provides access to basic financial services in underserved communities. Over the last 25 years, development organizations have trained about 750,000 Savings Groups, comprised of over 15m members, across 73 countries. On average, each group manages total assets of about $1,200, representing an important safety-net that supports low-income households to meet consumption, investment and emergency needs.