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Connecting Savings Groups to Mobile Money in Mozambique

Savings groups play a major role in the financial lives of rural Mozambicans—especially women. Through this longstanding, informal, self-organized mechanism, groups of friends and relatives come together regularly in their community to save money and sometimes lend, borrow and repay amongst themselves. Savings groups typically meet on a weekly basis to register their contributions and deposit them together in a locked box. The box may be kept in a secret place by the group president, while other members retain the keys to one or more locks. Despite these basic security measures, keeping a large sum of cash in a box is inherently risky—theft, fraud or fire can readily wipe out years’ worth of members’ pooled savings.

Meanwhile, the growing availability of mobile phones and mobile money in Mozambique offers opportunities for people to bank more securely. Equipped with knowledge of mobile money services, a connected mobile phone, an understanding of how to access and safely use mobile money, and the confidence to try it, underbanked people throughout Mozambique can tap into formal financial services, thereby expanding their options for safe savings and other services to improve their economic resilience. Without these prerequisites to access—knowledge, understanding, access to a phone and confidence—however, people remain excluded from the benefits of mobile money.

In 2012, with funding from the African Development Bank, FARE (Economic Rehabilitation Support Fund, a government initiative working to boost private sector enterprises) launched a project in Mozambique to link women’s savings groups to mobile money services. The project aimed to improve access to finance in rural areas and to provide a safer means to store money collected by savings groups. FARE tapped Ayani to provide technical assistance to make this linkage, drawing on Ayani’s extensive capacity building in the Mozambique inclusive finance sector since 2010. From 2017 to 2018, Ayani assisted FARE in linking savings groups to mobile money in two provinces—Manica in the Center and Inhambane in the South.

Ayani’s technical assistance comprised four main components: market assessment, equipping and training savings group facilitators and members, and building a business case for service providers.

  • An initial assessment revealed that local money management practices were complex, and that access to agents, mobile telephony coverage and connectivity varied greatly across communities. Ayani also found that savings groups required strengthening in their basic financial literacy and functioning prior to linking the group operations to mobile money. Ayani identified M-PESA as the preferred mobile money service provider because of its wide coverage in the target regions.
  • Ayani recognized that each savings group already had a ‘facilitator’—someone who had taken the initiative to start the group and who teaches and guards the ‘saving methodology’ (rules and operations) of the group, while being the chairman at the weekly meetings. Building on this local initiative and leadership, Ayani provided the facilitators with Smartphones and an application to allow the group member to open an M-Pesa account. Ayani’s and M-PESA’s teams then trained the facilitators on how to support their group members in setting up their accounts and utilizing mobile money.
  • Ayani also worked to build the buy-in of the service provider (in this case M-PESA) by analyzing and documenting the business case for serving rural savings groups. Ayani’s team actively monitored the training facilitators customers’ uptake and usage, the challenges encountered and the outcomes and impacts of the linkages. Ayani collected data throughout the project to enable an analysis and ultimately the documentation of a business case for expanding such mobile money linkages. Within nine months, a total of 3,196 rural savings group members were effectively using M-PESA for financial transactions.
  • Ayani formulated a number of measures that can increase the uptake of Mobile Money use in saving groups, such as:
  • More transparency at the agent side in tariffs (clearly showing the group members the pricing structure)
  • Active support from M-Pesa headquarters in guaranteeing electronic money or cash at the agents, in addition to a special tariff for saving group members
  • Creating a Mobile Money < > Bank Connection and stimulating the banks to set up special saving accounts for the Saving Groups

Over 8 million adults in Mozambique still lack access to financial services. Recent progress in mobile money usage and the expansion of linkages to savings group can represent an effective contribution to reducing this gap. Ayani continues to partner with local stakeholders such as the Central Bank, national funds, retail financial service providers and rural development organizations to provide more service points, reach underserved people and enhance financial inclusion in the country. Ayani maintains an office in Maputo to facilitate its support for national inclusive finance sector development at the macro, meso and retail level.