How a Popular TV Show Shifted Social Norms Around Women’s Banking Habits in Kenya

June 26, 2017

A man walks by a café and spies his wife deep in conversation with another man. He stops suddenly, surprise and outrage cross his face. Who is that other man, a lover?

No, that man is not her paramour. He’s the manager of the local bank, and she’s trying to open an account so she can save money to buy a refrigerator for her family. So why are they meeting at a café instead of a bank branch?

Unfortunately, our female protagonist feels that banks are not for her. Social norms have taught her that banks are for people with more money and a better education than she has, so she did not feel comfortable going into the bank. Nevertheless, she wants to save some of the income she makes as a cabbage-shredder at the market safely, so the bank manager has offered to meet with her to explain the process somewhere she is more comfortable.

Social Norms are Keeping Women from Banking

Here’s another surprise: None of this is real. It’s an episode of a ‘social’ soap opera called Makutano Junction, which tackles social issues without an obvious hard sell. The show’s reach is impressive: It has a viewership of 8 million in Kenya, a country of 50 million. And while the characters are fictional, they could just as easily be real people because their concerns reflect those of ordinary Kenyans and of unbanked women worldwide. Women’s World Banking’s in-depth market research has found that despite the country’s robust banking sector, persistent social barriers keep Kenyan women from opening bank accounts. These barriers range from lack of familiarity with banks, which can make the thought of entering a bank and trying to open an account or transact intimidating, to misperceptions about the cost of having a bank account.. Women also tend to assume they don’t have enough money to open their own accounts, or that formal banking doesn’t offer any more value than the informal savings methods they typically use. Many low-income women also stay away from banks because see their illiteracy as an obstacle.

Transforming age-old social norms and misperceptions is a big ambition to be sure, but Women’s World Banking decided to challenge it. We worked with a strategic team of Kenyan partners to test an innovative social communications strategy: using a popular TV show to help change social attitudes about banking.

Leveraging Soap Operas to Challenge Social Norms

MakutanoJunction NawiriDada EquityPosterWe launched the Nawiri Dada (“Sisters Achieve” in Swahili) campaign in 2013, in partnership with Makutano Junction’s production company Mediae and three Kenyan banks. The goal was to create six episodes of the show that would focus on banking-related storylines. The talented team of writers at Mediae made sure that each plot was just as gripping and intrigue-filled as any other episode on the show.

In each of the six episodes, an action-packed storyline showed how banking could become a seamless, indispensable part of a woman’s life. In the same episode, the cabbage-shredder sees some of her women peers go into a nearby bank. She’s reluctant to join them, even though she wants to take better care of her finances. The storyline involving the accommodating bank manager and the woman’s husband ultimately gets resolved, and the episode deftly gets its point across: Banking is for everyone, not just for the educated or wealthy. Other storylines in the series tackled issues such as what to consider when choosing a bank account, and the importance of establishing a solid credit history and a good relationship with a bank. At the end of each episode, a character would tell viewers how to contact the partner financial institutions (Women’s World Banking network members Equity Bank, KWFT and another local institution, Family Bank) for more information about opening an account.

So Did It Work?

WWB Access to Inclusion Educating Clients Cover
Read the full story in our publication, From Access to Inclusion: Educating Clients

Our evaluation of the project showed the campaign’s message came through loud and clear. Working with our bank partners, we tracked the number of accounts opened or reactivated as a result of the series and the marketing efforts. We also conducted pre- and post-show surveys and focus groups of Makutano Junction viewers to gauge its impact.

A striking 83 percent of viewers said they received useful financial information after watching the episodes, and 138,000 more low-income women reported having a bank account after watching the show—a 9 percent increase in account ownership among low-income women in Kenya. (Among women who did not watch the series, there was no reported change.)

The focus group participants remembered the show’s main themes afterwards: Banks are the safest place to keep money; and opening an account is free and open to everyone, regardless of gender, income or literacy level. Our bank partners reported increased engagement after the show: increased account activity, usage of ATMs and mobile banking, and requests for additional accounts.

The strategy led to a measurable increase in financial inclusion in Kenya, and it’s clear that a number of factors contributed to its success. First, we worked with the right mix of partners: a TV show with a substantial existing viewership; a top East Africa-based educational entertainment company; and banking partners with an equally strong commitment to the serving this segment. Additionally, the three banks promoted the TV show throughout the six-episode run. They displayed marketing materials in their branches and encouraging staff to use Makutano Junction! messaging to recruit women clients. Weekly TV commercials promoted all three banks and reinforced the episodes’ messages about why women should open bank accounts.

The calls to action after each episode drove many viewers to make a move, even if that move was as simple as texting a five-digit number to a bank to request more information. By turning everyday concerns into relatable drama, the TV series and the sustained marketing campaign sparked what may well be an ongoing shift in social norms around banking women in Kenya.