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In Malawi, we bring the bank to her

August 28, 2017
By Maura Hart, Manager, Knowledge and Communications

A family in MalawiFew Malawians have access to a bank account. Nearly 6 million out of a total adult population of 7.6 million in Malawi are unbanked according to the 2014 Malawi Finscope Report. Access to bank accounts in rural areas, where the majority of Malawians live, is only 27 percent versus 68 percent in urban areas. Women are significantly less likely to have access than men; 27 percent of women versus 37 percent of men have bank accounts.

With support from UNCDF’s MicroLead program, Women’s World Banking worked with NBS Bank in Malawi to introduce a tailored savings account for low-income, unbanked rural people, especially women. Pafupi Savings, meaning “close” savings, relies on agency banking, mobile technology and community-based marketing to reach women where they are.

Through in-depth focus groups with low-income women, Women’s World Banking found that Malawian women are the household financial managers and savers. Low-income women are saving informally using a number of tools including village banking, savings groups and saving at home. And while banks are less commonly used due to several barriers facing women, having a bank account is seen as a strategy for success and aspirational for women.

In this case study, we describe the critical consumer insights that informed the design of the Pafupi Savings account. Pafupi was designed specifically to address these pain points and overcome the barriers to banking facing low-income women in rural Malawi.

Like any new product introduction however, the process was not without its challenges. The case study also profiles lessons learned by NBS and Women’s World Banking for other institutions to consider when implementing their own digital savings program.


The NBS Bank case study is also featured in the fourth of a series of toolkits entitled “How to Succeed in Your Digital Journey” created by UNCDF Microlead. Toolkit #4, “Develop Own Agent Network” provides additional detail on the execution of Pafupi and NBS’ agent network, based on the findings profiled in the above case study. 

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