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Press Release: New savings account brings mobile financial access to rural women and communities in Malawi

If people in Malawi can’t come to the bank, the bank will come to the Malawian people

BLANTYRE, MALAWI – Rural women in Malawi provide significant earning power within their families but so many of them have no access to a safe place to save their money. Through a new innovative mobile savings account, Malawi’s NBS Bank Ltd. is working with global nonprofit Women’s World Banking to bring banking to the doorsteps of local low-income communities and families.

Women’s World Banking  and NBS Bank are launching Pafupi Savings, a mobile savings account designed for low-income people in rural areas, especially women with no previous access to a bank account. The savings account was developed with support from UN Capital Development Fund’s Microlead Expansion program.

According to Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, NBS Bank has recognized a long-overlooked market opportunity.

“Women’s World Banking has worked with rural women who face systemic, geographical and emotional barriers to banking, and we’re thrilled to join NBS Bank to prove what we have long known – that women are valuable and loyal clients.”

NBS Bank’s new savings account, Pafupi, meaning “close” in Chichewa, overcomes banking barriers by offering transactions through a network of agents such as shops in local communities where customers can make deposits and withdrawals using a mobile phone.

Pafupi accounts are opened by bank staff in rural communities using mobile technology, so customers need not travel to a branch to have an account. This brings the bank closer to low-income customers for whom the cost of transport to a bank in the city is prohibitively high. Customers make small deposits and withdrawals whenever they want at local shops serving as NBS Bank agents and they receive an ATM card that can be used at any NBS Bank ATM.

Bernadette Mandoloma, CEO of NBS Bank, said Pafupi embodies the bank’s core philosophy of taking the bank to the people.

“Our research with Women’s World Banking showed that rural women consider a bank account a worthwhile aspiration, but they also believe banks are not set up to serve them. With that information, we knew our mission — NBS would find a way to serve these women and, through technology, serve them well.”

Eighty-six percent of Malawians live in rural areas but, according to 2014 data from FinScope, these communities have drastically lower access to formal bank accounts with 27 percent banking in rural areas versus 68 percent in urban areas. And women throughout Malawi are less likely to have a bank account (27 percent) than their male counterparts (at 37 percent).

In response to these low levels of financial access, the Government of Malawi has identified financial inclusion as an important part of the country’s growth and development toward achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Through their research, Women’s World Banking and NBS designed a savings account to meet the needs of rural women in Malawi. Taking into consideration their financial goals, including current methods of saving and what prevents them from banking with formal financial institutions, the two organizations found that, like rural women in most developing countries, Malawian women fill many roles within their families, leading domestic as well as economic activities at home, on the farm and in the markets. But Malawian women are unique in that they identify themselves as providers and have an expected role in saving for the family’s future.

The Pafupi Savings Account will be publicly announced today in Blantyre at an event welcoming distinguished local representatives of government and the banking sector and hosted by NBS Bank. Representatives from Women’s World Banking and UNCDF will also join NBS leaders for a panel discussion on financial inclusion in the global context and why savings accounts are particularly important for rural women in Malawi.

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