Convincing Mozambicans to put money in the bank

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A man counts Mozambican meticais
Image caption,
Banks want to use people's savings to fund business loans

Like many Mozambicans, university graduate Fatima Nimbire does not trust banks and prefers to keep her money at home in a suitcase.

"I think keeping it at home is also saving," the 28 year old says.

"The only risk with this type of saving is that you can forget where you put your money," she adds, laughing.

Bernicia Cotela, also a resident of Mozambique's capital, Maputo, has a bank account, but it is not active.

"I don't keep any money in the account because my salary is less than $200 (£120)," says Ms Cotela, who works as a radio announcer.

"That's not enough for my expenses like health, electricity, education, housing, so I don't believe in saving money in the bank."

But a key reason Mozambique is one of the countries in the world where so few people have or use bank accounts is because there are so few banks.

While bankers may not be popular elsewhere, Mozambique's government thinks it is lack of bankers and banking facilities is keeping people in poverty.

President Armando Guebuza has now launched a nationwide campaign aimed at promoting savings and getting people to open bank accounts.

According to the president, if more people in Mozambique saved some of their earnings, the country would be able to develop more quickly.

Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, the informal sector is massive in Mozambique, but the profits are rarely deposited.

The government says if they were that cash could help banks provide loans to other businesses, which could in turn create jobs.

"There is a lot of money in the people's hands, in their homes, some people bury their money in the ground," says Manuel Camilo Ntave, a journalist who covers economic issues.

"They keep money in pots; they keep money under pillows and so forth. It's a lot of money."

It is this money that the government is hoping to tap into.

However, with a population of 23 million, only 10% have access to banking facilities.

Rural banking?

It is not surprising that many are sceptical about the president's initiative.

University student Luhamud Matsinhe argues that while the campaign is a good idea, it is unrealistic because most of the country's population live in rural areas where banking facilities are limited or non-existent.

Currently, less than half of the country's 128 districts have banking services.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Poor transport limits access to banks

He also says informal methods of storing money will remain dominant because the majority of Mozambicans have low or no incomes.

"I don't know how many people have enough money to save. Life is costly and people don't even have enough money to spend. So where do they get the money to save?" he says.

The governor of the Mozambican central bank, Ernesto Gove, says the primary aim of the campaign is to promote investment.

"Without saving, there is no investment, so we have to save," he says.

The bank boss acknowledges that the financial sector in Mozambique is still lagging behind most countries in the southern African region in terms of expansion.

He projects that within five years 80% of the country should have access to banking facilities.

But for the moment, the physical distance from banks - coupled with poor transport links - and the low saving rates, may mean saving methods, like Ms Nimbire's suitcase, will remain the norm.

The Mozambican government will have to overcome such challenges if it is to achieve the primary goal of the campaign - to use people's savings to finance entrepreneurs and spur development from the grassroots.

"I'd like to be optimistic, but unfortunately, I'm not," Ms Nimbire says.

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