News Column

Banking Sector Should Capture Rural Market

September 2, 2014

Maimbolwa Mulikelela

DESPITE countrywide efforts to attract and expand clientele base using innovative and attractive packages, banks in Zambia still seem to have a long way to go.

In rural areas like Mporokoso District of Northern Province, the culture of saving leaves much to be desired, which is also the case with many other people around the country, as observed by experts.

Operators in the financial services industry have not even realised the onerous responsibility in terms of their operational flexibility, customer care and product development.

With about 98,842 people in the district, some of them are still learning on how to live with the only bank in the area, the National Savings and Credit Bank (Natsave).

As a result of the hardships associated with accessing banking services, people still keep large sums of money outside the banking system, which is not benefiting them or the economy.

Some people, especially farmers in the rural areas, prefer to 'save' by keeping their earnings in homes as they cannot withstand the ordeal that one has to go through to deposit money let alone withdraw.

Besides that, banking halls have continued to be inundated with long queues when workers troop to access their monthly earnings.

A farmer envisages a situation where access to financial services would no longer be a hustle but instead promoted a culture of saving and facilitate a higher level of investment in the country in general.

Charles Mukukula a 33-year-old farmer wishes the banking sector could engage in a deliberate sensitisation programme to enlighten people on the importance of banking and explain the different services being offered in line with the guidelines stipulated by the Bank of Zambia (BoZ).

Mr Mukukula says this would help capture the unbanked population thereby making the clientele grow.

The BoZ stipulates that the process of financial inclusion should involve access to banking and credit markets as well as financial education.

Mr Mukukula came back to his village after a stint in the city in the construction industry, and became a farmer five years ago and now resides about 10 kilometres from the nearest bank.

Mr Mukukula's farming activities involve growing maize and beans, which earn him between K20,000 and K30,000 per year, but these earnings do not find their way to any bank.

He has no immediate plans of opening a bank account as he believes that his money is safer under his custody.

Lunte Member of Parliament Felix Mutati notes that the bulk of the money still remains 'under the pillows' in most homes because of perceived complications in opening bank accounts.

Mr Mutati points out that a significant number of people in his constituency still hold a large amount of money outside the banking system, a development he describes as saddening, especially at the time Zambia is celebrating 50 years of independence.

"It is important for the banks to make their products simple and straight forward in local languages. We need simple buildings in the villages where people can feel at home because all these shiny aluminium structures scare them away.

"As a consequence the bulk of the money remains under the pillows in the thatched huts," Mr Mutati explains.

He says the banking sector should assist poor constituencies by introducing mobile banking facilities, adding that having Natsave alone as the only bank in Mporokoso is not sufficient to cater for the whole population in the district.

Mr Mutati is of the view that banks should introduce mobile banking in different localities including Lunte.

This would help mobilise savings and provide for banking solutions needed for the rural community.

"One of the things the banking sector can assist the poor constituencies, especially during harvest time is to introduce an extension of mobile banking facilities to the areas where banking facilities are not accessible.

"Farmers have huge amounts of liquidity arising from disposable income from the sale of farm produce to various traders but we don't have corresponding banking facilities to deal with that," Mr Mutati says.

He says that people should be provided with the banking alternatives for them to be able to store their cash for future use.

"The banking system should not only locate themselves in Mporokoso they must at least have some mobile banking facilities. Apart from that, banks should be able to take 50 to 60 per cent of the risk in order to bring about financial inclusion," Mr Mutati says.

So far, Natsave has disbursed a total K15.4 million out of which K200,000 was given out to the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) in Northern Province.

An entrepreneur in the district Dramson Chipande commends the bank for providing credit to local businesses.

"I started my business some time back and I deal in cement and hardware. I used to buy 600 bags of cement and now I am able to buy two trucks of cement from Lafarge Zambia from the loan worth K45,000," Mr Chipande said.

Chief Mumporokoso acknowledges that his subjects, especially farmers and business people are keeping money in the homes, which he describes as a major problem.

"Our experience is that some farmers and business executives do not put their money in the banks. They just keep their money in their houses. It is better to sensitise them on the importance of saving money in the bank," he said.

Commenting on the viability of the district, marketing development officer Chanshi Chishimba says that it is important that the bank provides affordable loans to the farmers to help support their operations and growth.

Farmers in the district have sold more than K3.8 million worth of agricultural products to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and various traders.

About K2.7 million worth of maize was sold to the FRA while K100,000 is from vegetables and K1 million from beans.

Mr Chishimba explained that Natsave provided services to help grow agri-business and marketing and his role is to ensure farmers commercialise their farming activities to boost their income base.

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Source: AllAfrica

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