Could new platform transform national savings culture?

All across the country, Rwandans are being mobilised and sensitised to improve their savings patterns and methods which would improve their financial security as well as the national economy.

A Kacyiru based firm, Exuus, which is in software development, has introduced 'SAVE' a digital platform that financially empowers Savings Groups sustainably through a comprehensive, adequate, open and user-friendly Saving Groups ledger handling.

Most of the low-income population has for long trusted using traditional savings such as keeping money in a box at home.

For instance, Business Times learnt of a rural savings group that for long depended on a metallic box with three padlocks.

The keys to the three locks are held by the different top officials, that way, the ‘safe’ can only be opened after an agreement of all parties.

In 2016, Exuus partnered with Access to finance Rwanda and MINECOFIN to carry out a countrywide mapping exercise of savings groups, providing NGOs and stakeholders a broader picture of saving groups status and their positioning vis a vis Rwanda’s broader financial market.

Research

Rita Uwamahoro, the Exuus’ Public Relations Officer, said that Exuus and the two NGOs conducted a mapping exercise to understand the operations of savings groups across the country to be able to develop an ideal solution.

In March 2018, the pilot phase started with 30 groups (20 groups from World vision Rwanda and 10 groups from Care International Rwanda), the platform was tested successfully. About 684 people used the platform at the time.

How it works

She said that the platform helps saving groups get loans, contribute and to keep track of their transactions online at their convenience.

To be able to use SAVE as a member of the group, one has to be registered by a village agent through a smart phone, however it not compulsory for a member of the group to own a smart phone.

There are fines given by members of the group when one delays to send in their money or if they miss the regular without weekly meetings. The agents are supervisors of sorts, but are not expected to know personal information of the group members, Uwamahoro notes.

SAVE has three interfaces, SAVE USSD, SAVE Collector and SAVE Web. The SAVE USSD interface is accessed through *777#.  This is used by members for all monetary transactions within their saving group, however, the company intends to offer inter-operable transactions across both mobile network operations and financial service providers.

SAVE Collector is an android application that is installed in smartphones used by Village Agents to collect complementary data (defined by project indicators) and coordinated with data from the USSD app.

SAVE Web is a dashboard for general tracking.

Data from both the USSD app and SAVE collector are pulled together for analytics, reporting, customers’ insights and efficient decision making.

It is used by practitioners and financial service providers.

Group members’ experiences

Rosine Mukarukundo was a user of the platform said that the platform has eased savings approaches.

“With SAVE, I can easily make my contribution without necessarily waiting for the day of the meeting,” Mukarukundo said.

She adds that money is handled in a safer and there are few risks of unnecessary spending in case she gets the money before the regular meeting where contributions are collected.

Solange Niyigena, the president of a saving group in Rutsiro, said that before SAVE, it was very difficult for the committee when it came to keeping track of savings and expenditures.

She said that, previously, the accounting process took hours as it was done manually.

“SAVE has brought security and trust among group members since everyone is able to see the group’s transactions information on their phone,” she said.

Challenges

Uwamahoro stresses that introducing the platform for the first time was quite challenging, as some group members weren’t familiar with mobile money while others had many questions about how this new approach.

For instance some were curious on the physical location of their savings, repayment procedures hidden costs, risks, interoperability of the system with mobile money platforms among others.

The reports show that 50 per cent of groups’ members were able to adopt the digital platform easily, yet the remaining members still need additional support and guidance.

The company’s officials added that it took much time to convince people to use cashless means yet they were used to seeing their money daily as they saved.

How the platform was used at first

“In a few transactions made in the first days, the overall average was assessed at Rwf20,000 per month, with time, savings groups have been able to save up to Rwf 200,000 per month in average. The average then went up to Rwf 1,250,000 worth savings on average,” Uwamahoro states.

She added that the growth has been facilitated by trust and confidence as well as the platform’s security, user-friendly experience and the assurance of easy interoperability with other financial institutions.

Future plans

Exuus Limited plans to spread SAVE  to other groups through SAVE Mobile, an Android and iOS app that will target people in the middle class.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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