1, 2, 3, flee: Women run in different directions to protect cash savings

IN HAITI, MERCY CORPS AND CARE ARE ELIMINATING CASH FROM LOCAL SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATIONS THANKS TO LAJANCASH'S MOBILE MONEY SERVICE, POWERED BY TAGPAY.

The Power of aggregate saving

Pioneered in 1991 by CARE and a group of Nigerian women, Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) have gone global under the impetus of different NGOs. In Haiti, thousands of groups have been set up around the country. Each group – usually comprised of 25 to 30 people – saves in a communal fund. Elected officials then use group savings to issue loans to their members. By harnessing the power of aggregate savings VSLAs promote financial inclusion without any reliance on financial institutions.

Cash: time-consuming & unsafe

At the beginning of each meeting stacks of bills and piles of coins quickly cover the rickety table on which they are laid out. Multiple members painstakingly count and recount the group's savings.  Individual contributions also need to be tallied up and carefully registered in order to ensure a proper redistribution of funds at the end of the annual cycle. Discrepancies can be time­ consuming and, in some cases, the cause of considerable conflict.

Keys and locked safes become targets for thieves

The main worry for these groups is the security of their savings. The money is often kept in a safe protected by multiple locks. Different elected officials hold a key to a single lock. Because of their regular meetings and high visibility, many consider themselves easy targets for thieves.

VSLA elected official with the locked safe.

VSLA elected official with the locked safe.

In downtown Port-­au-­Prince, four women leave each meeting running in opposite directions, one of them holding the locked safe containing the group savings. Time and time again, group treasurers explained that they would worry about the security of the safe throughout the day. They knew that their reputation within the community would be dirtied forever if something happened to the group's savings. 

Digitizing transactions: security and peace of mind

Mercy Corps and CARE identified mobile money as an ideal tool for VSLAs. After speaking with local groups, these NGOs sought out LajanCash (TagPay’s Haitian licensee) to integrate mobile money into VSLAs. Pilot programs were rapidly set up in Carrefour, Leogane and Carrefour Feuilles.

Successful digital pilot programs

The pilot programs have been completed with 40 groups, who have now replaced cash with mobile money using LajanCash. Each group has a TagPay user account linked to a communal telephone. The cash collected each week is deposited at a local agent and immediately available on the group's mobile wallet.  Savings are held in complete security, and protected by a 4­ digit PIN code. Different elected officials know 1 or 2 of the digits so that no single person can access the funds. At the push of a button, the group's balance is available. Treasurers are no longer wracked by worry, nor do they spend hours counting and recounting cash. 

A step into the digital future

Going forward, mobile money is going to play an ever greater role in Haitian VSLAs. CARE, Mercy Corps and LajanCash are working to expand the integration of mobile money. The first step will be to exponentially increase the number of groups using TagPay throughout the country with an end goal to make VSLAs 100% cashless. Once each group member has their own TagPay mobile wallet, members will be able to purchase shares, receive and repay loans directly through their mobile phone. 

VSLA Treasurers counting cash to deposit on LajanCash

VSLA Treasurers counting cash to deposit on LajanCash

VSLA IN BRIEF

  • 25 – 30 people commit to saving together for a fixed period of time, usually of a year
  • Every week, members meet and build savings by purchasing a number of shares at a fixed price
  • After a set period of time, loans are issued to members from the savings fund
  • Members repay the loans with interest
  • At the end of the cycle, accumulated savings and interest are redistributed in function of each member’s number of shares

 

About the Author: Adam Cox is a contributing blogger. He spent 8 months in Haiti working for LajanCash, expanding the Agent & Merchant ecosystem and developing strategic partnerships with NGOs & corporate clients