WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup surveys in 18 sub-Saharan African countries show few residents put money in the bank: 19% overall say they have personal bank accounts. South Africans (49%) are the most likely to say they have a bank account, while 1% of respondents in Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo say the same.
Most sub-Saharan Africans have savings, according to the United Nations, but it is usually in non-currency forms such as livestock and material goods. Development experts, however, often include access to banking as an important component of economic independence for individuals. In sub-Saharan Africa, those with the best access and means -- the wealthiest, and those in urban areas -- are more likely to say they have banking accounts. Given the lack of cash resources among low-income sub-Saharan Africans, it is not surprising that those in the highest income group are almost four times as likely as those in the lower income groups to have a bank account.
According to an African Renewal, United Nations, article written by Mary Kimani, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation concludes that women own about half of all enterprises in Africa, but they have the hardest time accessing financial services. In sub-Saharan Africa, female account holders lag male account holders: 16% of women, compared with nearly one-quarter (23%) of men, say they have bank accounts.
Lack of Money Is Deterrent
In a region where the minimum required deposit can be as high as an individual's average annual wage, and interest rates are minimal, the cost of banking services often outweigh the benefits. When asked to name the main reason they do not have bank accounts, two-thirds of respondents spontaneously mentioned they do not have enough money.
Although several sub-Saharan African countries have fewer than four bank branches per 100,000 people, 8% mentioned proximity to a bank as the main reason for not having an account.
For Those Who Bank, ATMs Most Important
For the 19% of sub-Saharan Africans who do have bank accounts, a widespread ATM network is the most important service (30%), followed by efficient customer service (19%), and widespread branch networks (19%). Telephone banking, which has been piloted in sub-Saharan African countries as a means to expand banking access to rural areas, is among the least important banking services, with 1% saying it is most important.
Savings accounts buffer people from unexpected events such as illness and aid business development for even the smallest enterprises. With 19% of the adult population banking, there is a large market for expansion in sub-Saharan Africa. However, increasing banking and formal savings will likely require creating affordable banking strategies, especially for those living in poverty, and providing education on the benefits of formal savings, even in small amounts.
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For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.
Results are based on 18,000 face-to-face interviews with adults, aged 15 in older, conducted in 2009. A minimum of 1,000 interviews were conducted in each of the following countries: Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Kinshasa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error ranged from a low of ±3.5 percentage points in Ivory Coast and Niger to a high of ±4.8 percentage points in Senegal. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting.
Results for the question about reason for not having a bank account are based on 14,572 interviews, and the margin of error is ±1 percentage points.
The question about most important banking service was asked of 3,428 respondents. The margin of error is ±2.1 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.