After a 10-year intensive monitoring and implementation by Government, the commercial services sector, the Bank of
Namibia and Bank Windhoek are making strides towards achieving a financial inclusion.
Financial inclusion refers to the creation of accessibility lines for the middle, low to very low income earning population to access the banking facilities by providing affordable bank services and expanding the spread for banks to marginal areas.
The latest statistics released from the FinScope Survey of 2011/12 show that the number of Namibians outside the banking sector has been slashed down by about 24%; a move that has significantly reduced the number of Namibians without banking accounts, which at one point stood at 53%.
However, it still remains anyone’s guess whether or not the statistical improvements are indicative of increasing bankable population spread across the banking financial sector.
The concept of financial inclusion was introduced in Namibia in 2004 and reinvigorated by Prime Minister Nahas Angola in 2009 after constant reports that the banking sector had been profiteering through charging exorbitant bank charges, which in turn, made it very difficult for the low income earners to bank their money.
At that time (2009), about 53% of the Namibian population was not bankable, either because they could not afford to bank their meager earnings or deliberately stayed away from the formal banking system.
According to Bank Windhoek, the only banking institution in the country, which is locally owned, the results of the latest FinScope show that the bank has made significant improvements in improving accessibility to the banking facilities.
The Bank’s managing director (MD), Christo de Vries says Bank Windhoek has launched several branches across the country in a bid to promote accessibility and has also launched a new service called Namic Cell Card, which will see the 120 000 National Union of Namibia Workers’ (NUNW) accessing their accounts with their membership cards.
The cell card will also gives its beneficiaries access to transactions at points-of-sale (POS) in selected outlets and accessibility of their money through the automated teller machines (ATMs).
“The results of the 2011/12 FinScope research are encouraging as it is clear that the efforts of Bank Windhoek and other financial institutions to improve financial inclusion in Namibia over the past 10 years has made an impact and that we are well in our way to reach the target set for financial inclusion in the Financial Sector Strategy, which was introduced in 2011,” the Bank Windhoek MD said.
Financial Sector Strategy is a legislative tool meant to push for swift transformation by the sector to give access to the general populace and has been backed by the Banking Services Charter, which aims to have reasonable rates in the banking sector for the betterment of the transacting public.
Some of the services that are now rendered by Bank Windhoek in their quest to give everyone access to banking products includes cell phone banking.
Although such improvements have been made on the ground by the financial sector, Government still believes the transformation rate of the sector to give access to the ordinary populace and knock off its nobility preserve is still slow.
Government also questions whether the hyped talk of improvement by the sector is a clear indication of events on the ground, with the Minister of Finance, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila telling The Villager that there is more to be done and that banking service rates are still high in Namibia.
“We still believe there is still room for improvement and a lot more can be done by the financial sector to accommodate the poor. The most accessible and cheap bank for the low income earning in the country still remains NamPost, through its banking division, which is also well decentralised across the country,” said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.
Government has been monitoring the rate of financial inclusion through the Financial Inclusion Committee driven by the Bank of Namibia (BoN).
However, chief among the reluctance by the financial sector to spread across the country has been the fact that the country’s minute population of 2.1 million, according to the latest census, is sparsely settled, making it difficult to centralise it in terms of banking services.
On grid comparison, Namibia has the second highest bank charges in the southern African development community (Sadc), with every transaction knocking off between five dollars to N$100 depending on the type of transaction and where it is done.