Bringing financial services to the Pacific's poorest

People managing electronic bank accounts
A bank representative helps customers in Fiji manage their electronic bank accounts. (Photo: Jeff Liew/UNCDF)

Seventy-year-old Raj Dulari no longer has to travel long distances each month to collect her social welfare payment from the Nausori Post Office in Fiji. Nor does she have to wait in line, or worry that she might lose her allowance of US$32 if she does not collect it on time.

Dulari, a widow who lives in a remote farming community in Fiji, is one of nearly 20,000 social welfare beneficiaries who now receive their government allowance deposited directly into a bank account. This new system is a relief for Dulari and other recipients who are elderly, disabled or chronically ill.

Highlights

  • About 6.5 million Pacific Islanders, and 80 percent of those on a low income, do not have access to financial services, such as a bank account.
  • Since January 2011, close to 20,000 social welfare recipients living in Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu have their money placed straight into a bank account.
  • The programme, in partnership with the region’s central banks, will pilot mobile phone-based financial services (‘mobile money’) on the main islands.
  • It is expected these services will reach over 500,000 islanders by the end of 2011.

Dulari is a beneficiary of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, aimed at expanding financial services to low-income, rural and vulnerable populations in the Pacific Islands, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The initiative is a joint venture by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), AusAID, and the European Union (EU). It aims to provide new and/or improved access to appropriate, sustainable financial services, including savings, money transfers, insurance and loans for 250,000 people across the region.

Introducing more financial services has the potential to help Pacific households increase their financial security, gain better access to health and education and earn a living more easily.

In Fiji, UNDP and its partners have successfully transformed what was a costly and insecure cash benefit system for very low-income clients – mostly women – into an electronic-payment system that creates low-cost saving services for all.

Until January 2011, many of the more than 24,000 recipients of welfare in Fiji might have spent the equivalent of US$6 - $12, roughly 15-30 percent of their modest allowance, traveling long distances in order to cash their vouchers.

Now recipients no longer have to travel and wait in long queues. Instead their money is placed straight into a bank account, allowing them to access it when they need it and also making it easier for them to save.

The beneficiaries, who received an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card, can withdraw their money at any Westpac bank branch or any ATM, and can also use their card at more than 1,000 grocers’, hardware stores and gas stations across the country.

Dulari says she is happy with the new system and her first-ever ATM card.

“I have been taught [at a training provided by the programme] that my allowances will be deposited into my bank account every month, and I have an ATM card so I can withdraw my money when I want.”

UNDP-EU partnership in poverty reduction

Poverty reduction is a central part of development policies and strategies of both UNDP and the EU. Together, we work to make real improvements in people’s lives, opening up their choices and opportunities. The partnership is multifaceted and covers all the developing regions of the world.

View More