How do Low-Income People in Senegal Manage their Money?

25 October 2013

In Senegal, 64% of the low-income population knows about the possibility of making a bill payment at an agent, but only 7% use this service. This is one of many findings from a survey of 1,052 low-income Senegalese.

Similar to the research CGAP released last week from Cote d’Ivoire, over the last several months, CGAP worked with EY and Horus Development Finance to find out more about financial lives of low-income people in Senegal – their preferences, attitudes and understanding of typical formal financial services, like savings, credit, insurance or money transfers.

Researchers targeted Senegalese just above and below the poverty line (between $20 and $120 per month per individual) with a quantitative survey and obtained additional nuance from about 20 qualitative interviews. Through questions about savings, credit, insurance and money transfers, our team found common behaviors and attitudes towards the use of formal bank accounts, the use of e-wallets, the perception of formal versus informal services, and the overall financial strategies employed in Senegal. The survey is representative of 70% of the population over 15 years old.

The qualitative aspect of this project was especially important in this survey. The quantitative responses indicated that 54% of non-account holders cited “religious reasons” as a barrier to opening an account. Being a predominately Muslim country, respondents perhaps answered this way because Sharia law bans interest, making the use of traditional savings or loan products technically impossible for practicing Muslims. However, when probed further, interviewees suggested that religious reasons might not actually be problematic in and of themselves. Rather, “religion” was sometimes referenced as a “catch-all” for other underlying concerns, such as a general fear of taking loans, or the perception that accounts were “too complicated,” or “not for me.” Others also believed that “several hundred thousand” Central African francs would be required to open an account. So while “religious reasons” were often cited, there is much more under the surface of this reasoning.

In addition to uncovering interesting details about how people in Senegal manage their money and their rationale behind these behaviors, six segments emerged among survey recipients based on needs and behaviors. We learned that 64% of respondents did not use any type of formal account. However, clear distinctions emerged within this umbrella group – not all respondents behaved the same way.

  • “Savers without accounts,” about 16% of respondents, save money at least every two months, but not with a financial institution.
  • “Transfer issuers without accounts,” about 12% of respondents, save irregularly or not at all, but send money transfers quite often.
  • “Relatively inactive without accounts,” about 36% of respondents, save irregularly and do not send transfers, although some of them receive transfers.

Our researchers spoke with Gathy, a sandwich vendor, who falls under another segment not mentioned above, the “traditionally banked, active transfer issuer” which represents 22% of respondents. She saves in a tontine club, and also has an account at an MFI where she can save. She hopes to one day take a loan from the MFI, but she has not done this yet for fear of not being able to pay back. She uses Wari for most of her money transfers.

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Among respondents, 43% have sent money over the last year. Like Gathy, about 46% of them use formal means to send money, and another 32% use both formal and informal means. Using some kind of agent point of service is the most preferred formal means of sending transfers. Those who use informal means mainly entrust money to family or friends who are traveling.

With these two research projects complete, we can draw several interesting contrasts between financial behaviors in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. For example, survey respondents in Cote d’Ivoire were more likely to be savers than those in Senegal. But Senegalese were more likely to have borrowed in the past year or received money transfers than Ivorians.

 What % of respondents in Senegal....What % of respondents in Cote d'Ivoire....
Have accounts?35.6%44.8%


Send transfers?43%49%
Receive transfers?66%42%

The detailed results of this research on Senegal are available in French; an executive summary is available in English and French.

Sarah Rotman manages CGAP’s branchless banking work in WAEMU. Franck Chevalier leads the Studies, Survey and Statistics Services at EY. Luc Veyssiere is the manager of the economic department within this service at EY. Juliette David is Head of Research & Consulting at Horus Development Finance.

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