Asha Speckman

THE proportion of adult South Africans with a bank account has increased by 4 percentage points to 67 percent over the past year, according to the FinScope Consumer Survey 2012 study published by the FinMark Trust yesterday.

The figures show that the banked population had increased to 22.5 million people from 21.1 million bank account holders since last year.

Most of the reported growth was attributed to the new SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) social grant electronic payment system.

The introduction of the system had also boosted the figures for the number of women banked, compared with the amount of men in the banking system.

The total number of social grant recipients who are banked grew to 75 percent from 60 percent last year.

Of South Africa’s aggregate adult population, 12 percent have a Sassa MasterCard.

According to the FinScope study, there are 33.7 million adults in the country.

The study found that there were still key challenges to deepen consumer engagement with banking.

The information was derived from face-to-face interviews with 3 900 respondents by TNS from a sample of residents 16 years and older.

The nationally representative sample was benchmarked to Statistics SA’s 2011 mid-year population estimates.

FinScope is an annual representative study of the demand for, usage of and access to financial services.

“Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to accelerate financial inclusion over the years, which has included promoting entry into the banking sector, creating an enabling framework for co-operative banks, facilitating the entry of smaller dedicated banks, improving the governance arrangements of Postbank and introducing deposit insurance for co-operative banks, among others,” the FinMark Trust said.

While only a third (37 percent) of people live in rural areas, South Africa is still a country of extreme inequality, according to the findings.

Forty-one percent of adults were younger than 30 years, an age that is not yet economically settled according to the FinScope study.

Half of South Africans receive money through a formal salary or wage or generate their own income, while 33 percent receive money from others and 29 percent receive government grants.

Fifty-one percent of the adult population earned less than R2 000 a month, including 12 percent who did not have any income. The study found that the use of Mzansi, a low-cost bank account introduced by the banking system eight years ago, fell due to users migrating to other products.

FinScope said while current banking products focused on adults who received a regular salary and formal institutions were likely to target these people, a large proportion of the population were not regular salaried employees.

“The challenge for deepening financial inclusion is to find ways of balancing both the formal and informal sector offering to meet consumer needs without creating usage barriers for those who depend on these mechanisms.”

Two-thirds (67 percent) of South Africans do not save, according to the study.

Only 11 percent of individuals have or use savings products from a bank and 6 percent rely on informal mechanisms such as savings groups.

The researchers found that 5 percent of respondents kept all their savings at home. These people did not have or use formal or informal savings products or mechanisms.

Of those who had investment or savings products 47 percent could no longer afford to save.

About half (53 percent) of the adult population did not have any kind of financial product covering risk, while 30 percent had some formal financial product covering defined risk and 17 percent of the country’s adult population only relied on burial societies, the study found.