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Bankers on bikes

Bankers on bikes in Vanuatu

February 2010 – June 2011
How do you encourage people to bank their money where no bank branches exist? The National Bank of Vanuatu with support from The Commonwealth had some ideas.

The National Bank of Vanuatu wanted to extend its banking services to villagers living in inaccessible rural areas across the Pacific nation’s 80 plus islands – the country as a whole has a population of just over 250,000 people.

John Aruhuri, the bank’s Head of Rural Banking Services, proposed the idea of using radio to teach financial literacy. Together with colleagues, he drew up a manual which included topics such as how to develop a savings culture, simple household budgeting, keeping accounts, managing loans and calculating interest rates. 

Commonwealth response: 

In 2009 Mr Aruhuri submitted a proposal to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s financial literacy programme seeking support for a 12-month training and outreach programme using the national radio broadcaster, Radio Vanuatu.

With funding from the Secretariat:

  • bank staff on different islands were trained to go into villages to teach people about how to manage their money and savings and open bank accounts
  • people living in rural areas were trained on financial literacy
  • training and publicity materials were produced in the main local language, Bislama, including posters, leaflets, brochures and handbooks
  • a weekly radio programme conducted in Bislama was broadcast for 11 months on sources of rural income, opening a bank account, using ATMs and household budgeting. 

Within one year of commencing the training and radio programmes, 9,000 new bank accounts were opened for rural customers, raising an additional US$3 million in savings.

Mr Aruhuri said in 2013:

“We have taught people the value of making savings, however small the amount. The starting point to improving and securing the future of our people is through developing a culture of savings. That way they can afford to plan to invest and change their fortunes for the better.”

The popularity of the radio and training programmes attracted other agencies to partner with the bank to service other needs. After hearing about the progress of the programme, the New Zealand Government offered to help fund it.

“The initial support we received from the Commonwealth Secretariat is unlocking many other opportunities. It is like sowing a mustard seed that has led to the blossoming of a financial literacy tree,” Mr Aruhuri said.

“We very soon found that by providing information over the radio, we had created an additional demand - for the bank to go out there and start serving the people.”

The bank gave field banking staff motorcycles and bicycles, so they could scale the mountains and valleys to reach the new clients.

In some cases, banking officers travel by minibus or public transport to villages, and set up banking sites at community centres such as churches or schools. Where bikes can’t travel, staff carry their books and bags on their heads, and walk deep into the hills to help people open bank accounts.

The bank has regular travel schedules and also uses radio to make announcements to alert people about the dates and times.

According to National Bank of Vanuatu employee Mark Solomon, the majority of people who come to open bank accounts or make savings are women - almost 80 percent. 


National Bank of Vanuatu