Microfinance in PNG – As Easy as Banking from a Vegetable Garden

Maino Trudi make payments via her mobile phone from her vegetable garden.
Maino Trudi make payments via her mobile phone from her vegetable garden.

By Sally Shute-Trembath

An ADB-supported project has made a significant positive impact toward achieving financial inclusion for people living in remote areas of Papua New Guinea.

Maino Trudi, a 67-year-old widow from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), has five children and eight grandchildren. She earns a living selling fish, and growing corn and tomatoes. Maino used to have to travel very far on foot to her nearest bank branch to withdraw or deposit money, but now she can do all her banking via her mobile phone, without ever having to leave her vegetable garden.

This PNG woman, who says this was unthinkable a couple of years ago because she had never even used a mobile phone before, finds mobile banking from her vegetable garden “a real joy.”

Maino is one of the rapidly growing number of beneficiaries of the Papua New Guinea Microfinance Expansion Project, supported by ADB and the governments of Australia and PNG. Since 2010, the $26.91 million project has worked to ensure that previously unbanked people in the country can not only access financial services, but also know how to use them through a large-scale financial literacy training program that hopes to reach more than 130,000 people in some of the most remote areas of PNG by 2018.

Just 15 years ago, less than 15% of PNG’s widely dispersed population had access to financial services, and formal sector jobs were scarce. Things have changed for the better. The central bank has licensed five microbanks in the country since 2004, and by the end of 2015 the ADB-supported project had delivered financial education training to more than 90,000 people nationwide through partnerships with NGOs, other microbanks, and faith-based organizations. More than 30,000 of these people opened bank accounts, and almost half of these were women.

Some of the major achievements of the project to date include the establishment of the Centre for Excellence in Financial Inclusion, an independent entity that assists the government in coordinating all initiatives related to financial inclusion. The project is also helping partner microfinance institutions access the national credit bureau and roll out suitable financial services training, and has set up a risk-sharing facility to encourage lending to micro and small enterprises. The project has likewise pushed the government to formulate microfinance industry standards, developed the country’s first women-only lending product, and facilitated the opening of a Mibank—PNG’s largest microfinance bank—mobile banking agent in the Tsak Valley, a remote part of Enga province where 30,000 inhabitants had never before enjoyed access to a bank.

Tsak Valley resident Leap Elijah, a mother of four, says that she knew nothing about balancing budgets and saving before completing the financial literacy course, and now plans to open her first bank account.

Mathew Simon, a newspaper seller from Mendi, Southern Highlands province, realized he had been wasting money after participated in the course. “Now I make a point of saving every day,” he explained. “The trainers made me realize the importance of money and showed us easy ways of saving. I plan to start my own business when I have sufficient money. I am on the way.”

The project has moved banking out of the domain of the privileged few, but there is still a long way to go before a significant portion of PNG’s population of about 7.6 million has access to financial services. There is no doubt, however, that this project has made a significant positive impact toward achieving this goal, and transformed the lives of PNG rural people.