FINANCIAL INCLUSION- NEWS AND VIEWS - SEPTEMBER 2018
Last month saw the release of two data rich reports that reveal the demand side of rural India. The first report, NABARD’s All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17, presents a baseline of indicators like savings, debt, income, expenditure, investment, consumption pattern, borrowing behaviour, financial literacy, usage of FI technology, insurance coverage, pension, etc. To be conducted every three years, the survey will bring out a true picture of the progress of financial inclusion over time. The report is full of insights into rural finances and financial behaviour across states of India. For instance, 88.1% of the households surveyed reported having a bank account, which shows the reach of the banking system post - PMJDY. However, just 55% of agricultural households reported any savings at all over the last year, which points to low savings capabilities. Further, of those who did save, only 53% did so with institutions like banks, post offices and SHGs.
The second report, by MicroSave, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana: A demand-side diagnostic study of LPG refills surveys beneficiaries in three states to understand the reasons behind low offtake of refill LPG cylinders. Having found that the profile of PMUY customers is strikingly different from an average, non - PMUY customer in terms of fuel needs, fuel usage pattern, family size, safety standards, and most importantly, income levels, the study makes recommendations to raise affordability and access to the refills, while cautioning that most households view LPG as a luxury good, to be used only in special circumstances.
Fine granular data enables policy makers and industry to better understand the target segment, and to finetune financial inclusion and DBT strategies. However, in its Annual Report for 2017-18, released on August 29, the Reserve Bank of India continues to disappoint. The section on the progress of financial inclusion remains in aggregate numbers of accounts and agents, without going into any granular detail of usage of the bank accounts or activity of agents. Hopefully, the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion document being finalised by the Financial Inclusion Advisory Committee will ensure that the lacunae in data collection and monitoring are addressed.
Meanwhile, the India Post Payments Bank was finally launched by the Prime Minister on 1st September 2018 – currently operating through 650 branches and 3,250 access points, all 1.55 lakh post offices and 3 lakh rural post workers will be linked by December 2018. As other Payments Banks have been running up against the regulator, could this tortoise overtake the hares and take India’s financial inclusion story up another level?