The InFocus project examined the experiences of four developing country banks that have specific savings account offerings targeted toward low-income populations. In this knowledge-building exercise which was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), BFA conducted extensive analytical studies of the banks and their customers over a two-year period. The studies aimed to give the Financial Services for the Poor team at BMGF a comprehensive understanding of the economics around providing savings services for the poor.

Problem Statement

The Gates Foundation wished to obtain deep insights into key questions undergirding their investment in the development of small savings accounts for poor people: how poor were the clients of chosen grantees by local and international standards? And what was the business case for the bank to offer a small savings product?




BFA managed and executed a comprehensive research program on each of four banks selected in four different countries. In each case, we undertook surveys of clients and developed product financial models. We also obtained and analyzed all transactional data for the account category in question over a year, enabling the analysis of patterns and the development of a segmentation approach. In 3 of the 4 cases, we also had to develop transactional costing analysis from inception, using hybrid allocation/ activity-based modeling. This has resulted in a deep and rich database on commercial banks’ savings activities, the public learnings of which are summarized in three Focus Notes published in 2012.



Findings and Key Takeaways

  • BMGF and the financial inclusion industry, in general, has a much better understanding of the costs of providing savings accounts to low-income households.
  • A new segmentation/costing methodology was developed and further implemented with Opportunity Bank Malawi in a separate project.
  • BMGF and the financial inclusion industry, in general, has evidence that large financial institutions can and do reach poor clients.