Monthly Archives: January 2017

The challenges of financial inclusion

Relative to its peers in the SADC region, South Africa has a high percentage of people with formal bank accounts. While 94% of the adult population in the Seychelles has a bank account, and 85% do so in Mauritius, South Africa’s banked adult population stands at 77%.

This contrasts starkly with the likes of Madagascar or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where only 12% of adults have bank accounts. In Angola, the ratio is 20%.

These are figures produced by the Finmark Trust, an organisation set up more than a decade ago to promote financial inclusion. And at face value, they may appear to suggest that South Africa is measuring up reasonably well.

However, the Trusts’s Dr Prega Ramsamy says that there is a lot more to financial inclusion than whether or not someone has a bank account.

“It’s a multi-dimensional problem,” he told the Actuarial Society 2016 Convention in Cape Town. “There is an element of access, but there is also an element of affordability, an element of proximity, and most importantly an element of quality. We might have huge access in terms of people having bank accounts, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are financially included because the quality of such access might not be there.”

He pointed out that often products are inappropriate or inaccessible.

“At the moment there are about 20.9 million people in South Africa with access to insurance,” he pointed out, “and of those, 18.9 million have funeral cover. So funeral insurance completely dominates the sector.”

He acknowledged that there is a cultural aspect to why this is such a popular product, but he questioned why so many people are able to afford funeral policies but don’t have any other long term risk cover or savings.

Ramsamy pointed out that ten years ago, about one million South Africans had multiple cover, in that they held more than one funeral policy. That number has grown to five million. Yet the penetration of other risk products has remained very low.

“We sit in an office and think we can provide insurance, but we don’t really know if this kind of insurance fits the needs of the people we are selling it to,” he argued. “Agents are also just interested in selling numbers for commissions, but don’t ask if what they’re selling is the type of insurance or product that their customers need.”

Speaking at the same event, Ruth Benjamin Swales of the Asisa Foundation acknowledged that there is a real challenge for financial services companies to design more relevant offerings.

“For instance we have many people in South Africa who work intermittently,” Swales said. “But most savings and investment or insurance products require monthly contributions. Just that minimum requirement excludes many people from being able to access relevant products that could improve their financial well-being.”

It is obvious that product providers need to find different models, both in terms of the products they are offering and how they are distributed. For instance, if funeral cover has such wide reach, might it not be possible to attach other products to these policies, such as savings accounts or retirement annuities.

Multiple bond applications affect your credit score

There is a view among many South African consumers that applying for a bond at more than one bank will have negative consequences. The belief is that these enquiries will impact on your credit score and therefore hurt your chances of getting a loan or push up its cost if you are successful.

Many people only apply at their own bank for just this reason. They think that they are taking a risk if they shop around.

This raises some obvious concerns. After all, you are only exercising your rights as a consumer to compare prices, so why should you be penalised for it?

Footprinting

What is a given is that every time you apply for a loan of any sort, this will be recorded on your credit profile. This is called footprinting, and credit providers may use this information to assess you.

“Credit providers consider a multitude of factors when vetting applications for credit, one of which would be demand for certain types of credit,” explains David Coleman, the head of analytics at Experian South Africa. “A sudden surge in demand for unsecured or short term credit, linked with signs of stress building on indebtedness and repayment capacity of the consumer, would result in the credit provider taking a more cautious approach in extending further credit to such a consumer.”

However, short term credit is not the same as long term credit like a home loan in this regard. In fact, Nedbank says that it views multiple applications for a bond made at the same time as a single enquiry.

The head of credit for FNB retail, Hannalie Crous explains that they also make a distinction:

“From an FNB perspective we do not look at number of bureau enquiries pertaining to home loans as a key determinant of a credit score,” she says. “The handful of credit bureau enquires associated with a bond application will have no effect, however  a consistent trend indicating that a consumer is taking on multiple loans could influence the outcome of a credit application.”

Not all bureaus will see you the same

In other words, the banks don’t see it as a negative if you shop around for a bond. A number of credit bureaus approached by Moneyweb also took the same line, although with a caveat:

“Each credit bureau and each credit provider that has their own in-house score will score consumers using their own criteria,” says Michelle Dickens, the MD of TPN. “It’s not a one size fits all. As a result there will be a higher weighting towards different aspects of data that will improve or decline the ultimate overall score.”

Property and bonds

Old Mutual Investment Group sees domestic equities, property and bonds delivering higher returns in 2017, on the back of improving economic prospects.

It expects peaking interest rates and inflation in South Africa to create a positive environment for interest rate sensitive assets such as domestic property and bonds.  It sees inflation averaging at 5.4% in 2017 compared with 6.3% in 2016 and the benchmark repurchase rates falling to 6.5% by the end of 2017, down from 7% currently.

According to Peter Brooke, head of Old Mutual Investment Group’s MacroSolutions Boutique the 13.5% return on domestic bonds year-to-date as at November 24 2016 is artificially high due to an oversold bond market.

Instead, he said SA cash – with a 6.8% return in rand terms – is the best performing local asset class thus far. SA listed property delivered returns of 4% and the FTSE-JSE Share Weighted Index (SWIX) returned 2.5% over the same period.

After starting the year with the highest level of cash in its fund ever, the group is seeing more opportunities in equities as the domestic equity market de-rates.

“We’re not at the stage where the JSE is cheap yet. It is on a 13x forward but it does offer a real return in the region of 5%. We’re not back to levels that we have enjoyed for the last 100 years of around 6.5% but value is starting to incrementally rebuild,” he said.

Paying too much in bank charges

In South Africa’s somewhat peculiar banking system, monthly charges for transactional accounts are a given. But is the few hundred rand you’re paying per month (if you’re lucky!) the best possible deal?

The first question you need to answer is whether you value having a ‘platinum’ or ‘private clients’ account with all the “value-adds” these offer?

Things like lounge access, bundled credit cards and a ‘personal’ banker are must-haves for some in the upper middle market. On the other end of the scale are basic, no-frills bank accounts (like Capitec’s Global One (and the clones from the other major banks)), but the truth is that most people need something a little more comprehensive than that. There’s likely a home loan, almost certainly vehicle finance and definitely a credit card.

So, do you need a ‘platinum’ (Premier/Prestige/Savvy Bundle)-type account? Do you actually use or need those value-adds? Or, do you enjoy the ‘status’ of having a platinum or black credit card? (Here, emotion – and ego – comes into the equation….)

This is an important question to answer, because the difference in bank charges between a more vanilla bundle account and ‘platinum’ is easily 50%!

While banks try to shoehorn you into product categories based on your salary or profession, there’s nothing stopping you from moving to another product (or refusing those ‘upgrades’). From a personal perspective, the only reason I have an FNB Premier (i.e. platinum) account (not gold) is because I do actually make use of the ‘free’, albeit diminishing, Slow Lounge access. And, the eBucks rewards I earn on this account are the most lucrative of the lot, based on the products I use, my transaction habits and spending patterns. (‘Upgrading’ to Private Clients is a mugs game because the thresholds for ‘earning’ rewards are significantly higher, to match one’s status and earnings, of course!)

Once you’ve answered this question – which is more important than most people realise – the next step is to figure out whether a bundled account or pay-as-you-transact one makes the most sense. Most of us enjoy not having to ‘worry’, so we readily sign up for the all-in-one package without actually understanding the differences in pricing.