Pensions are invaluable. To the individual, they provide a healthy financial future and means to break out from the poverty cycle. To a country, they enable investment, furthering vital improvements in infrastructure, healthcare and more.
Around 70-80% of Africa’s population works in the informal sector with no access to a pension. The need is great, and so is the challenge, with small and variable contributions making it difficult to build a sustainable business model. Today, financial inclusion is growing but most initiatives still focus on the low hanging fruit of creating access to credit, insurance and micro-loans to the informal sector. For a large part this is because these solutions provide an easier short term model and return on investment. While these models are important, so too are savings and building long term financial stability. Unfortunately, saving based solutions are still vastly underrepresented in the financial inclusion space.
In 2011 Enviu began work on pensions. This grew into People’s Pension Trust (PPT) which over the last 5 years has validated the need of, and stepped up to meet the demand for a long term savings product for the informal sector in Africa. This journey has never been an easy one. PPT has had to overcome enormous odds to build a pension business from scratch in Ghana’s underdeveloped pension space. Yet even in this context, 2020 was the hardest year yet, as the pandemic fell close to home following the tragic loss of CEO Samuel Waterberg to the disease.
However, through this adversity PPT not only continued serving its customers throughout 2020, it has grown into a fundamentally successful business model, earning the trust of its customers, partners and investors.
We spoke to new CEO, Saqib Nazir about PPT’s journey so far, the challenges of 2020 and it’s goals for the future.
How was 2020 for People’s Pension Trust?
“Tough. But we are proud of our accomplishments. In the face of Covid19 and the loss of Samuel, we continued to serve our customers and deliver an effective savings product. As inflation reached highs of 11% we still generated actual returns of 19% and a real net return of 40% for our customers. A number even more incredible considering many clients are used to saving at a negative yield”
5 years of PPT in numbers:
Number of clients: 47,000
Total number of deposits: 274,088
Number of withdrawals: 2749
Real net return: >40%
What were you most proud of in 2020?
We received two key investments, from FSD Africa and The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. These will let us further develop our technology and boost customer engagement. Today a third our customers are active savers, so we’ve been working to develop behavioral interventions including nudges, visualizations and framing to improve that. We’re also putting greater focus on mobile savings, which are a key way to increase deposits versus the current cash based system. We’ve already increased the number of customers using digital savings to 75% and this will keep on growing.
How does PPT plan to head into 2021 and the future?
In short, growth. In every aspect, from customers and engagement to partnerships and technology. We’re aiming for 100,000 customers by the end of 2021 and by 2022 we hope to be active in at least 2 more countries, including Nigeria. We know from speaking to our customers that there is a huge opportunity for a transparent and trustworthy savings product, it’s up to us to make it happen.
What’s needed next for PPT to continue to grow?
We’re looking for partners with whom we can gain customers, and grow our offerings. We want to continue working with invaluable funders like the DRK Foundation and FSD Africa, but we also want to work with other financial initiatives. We’ve shown the demand for savings is there, and believe there is a momentum to build a market at scale.
Savings is still underrepresented in the financial inclusion space, what does the growth of PPT mean for this?
That there isn’t just room for a savings product, but a need. Saving isn’t easy for informal workers, but the flexibility of our offering lowers the barriers and invites customers to join. For example, we let customers withdraw half of their assets in case of emergency. This gives peace of mind and, our low withdrawal rates – even in 2020 – show that our customers are committed savers, and not just using it as a current account.
At Enviu, we don’t believe in taking shortcuts. With the ventures we build we choose the path of fundamental change, no matter how difficult that may be. The growth of PPT is testament to this. The team’s hard work has taken a highly necessary and difficult to implement business model that had never been done, and proved it possible.
The growth in demand for our pension offering, and positive user experience shows there is a working business case for long term savings in the informal sector. Now we need other institutions to join us and team up to show that universal access to savings can be the norm, not the exception.