Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

If the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign asked me how I can accelerate financial capability to meet full inclusion by 2020, I would start looking for already established systems with wide consumer outreach that I can leverage with ease. One such system is religion. I would seek the help of religions to spread financial literacy and invigorate financial capability for the world’s excluded majority.

Why do I believe that religious orders systems hold the key to faster capability building and inclusion? Here are a few reasons to support my belief:

  1. The religious orders’ outreach infrastructure to the intended beneficiaries of formal financial services is wide and deep, cutting across all demographic and geographical regions in the world. The infrastructure is more elaborate among the poor since spiritual seeds are better received in the fertile poverty seedbeds. You may miss everything else in the poor neighborhoods but you will find a house of prayer of some kind.
  2. Religious orders have perhaps the most frequent touch points with their followers other than perhaps schools. Most religious orders have at least four days of contact in a month. Christian denominations, for example, have frequent contacts going by different names such as worship, mass, fellowship, and others. Fortunately, the consumers of spiritual products are also consumers of financial services. In fact, religious organizations reach the intended financial inclusion target almost effortlessly with permanent co-existence among them.
  3. Religious orders, in addition to their spiritual roles, are strong stakeholders in the financial system as they derive their incomes from their customers. They invest in schools, hospitals, and real estate, and create businesses that generate further incomes.
  4. They can be good collaborators and champions in financial capability because their adherents look up to them for guidance.
  5. The religious orders enjoy a privileged position of undivided attention in spiritual moments during service and worship. Perhaps a monologue such as a sermon or homily can snatch some moments for financial literacy messages. The moment after offertory can be a great touch point for financial literacy messages. This is the moment when a congregation feels the joy of giving which triggers humility and submissiveness conducive to mental/emotional learning. Short financial literacy messages can be offered at such moments.

If asked to construct such a financial literacy message, this is what I would design: “Thank you, dear congregation, for your generous offerings. We pray that God/Allah/—/ reveals to you many ways to earn money, guide you as you do your budgeting, and bless you as you save for tomorrow. May He guide you in your investments and give you wisdom and confidence to deal with financial services providers knowing that they are your servants and it is you who brings wealth to them.”

For religious institutions whose well-being depends on the congregation bountifulness, it is a small favor to ask that such a piece be inserted in a service. These institutions would realize that a financially literate congregation is an asset for better future cash flows. Such a message, repeated, would act as an important reminder on the elements of financial literacy and capability. I don’t suppose religious orders would charge to insert such a message, if convinced that such serves their own good and that of their adherents. Over time, the customers will remember the message each time they come across money or money making opportunities.

If this approach is adopted by the financial inclusion leadership, they would then start lobbying with the religious leaders in their areas. If it works, it would save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on extending financial capability across the world. The thrust argument to religious leaders is that they are stakeholders in financial inclusion and success means more money for their institutions in the form of monetary contributions to support their noble missions.

There could be temptation to think “It is good to leave religion out of the financial inclusion domain since its role is spiritual.” But wait a minute, isn’t religion everywhere across the world? I visualize a member of the clergy asking the congregation to flash out their phones as they would be shown how to use financial features in the phone. I see religious institutions being the vehicles to announce financial inclusion interventions to their congregation such as the introduction of the new village shops that sells all financial products and perhaps even endorsing them for that matter, after studying them. A priest or pastor or Kadhi would be taken seriously when he announces that the world is moving towards branchless banking and consumers should get ready to embrace it. He has a patient and willing audience.

With this possibility, is there any reason to do the hard work of creating new infrastructure for financial capability outreach while we can start with something that already exists?

John Gitau, a financial education consultant and trainer, is the CEO of Kenya Financial Education Centre, an independent centre that offers financial training to staff and clients of financial service providers. His passion is teaching financial literacy and designing financial products for the poor. From 1992 to 2010, he was a Capital Markets Authority regulated investment consultant with Bridges Capital Ltd. He is a master trainer of trainers with the Global Financial Education Program (GFEP), developed by Microfinance Opportunities in collaboration with Freedom from Hunger and Citi Foundation.

Image credit: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty Images/abc News

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