FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world will participate in more than 30 events and share their voices over social media, with #FI2020. In recognition of the importance of savings to financial inclusion, and with the happy coincidence that World Savings Day is on October 31, we invited Chris de Noose, Managing Director of the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) to help launch FI2020 Week with this post.

For more than 90 years, the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute – WSBI – and its members have spearheaded annually a day dedicated to promoting the virtue of people saving money.

Called World Savings Day, it was the first initiative of WSBI, which represents the interests of savings and retail banks in 80 countries. Celebrated at the end of October, the day remains relevant for members, who engage actively in celebrating it in their local areas. World Savings Day is etched in the minds of Europeans, including those from Germany, Austria, Spain, and Italy. It also is celebrated beyond Europe, in places like Brazil, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Thailand, for instance.

For Brussels-based WSBI and its members, World Savings Day places focus on the stabilising role played by savings and retail banking in the overall financial system. It evokes some of the ethos of local banks: responsible partners in communities; close to the customer; serving households, small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), and local authorities.

Why saving is important

Savings are important on many levels. First, savings are important for households. People save to create a nest egg, a rainy day fund – a way to financially “smooth out” some of the uncertainty in an often uncertain world. Second, and on a macro-economic level, it provides funding to banks in the form of deposits. Those savings then can be converted into loans. Loans for SMEs, for example, when they expand or retool. Savings are also important for social entrepreneurship, finance that brings to life start ups, for example.

Low interest rates

Today savers face a low interest rate environment that chips away at financial asset values, most of which are held by households in the form of bank deposits and government securities. Low-interest rates also drag down deposits levels – a core source of funding by many of our members – by swaying people to save less. Perhaps it is time to stop trying to solve the problems arising from the financial crisis on the backs of savers.

The Roots of Savings and Retail Banks

The savings bank is different from other types of banks. The concept is European with ideological roots that date back to the Enlightenment, when the “principle of self-help” made its breakthrough during the 18th century. The “Enlightened” believed in self-help and spread the deeply middle-class virtue of thrift to lower classes.

The savings bank movement blossomed in the early 19th century when the first savings banks, which were private,  were set up – often through unconnected movements across Europe. We like to mark the starting point with the Ruthwell Savings Bank in Scotland. It was founded by the Reverend Henry Duncan and took hold in 1810. The seed was planted, and after that savings banks began to spread throughout Europe.

​Next came industrialisation and the social problems that arise from it. The challenges of industrialization breathed life into the“morality” of work, thrift, and virtue. Saving could help stabilise the social order. That’s when governments began to show interest.

Today, the world’s savings banks are diverse, but are rooted in self-help and local ties, especially with people earning lower incomes, SMEs, and regional and local authorities.

The red thread: change

For more than 200 years, savings and retail banks have nurtured trust with people. Close to the customer, we strive for a bond that is solid and trusted. The “New Normal” created by digitalisation is the next opportunity to bring more people into the financial mainstream. Our job at WSBI is to play an enabling role to help this happen.

WSBI brings together savings and retail banks from around 80 countries, representing the interests of approximately 6,000 banks in all continents. As a worldwide organisation, WSBI focuses on issues of global importance affecting the retail banking industry. Learn more about WSBI at http://www.wsbi-esbg.org.

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