Half the women of Vanuatu are involved in the subsistence economy. Some of them have only completed their studies until year six. As well as working, these women are also in charge of managing their households. With the income they make, they have to budget school fees, food, clothes, transport and living expenses.

In the rural areas of Vanuatu, there are no banks for them to safely keep their money. Instead, it is common for men and women to put their money in a jar or sack under the ground. Some people can keep up to 3 million vatu in cash under the ground. There have even been reports of local crop farmers buying a new vehicle in cash.

Banks such as Westpac understand the need for people to learn how to manage their cash. As the banking institutions are based in the capital of Port Vila, Westpac has set up ‘In Store’ rural banking services to allow people to do their banking without coming to the capital. They have also set up financial literacy programs to teach the basics of budgeting. Mini banking stations are set up at local shops where deposits and withdrawals can be done. They go to outer islands as well as areas outside of Port Vila including Ohlen, Teouma, Erakor, Mele and Ifira to teach the basics financial management. Westpac has opened up hundreds of accounts and even partners with the Civil Status office to issue birth certificates for those who aren’t registered. When individuals register with Civil Status, they can open a bank account free of charge and without putting any money into their account.

Westpac’s holistic approach is admirable. By providing these free financial literacy programs, Westpac says ‘it supports those new to banking and hopes to teach people about basic budgeting and forward thinking to contribute to proper money management, at a personal and business level. This in turn creates a healthy and dynamic economy that can contribute to self-sufficiency and poverty alleviation initiatives.’

Why don’t people trust banks?

Yet still, there are many Ni-Vanuatu women and men who are wary of commercial banks. There is a stigma to banking. People are uncomfortable with banking and financial institutions handling their money. They don’t like being asked questions about their income or providing personal details, nor do they like paying fees. Some people just can’t be bothered to set up a bank account, as it requires them to go through the hassle of getting birth certificates and other paperwork for personal identification purposes.

There are also people who feel intimidated by going into a bank as they feel too ‘man-bush’. Others are mislead to believe that banks will steal from them and worry how they’ll access their cash. An insider from the bank reveals that many people withdraw their entire salary on payday straight away, as they feel more comfortable with all their cash at their disposal. Unfortunately this also means that their cash is easily disposed. It is common to hear of people blowing their entire salary before the weekend is finished due to their inability to manage their finances.

This is why it’s critical for women to start thinking differently about money. As Vanuatu becomes more urbanized and the population slowly increases, it’s essential to start taking control of our finances and to start thinking of our welfare. Women need to consider their long-term goals, rather than the short term. If someone’s salary is finished in the same week, how can someone pay for school fees or save up for a house? A change in mindset is needed if women hope to create a better future for themselves and for their family.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think about your finances and make a financial plan. How much is your income? How much do you want to save a week? How much are your bills? What other expenses do you need to consider?
  • Get two accounts – transactional and savings.
  • Get the bank to put in a standing order so a certain amount automatically goes straight into your savings account.
  • Don’t get a handy card for your savings account. This way you’ll know you can’t touch it.
  • Start paying your bills with a card to create a strong credit history for future loans.
  • Start using Internet banking. Then you have control over what you do – it saves time and money in the long run.

Why is it important to save?

  • If you have a bank account, you have a transactional history for lending. You will be able to get loans to buy a house or get a car, because the bank knows you can make the repayments.
  • It’s important to save money for school fees as well as bigger investments such as a house.
  • If a loved one has an accident or requires medical treatment, it will lessen the stress by knowing you have money in the bank to take care of it.
  • When you start saving money, you are also teaching your child how to do it too.
  • You can be economically independent

To know more about banking, visit Westpac or any of the other banks in Port Vila.