The emphasis of financial inclusion is now on how more competitive financial markets can work better for poor people (Porteous, 2004). It acknowledges that increasing financial inclusion requires a better understanding of how services, formal and informal, can meet people’s needs (Ledgerwood and Jethani, 2013). The current economic situation in South Africa presents a large number of people relying on the informal economy, severe unemployment, especially among the youth, rising inequality and one of the highest levels of indebtedness in the world. In this context, the most poor and vulnerable people often struggle to make ends meet, cope with shocks and access and afford safe and convenient financial services. FinScope South Africa 2017 found that the percentage of adults with a bank account has remained unchanged at 77% since 2016, while the percentage of adults using some form of informal financial service has slightly increased to 56%.
Seeking to better understand such trends and the underlying motivation to use financial services, FinMark Trust commissioned a qualitative impact study of SaveAct savings groups and stokvels in rural South Africa. This study has used a realist evaluation (RE) approach to explore impact not as a direct result of an intervention or input, but in relation to the context in which a programme intervention takes place and the reasoning of its beneficiaries. In this way, realist evaluation breaks down pathways of change into a series of outcomes and triggering mechanisms, allowing the identification of those factors that drive the use of financial services and trigger their impacts. This summary presents the main findings on impact and drivers of change for SaveAct savings groups programme and indigenous stokvels.