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Chasing the Digital Savings Dream for Sub-Saharan Africa: Navigating Policy, Behaviour and Financial Inclusion Literature in Emerging Economies

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2023
Number of pages247
Awarding Institution
  • Zhu, Ruilin, Supervisor
  • Sutanto, Juliana, Supervisor, External person
Award date13/03/2023
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Financial inclusion is a crucial mechanism for inclusive growth, poverty reduction, and economic development, particularly among the unbankable in developing countries that face financial infrastructural challenges. However, existing efforts to address these challenges have not yet translated into significant improvements due to the prevalence of financial inclusion barriers. This study begins by identifying the previous works, current themes, and gaps in financial inclusion literature in developing countries through a comprehensive literature review in Chapter 2. The review reveals that themes such as the determinants and the impacts of financial inclusion are the most commonly discussed research areas on developing countries. The article also suggests areas for further research.

One key financial inclusion tool with immense potential to reduce financial disparities, but has been largely overlooked in the literature as identified in the comprehensive literature review, is digital savings. Operating at the intersection of technology and financial access, digital savings for the unbankable can improve their economic well-being, among other potential benefits. Given the nascent nature of this research area, there is a need to understand how digital savings can be positioned to drive financial inclusion among the unbankable in developing countries. This becomes the underpinning research objective of this thesis.

Building on this and based on the findings of the comprehensive literature review, the second article in Chapter 3 reviews the policy documents across all 54 African countries and demonstrates the lack of prioritisation of digital savings. Given the centrality of policies to the diffusion of financial innovation, this article shows that digital financial services policies mainly focus on electronic money, which can further create a debt burden on the unbankable. Additionally, the study develops a typology of digital savings from policies in Africa and suggests appropriate policy types that can stimulate digital savings uptake through the financial inclusion agenda.

Considering the lack of prioritisation of digital savings, Chapter 4 examines the usage behaviour of the unbankable with existing digital savings solutions. By using elements of the grounded theory approach, with semi-structured interviews conducted, this article identifies four usage behaviours and motivations driving digital savings usage. Furthermore, the study extends the affordance theory by revealing tiered affordances in the context of digital savings usage, which has not been previously examined in the literature on affordances.