Mobile Bankers in West African Marketplaces

In the larger marketplaces of West African countries, "mobile bankers" frequently carry out deposit and credit operations amongst vendors. In fact, mobile bankers are often agents for large businessmen, moeylenders, or other economically powerful individuals.

A mobile banker's activity consists of making regular - often daily - visits to market vendors and collecting their deposits from them. His fee usually amounts to one deposit per time period (one month, for example) at the end of which the lump sum less the fee is returned to the depositor. Mobile bankers also extend credit; some of the larger traders in Abidjan, for instance, may get advances of up to six times their deposits.

For the market vendor, mobile bankers offer the convenience of bringing banking services directly to their place of activity, during working hours - which is also the time when banks operate - and the possibility of opening a line of credit under better conditions than a formal bank. Moreover, a survey of 44 market women in Abidjan showed that the interviewees preferred mobile bankers over savings and loan associations because with the latter there are "too many disputes" whereas with the former they negotiate only with one individual and not several. Finally, market vendors see little risk in depositing their money with someone who comes around daily.

This regularity of transactions is also appriciated by the mobile bankers themselves, as it is one of the ways they may assess the creditworthiness of their clients. Indeed, their daily visits put pressure on vendors to make deposits, which are usually always of the same amount so that accounting may be made easier.

Hari Srinivas -
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