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FEATURE STORY November 16, 2018

Digitized National Savings Provides Financial Inclusion for More Pakistanis

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The Central Directorate of National Savings (CDNS is an institution where over 7 million Pakistanis save. They hold assets of about ¼ of the nation’s savings and the government uses funds to finance the budget, reforms, and infrastructure projects. How is it being improved? 


Globally, approximately 1.7 billion adults still lack access to banking. Nearly half of them live in seven developing countries, including Pakistan.

The vast majority of Pakistanis live under poverty level, and the economic disparity is quite jarring. In a developing country like Pakistan, inclusive fiscal growth can only be possible through a systemic financial inclusion planMany are left out because of lack of access and understanding of how financial systems work. In response to these challenges, Pakistan initiated the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) in 2015, led by the Ministry of Finance and supported by the World Bank. This program aimed at improving financial inclusion, increasing access to useful and affordable financial products and services – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance.

They hold assets of about ¼ of the nation’s savings and the government uses funds to finance the budget, reforms, and infrastructure projects.


"The need for bringing unbanked individuals in to the folds of the financial economy was immediate and necessary. The main functions of National Savings have been to promote financial savings and thrift."
Zafar Iqbal
Director General of CDNS

MULTIMEDIA

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Though popular and trusted, CDNS previously suffered from inefficiency and slow processes. Until 2003, all operations and branches were manual. “I remember the days we would have to dedicate an entire day to withdraw our monthly profits,” says Nargis Naqvi, a retired Government official who has been a CDNS customer for the past 18 years. 


CDNS offers its customers products such as prize bonds (non-interest-bearing lottery bonds), savings accounts, and certificates with various maturity periods, including welfare products offering higher interest rates than regular banks, specifically designed for pensioners, widows, senior citizens, families of martyrs and the disabled.

Though popular and trusted, CDNS previously suffered from inefficiency and slow processes. Until 2003, all operations and branches were manual. “I remember the days we would have to dedicate an entire day to withdraw our monthly profits,” says Nargis Naqvi, a retired Government official who has been a CDNS customer for the past 18 years. “There was no system, it was cramped, we would have to wait for 2-3 hours in line, and you had to bring all your cumbersome certificates to be served. It was very inconvenient, especially for senior citizens.”

Under a host of reforms, the Ministry of Finance decided to remodel and modernize the National Savings department. Phase 1 of its automation began in 2007, with 114 out of 376 physical branches brought online and data-digitized. By 2013, 222 branches were fully automated. With the token system, we can wait our turn comfortably and be done within 20 minutes,” says Nargis.

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To make National Savings more efficient and accessible, the department has introduced several other upgrades. recently, a non-financial digital mobile app, Qaumi Bachat Digital [National Savings Digital], was released in February 2018, and downloaded by thousands of people to date.

Seema, a younger and more recent CDNS customer says: App users also receive an automated message informing them every time a transaction takes place. Plans are in progress to improve the app so that customers can use it in the same way as an online banking app.

With the digitization of CDNS, customers can now walk into the nearest branch to deposit to or withdraw from their account, instead of being restricted to the branch where their account was created. By bringing NIFT (National Institutional Facilitation Technologies) on board, CDNS has connected to the entire banking sector. NIFT provides interbank check-clearing services. Customers can now directly deposit their checks into their own bank account without having to visit the CDNS branch. “We used to come every month to this branch and it’s really far from our house. Now with the NIFT service, it’s so much easier. You don’t even have to go to the bank yourself, someone else can deposit your check,” says Nighat Asad Cheema. She and her husband have been Behbud account customers for the past 8 years and are very satisfied by the services and updates. CDNS has noted that transaction time and the number of branch visits have reduced by 20%, due to the bank clearing system.

Dr. Muhammad Qadeer, a doctor at Capital Hospital, has been a CDNS investor since 1996. “My father inculcated the habit of saving in me, he used to invest in National Savings as well. All the positive changes have happened in front of my eyes. I analyzed the market, and the rate of profit here is higher, no local bank can compare.” However, there are still some improvements that customers are hoping for, on par with modern personal banking services. “I would like to be able to write a check directly to anyone like other banks and receive an SMS on my transactions or profit updates,” says Dr. Qadeer.

Some customers seek more hand-holding for users along with operational improvements. “For a non-tech user like me, it would be helpful to see more staff available to offer more guidance on the new products and services, so we can use them to our convenience,” says Nargis.

CDNS is looking forward to more improvements in the pipeline, including offering an ATM card for investors, and new products like certificates for overseas Pakistanis, as well as those that are Shariah-compliant. “The plan is to expand digitally in the next 5 years versus brick and mortar expansion -- it is more effective and efficient,” says Zafar Iqbal. “There is certainly a long way to go. However, little by little we are getting there.”



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