The Zambian Financial Sector Deepening (FSD Zambia) has produced guidelines for savings groups around the country to adopt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
FSD Zambia says it recognises that COVID-19 pandemic poses significant health and economic risk to savings groups as businesses slow down, gatherings are restricted, and movements limited.
This is according to a statement released by FSD Zambia Head of Communications Eneyah Phiri.
Mr. Phiri said most savings groups conduct in-person meetings comprising of members coming from different environments and may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“There is a risk if members shake hands/or hug others who have been exposed to COVID-19 and touch surfaces that have been contaminated (including cash, cash box, locks, keys, money counting bowls, money bags, calculator or record books),” Mr Phiri said.
“Furthermore, savings group members may experience financial difficulties during this period due to loss of income. Restrictions on movements during this period might mean that some group members will not freely go the market to trade, (similarly, buyers will stay at home and not buy goods and services), companies may close and lay off workers and some members may stay at home sick or will be nursing sick family members,” he said.
“This has the potential to impact savings groups as group members may save less than usual, reduced capacity to pay back loans on time, loan fund will be low due to less savings, less or late loan repayments, increased demand for loans from members wishing to borrow to smoothen consumption.”
Mr Phiri said given the value and importance of savings groups to communities and the serious potential negative impacts on their operations, health, social and economic wellbeing of the over 800,000 savings groups members in Zambia owing to COVID-19, FSD Zambia published recommendations to guide savings groups’ functions and keep members safe.
Mr. Phiri said the guidelines will support the sustainability of savings groups in different communities during these difficult times.
The guidelines include:
- reducing meeting times (for example, instead of weekly, savings groups can meet once a month) and encourage only a few members to attend meetings to avoid overcrowding especially if meetings are held in a small room
- practice social distancing – sit at least one metre from each other. Remember not to shake hands or hug
- Members in high risk categories like the elderly, pregnant, sick or have pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, cancer and HIV, should appoint a relative or friend they trust to participate on their behalf. Members should also avoid coming to the meeting with children
- Enforce handwashing; provide a hand washing bucket or container with soap/sanitisers for members coming to the meeting. Ensure gloves are available for money counters and persons holding keys to the cashbox. If gloves are not available, use hand sanitisers before and after the meeting
- If all members have cell phones, consider having a digitised meeting where members send savings, loans and social fund through mobile money or other virtual means. This could be safe but requires that all members learn how to do this properly.
Mr Phiri said full guidelines are accessible at www.fsdzambia.org.
Meanwhile, FSD Zambia Chief Executive Officer, Betty Wilkinson, said, “Covid-19 is a nightmare for everyone but in particular low-income families. Savings groups are an effective method of providing savings, borrowing, and self-insurance for low-income families in Zambia. FSD Zambia cares deeply about our people. We thus assessed some ways to make sure that under the harsh economic circumstances of Covid, Savings groups can still help their members stay safe and manage their money even more carefully than usual.”
And, commenting on the release, FSD Zambia Head of Informal Finance, Chipili Lumpa Mwaba, said,”FSD Zambia recognises the important role that savings groups play in your financial lives and the potentially devastating effects that the COVID-19 may have on your savingds group operations. FSD Zambia cares about you, your families, your savings groups and we pray that you will remain healthy and safeguard your savings group during this challenging period. FSD Zambia is happy to share these savings group guidelines to help ensure that your savings groups continue operating and meeting your financial needs while prioritising your health and safety.”