SA Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
SA Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

SA’s banks need to better tailor their products to consumers’ needs to increase equality rather than just offering more credit, SA Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said during a virtual event. 

“People think financial inclusion is like shoving credit down the throats of the poor, and that is not quite financial inclusion,” he said, adding that while access to credit is important, it must be tested against affordability. 

SA has battled to meaningfully include a larger portion of its population in mainstream finance, with few lower-income earners able to access loans from banks. That’s just one factor helping to maintain the nation’s position as the world’s most unequal society, a status quo that stems from apartheid.

The country’s banks have also been criticised for sluggish progress in increasing black representation in their ownership structures and top management. A report by the Banking Association SA found that black ownership measures in most categories tracked declined between 2016 and 2019, though most remained above the nation’s Financial Sector Code targets.

A preoccupation with ownership in the financial industry, however, has blinded South Africans to other opportunities to foster transformation, Standard Bank’s local head Lungisa Fuzile said at the same forum.

“Transformation is hard, it is difficult,” he said. “We need proper conversations and we need to acknowledge they will be necessarily difficult, but if we yell at each other, swear at each other, castigate each other and cast aspersions on each other we won’t make progress.”

Public Investment Corporation CEO Abel Sithole warned that the nation is losing the capacity to ensure the transformation it desires.

Strict restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus saw the economy contract the most in at least 27 years in 2020. Even before the pandemic, SA was stuck in its longest downward cycle since World War 2 and the economy hasn’t grown by more than 3% annually since 2012. The unemployment rate is the highest among 82 countries monitored by Bloomberg. 

“For the majority of the people, transformation is losing meaning because there is no food on the table,” Sithole said.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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