In the past few years, ‘njangi,’ usury, and thrift and loan groups were significant avenues of saving money for most families. Given the ever-expanding informal sector with several small businesses cropping up everyday, there is need for more trustworthy means of saving money. This has led to the proliferation of microfinance institutions such as cooperatives, credit unions ...., with each devising strategies to woo clients. Such institutions have won the confidence of small businesses in Douala by going to traders in their various business places to collect savings.
Ambulant savings collectors work in the afternoons in collaboration with financial institutions. The money collected is recorded in the client’s booklet and saved in a special account created for the collector. Savings collectors are generally people well-known to clients. Liza M., an ambulant collector in Akwa, Douala for a credit union in the Mboppi neighbourhood, explained that for FCFA 30,000 collected each month, FCFA 1,000 is deducted. With over 60 clients daily, she collects between FCFA 4-5 million a month, and receives interest of about FCFA 250,000 to FCFA 300,000. From this amount, over 80 per cent is given to her and 25 per cent remains with the financial institution.
Another set of collectors have personal savings accounts whereby money so collected is saved and the entire interest is not shared out. Celine Nsombet, a hair dresser in Bali, Douala, saves at least FCFA 2,000 a day and Valentine Nfor, shoe mender in New Bell, saves FCFA 1,000. Didier, a shopkeeper in Ngangue, says the FCFA 2,500 he saves each day does not only help secure more articles, but also boosts his capital. To many clients, this method of saving saves time and cost and even the stress that comes with commuting across the city during peak traffic hours to get to banks and microfinance institutions.
The amounts saved each day are usually small, but build up over time to enable petty traders resolve pressing problems. Though lucrative, challenges abound: “As we move from one client to another, robbers sometimes attack us and seize the money and we have to bear the loss. Some people are afraid of saving with us because they think that the microfinance institution might close down like it has been the case in the past,” an ambulant savings collector revealed.