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Banking the Unbanked? Evidence from Three Countries


  • Dean Karlan

    () (Economic Growth Center, Yale University)

  • Pascaline Dupas

    () (Stanford University)

  • Jonathan Robinson

    () (University of California Santa Cruz)

  • Diego Ubfal

    () (Bocconi University)


We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17%, 10%, and 3% of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention-to-treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.

Suggested Citation

  • Dean Karlan & Pascaline Dupas & Jonathan Robinson & Diego Ubfal, 2016. "Banking the Unbanked? Evidence from Three Countries," Working Papers 1055, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:egc:wpaper:1055

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Callen & Suresh de Mel & Craig McIntosh & Christopher Woodruff, 2019. "What Are the Headwaters of Formal Savings? Experimental Evidence from Sri Lanka," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 86(6), pages 2491-2529.
    2. Felipe Kast & Dina Pomeranz, 2013. "Saving More to Borrow Less: Experimental Evidence from Access to Formal Savings Accounts in Chile," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-001, Harvard Business School, revised Jun 2014.
    3. Pascaline Dupas & Sarah Green & Anthony Keats & Jonathan Robinson, 2014. "Challenges in Banking the Rural Poor: Evidence from Kenya's Western Province," NBER Chapters, in: African Successes, Volume III: Modernization and Development, pages 63-101, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    8. Pascaline Dupas & Anthony Keats & Jonathan Robinson, 2019. "The Effect of Savings Accounts on Interpersonal Financial Relationships: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Rural Kenya," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 129(617), pages 273-310.
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    Cited by:

    1. Grohmann, Antonia & Klühs, Theres & Menkhoff, Lukas, 2018. "Does financial literacy improve financial inclusion? Cross country evidence," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 84-96.
    2. Steinert, Janina Isabel & Cluver, Lucie Dale & Meinck, Franziska & Doubt, Jenny & Vollmer, Sebastian, 2018. "Household economic strengthening through financial and psychosocial programming: Evidence from a field experiment in South Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 443-466.
    3. Aggarwal, Shilpa & Francis, Eilin & Robinson, Jonathan, 2018. "Grain today, gain tomorrow: Evidence from a storage experiment with savings clubs in Kenya," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 1-15.
    4. World Bank [WB], 2018. "The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution," Working Papers id:12735, eSocialSciences.
    5. Mayra Buvinic & Megan O’Donnell, 2017. "Gender Matters in Economic Empowerment Interventions: A Research Review," Working Papers id:11926, eSocialSciences.
    6. Avdeenko, Alexandra & Bohne, Albrecht & Frölich, Markus, 2019. "Linking savings behavior, confidence and individual feedback: A field experiment in Ethiopia," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 167(C), pages 122-151.
    7. Bazillier, Remi & Girard, Victoire, 2020. "The gold digger and the machine. Evidence on the distributive effect of the artisanal and industrial gold rushes in Burkina Faso," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C).
    8. Rosangela Bando & Sebastian Galiani & Paul Gertler, 2016. "The Effects of Non-Contributory Pensions on Material and Subjective Well Being," NBER Working Papers 22995, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Vincent Somville & Lore Vandewalle, 2019. "Access to Banking, Savings and Consumption Smoothing in Rural India," IHEID Working Papers 09-2019, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies.
    10. Banerjee, Abhijit & Karlan, Dean S. & Osei, Robert & Trachtman, Hannah & Udry, Christopher, 2018. "Unpacking a Multi-Faceted Program to Build Sustainable Income for the Very Poor," CEPR Discussion Papers 12653, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. Vincent Somville & Lore Vandewalle, 2017. "Access to Formal Banking and Household Finances: Experimental Evidence from India," CMI Working Papers 1, CMI (Chr. Michelsen Institute), Bergen, Norway.
    12. Pierre Bachas & Paul Gertler & Sean Higgins & Enrique Seira, 2017. "How Debit Cards Enable the Poor to Save More," NBER Working Papers 23252, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Yavuz Arslan & Ahmet Degerli & Gazi Kabas, 2019. "Unintended Consequences of Unemployment Insurance Benefits: The Role of Banks," Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper Series 19-44, Swiss Finance Institute.
    14. Amina Abdinoor & Ulingeta O.L. Mbamba, 2017. "Factors influencing consumers’ adoption of mobile financial services in Tanzania," Cogent Business & Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 1392273-139, January.
    15. Mayra Buvinic & Megan O’Donnell, 2017. "Gender Matters in Economic Empowerment Interventions: A Research Review - Working Paper 456," Working Papers 456, Center for Global Development.
    16. Pere Arqué-castells & Elisabet Viladecans-Marsal, 2016. "Banking the unbanked: Evidence from the Spanish Banking Expansion Plan," Working Papers 2016/24, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    17. Karlan, Dean & Zinman, Jonathan, 2018. "Price and control elasticities of demand for savings," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 145-159.
    18. Dean Karlan & Sendhil Mullainathan & Benjamin N. Roth, 2019. "Debt Traps? Market Vendors and Moneylender Debt in India and the Philippines," American Economic Review: Insights, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 27-42, June.
    19. Singh, Nirvikar, 2018. "Financial Inclusion: Concepts, Issues and Policies for India," MPRA Paper 91047, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    20. Asli Demirguc-Kunt & Leora Klapper & Dorothe Singer & Saniya Ansar & Jake Hess, 2018. "Global Findex Database 2017
      [La base de datos Global Findex 2017]
      ," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 29510, December.
    21. Pranab Kumar Das & Bhaswati Ganguli & Sugata Marjit & Sugata Sen Roy, 2018. "The dynamics of finance-growth-inequality nexus: Theory and Evidence for India," Discussion Papers Series 593, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
    22. Pranab Kumar Das & Bhaswati Ganguli & Sugata Marjit & Sugata Sen Roy, 2018. "The dynamics of finance-growth-inequality nexus: Theory and evidence for India," Discussion Papers 2018-08, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    23. Pan, Yao & You, Jing, 2020. "Successful Social Programs over Local Political Cycles," MPRA Paper 98968, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    24. Pranab Kumar Das & Bhaswati Ganguli & Sugata Marjit & Sugata Sen Roy, 2018. "The Dynamics of Finance-Growth-Inequality Nexus: Theory and Evidence for India," CESifo Working Paper Series 7429, CESifo Group Munich.
    25. Kochar, Anjini, 2018. "Branchless banking: Evaluating the doorstep delivery of financial services in rural India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 160-175.

    More about this item


    financial access; savings; micro-finance; field experiment; multicountry; Uganda; Malawi; Chile;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance

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