Digital ‘revolution’ in financial inclusion brings together rural savings groups and formal financial services in new ecosystem - ‘Linkages 2.0’ report finds

Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Zambia Savings Group
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

14 February 2024 - State of the Practice: Savings Group Linkages 2024 Report Released

A new report reveals an emerging, but largely hidden, ecosystem of ‘linkages’ between rural savings groups and formal financial services. The report charts the progress of the ecosystem among the world’s poorest communities. 

It reveals new levels of commercial viability among rural communities who have traditionally been excluded from formal financial services.

The study, State of the Practice: Savings Group Linkages 2024, tracks the emergence and impact of agent-banking and mobile money, insurance and access to digital marketplaces in previously excluded, often remote communities through advancements in technology.  

It identifies a host of emerging models for linking savings groups and their members to financial services, terming these approaches “Linkages 2.0”.    

The report was researched and written by Carolyn McMahon and Kim Wilson, and commissioned by global microfinance provider VisionFund International, whose work extends financial inclusion to the most vulnerable families in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.  

It finds that tech-enabled linkages are driving a more bespoke approach to financial services in rural locations and pushing out the frontiers of who can be considered “bankable”.   

Co-author Carolyn McMahon, Principal of FemFinance, said, “What's exciting to me is the way some specialized providers are looking to technology to enable narrower, more specific strategies to support groups and members. Being able to better identify the needs of individual members, through new technologies. Instead of thinking of digital savings group data as an enabler to scale a single solution ("loans for all"), thoughtful providers are flipping this thinking and considering ways that data can show them how to offer best-suited products to those who really want them."

VisionFund International President and Chief Executive Officer, Edgar S. Martinez, former Head of Credit Risk for HSBC’s Wealth and Personal Banking segment, said, “Our mission to deepen impact for the most vulnerable families has taken us to some of the hardest to reach locations where technology becomes a lifeline and an enabler. Linkages are life-givers for these communities. Our teams build lasting relationships with their clients, who tell us they value our relational approach and long-term financial support. Funders tell me they invest because of our sustainability – and love our work because of its impact. Impact which increasingly draws upon digital linkages". 

The study provides a thematic analysis of trends in today’s linkages, including practical examples from the field, surveying important implementations and profiling many of today’s stakeholders: NGOs, technology platforms, financial service providers, and regulators. 

Kim Wilson, Co-author and Sr. Lecturer and Sr. Researcher at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, highlights one project from her research.  “VisionFund in Malawi is run by a very skilled CEO. Their programs have scaled the group loan in an efficient way. They are now rolling out both a mobile money service as well as a digital recordkeeping platform (DreamSave) and weaving together classic groups loans and innovations with agents and new technologies”. 

The report was researched and written by FemFinance, a research and strategy firm that centres human needs and power structures in the pursuit of sound product, policy, and program design.  

Read report

Press Enquiries: Contact Steve Adams at



VisionFund International is a leading Christian microfinance organization that has been dedicated to advancing financial inclusion and rural economic development for two decades. Through a vast network of microfinance institutions across 25 countries, VisionFund empowers families with limited access to formal financial services, especially those living in rural, impoverished communities. The organization's holistic approach includes financial literacy programs, business development training, and innovative solutions to address the unique challenges faced by its clients. For more information, please visit