Report highlights the level of financial inclusion in Tonga is comparable to other Pacific Islands

Aug 18, 2017

Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The Governor of the National Reserve Bank of Tonga, Sione Ngongo Kioa and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) released the Financial Services Demand Side Survey Report for Tonga this week.

According to the nationally-representative survey conducted in February 2016, Tonga has a level of financial inclusion comparable with the rest of the Pacific region, particularly Samoa. Only 41% of Tongan adults have a bank account. 

The study found that 34% of Tongan adults are completely excluded from financial services, with another 14% only accessing informal financial service instruments such as savings clubs, shop credit, moneylenders, or hire purchases. Those more likely to be financially excluded are low-income earners, casual income-earners and most of the residents of Ha’apai.   Unlike other Pacific Island countries, there is no apparent gender gap in bank account ownership, and neither does age appear to be a factor for account ownership.

Remittances are an important source of income for many Tongan adults, with 70% reported receiving remittances in the last year. Remittances and mobile money transactions show similar trends towards meeting immediate needs. Similarly, many Tongans do not feel the need for insurance coverage.

Financial transactions are heavily cash-based, with the majority of Tongan adults (with the exception of the public sector) receiving income in cash. Nearly all Tongans pay utility and school payments with cash instead of using digital channels such as bank transfers, debit cards or mobile money. 

The report also highlights that 63% stated saving geared towards everyday expenses and social obligations, rather than saving for long term goals such as housing, business, asset accumulation or education. Tongans rely heavily on informal savings and credit, with 46% of Tongan adults saving at home and 23% using savings clubs.

Governor Kioa said “The report identifies the challenges and barriers that are faced by our people with regards to accessing financial products and services, as well as the type of products and services that are in demand. These findings provide great insights into how to bridge the gap between the formal and informal sectors to ensure inclusive economic growth for Tonga. I do hope that the result of the demand side survey would help improve financial inclusion in Tonga.”

Tonga is the fifth Pacific Island Regional Initiative (PIRI) member to conduct a financial inclusion demand-side survey (DSS), after Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu. The DSS initiative is an important first step in the journey to incorporate data into policymaking and evaluation, by providing an evidence-base to the understanding of financial access usage and quality in the Pacific. It aims to gather insights into the needs of Tongans pertaining to financial services. Formal financial inclusion is widely accepted as contributing significantly to sustainable economic growth and the reduction of poverty.

The Financial Services Demand Side Survey for Tonga was led by the National Reserve Bank of Tonga and Tonga Department of Statistics. The survey was made possible through financial support from the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade via the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.   

About the National Demand Side Surveys

The Demand Side Survey (DSS) initiative is an important first step in the journey to incorporate data into policymaking and evaluation, by providing evidence-based color and depth to the understanding of financial access and usage in the Pacific.

The studies have also built a comprehensive picture of the gender gaps in each country, paving the way for further in-depth research into gender equity in financial inclusion. These studies support the national financial inclusion strategies, providing the context and analytical basis for the gender equality goals outlined in each.

The surveys were led in-country by the central banks with the assistance of their respective National Bureaus of Statistics. 

About PFIP

PFIP is a Pacific-wide programme that has helped over 1.6 million low-income Pacific islanders gain access to financial services and financial education. It achieves these results by funding innovation with financial services and delivery channels, supporting policy and regulatory initiatives, and empowering consumers.

PFIP operates from the UNDP Pacific Office in Suva, Fiji and has offices in Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Solomon Islands.  It is jointly administered by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and receives funding from the Australian Government, the European Union and the New Zealand Government.

Contact information

Erica Lee, PFIP Communications Associate, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; tel: +679 322 7538;  email: erica.lee@undp.org; website: http://www.pfip.org/

NBRT in Tonga, Financial Inclusion Unit, National Reserve Bank of Tonga, tel: (676) 24 057; fax (676) 24201; email: nrbt@reservebank.to

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