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Bridging the Savings Gap: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Malawi

This study examines evidence from a randomized controlled trial of a novel financial services intervention designed to spur savings uptake in rural areas of the developing world. The sample includes more than 2,000 households from 325 villages in rural Malawi. Results show that an information treatment consisting of periodic village visits from a trained bank staff person significantly increased adoption and use of savings accounts. The findings also show important impact heterogeneities along dimensions such as education level, remoteness of village, and gender of household head, as well as positive spillover effects onto account uptake at other financial institutions. Further analysis reveals active account use among adopters. These findings confirm recent suggestions from survey evidence on an important role played by “soft” barriers to financial inclusion (e.g., low information and trust) and provide insights on how such barriers can be overcome.