New banking program for Highlands region – Loop PNG

May 18, 2017

People in the Highlands region now have the option of saving, protecting and using their money.

The first-of-its-kind program has been announced by Westpac, the Pacic Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) and the Australian Government. Choice Wantok is a new low-cost banking option specially developed to suit people in the Highlands, an area where most people have never been able to access even basic banking services.

 Central to Choice Wantok will be a new Innovation Hub set up at Mount Hagen, bringing the latest technology to the Highlands and allowing Westpac to test ideas and tailor its services to meet the specific needs of remote communities. “Choice Wantok is not a new product, it’s a new way of looking at banking in rural areas – with people at the centre,” said Westpac’s Regional Head for South Asia and the Pacific, Greg Pawson.

“We know that distance and lack of information has been a major impediment to banking and that traditional banking options have never suited people in rural areas like the Highlands. So we’ve harnessed expert advice from PFIP with the support of the Australian Government, and are setting up a hub at Mt Hagen where we can build banking options based on what people tell us they want and need.”

Choice Wantok builds on Westpac and the Australian Government’s established commitment to work together to support economic development in PNG.

PFIP, a UN programme, is working as Westpac’s partner on Choice Wantok, thanks to funding from donors, including the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the European Union. A previous partnership between Westpac, PFIP and DFAT saw the deployment of hundreds of Westpac Instores nationwide in PNG.

“We know that simply opening bank accounts for people is not enough,” said Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

“To drive regular use of savings accounts we need to develop and test new products and services. Innovation Hubs are key to the process of focusing on ideas and new ways of doing things. It is an exciting time for financial inclusion in PNG.”

Mark Flaming, Manager of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program, said PFIP has helped 1.5 million Pacific Islanders access formal financial services and Choice Wantok will not only boost this number but provide important insights that could be used elsewhere.

“We know the positive impact access to safe and affordable financial services has on low-income households in Papua New Guinea, and particularly on women, allowing them to manage their money and improve their livelihoods”, Flaming said.

“Our funding of $US1.75 million (K5.7 million) aims to reach the many remote communities in PNG, and bring more Papua New Guineans into the formal financial sector, helping to improve their lives.”

Choice Wantok will be centred around digital platforms, with options for banking at local stores and using mobile phones. With no monthly fees, Choice Wantok will help people save without having their savings reduced. It will provide a cheaper and accessible way for people to access their accounts, pay bills, transfer money and pay family and friends.

The Choice Wantok team have begun mobilising at Mt Hagen and will soon begin visiting communities across the Highlands.