Financial Sector Overview
Burundi’s GDP grew by an average 2.9% between 2010 and 2017, compared to 3.87% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its economy is mainly based on the tertiary and agricultural sectors, which accounted for 41% and 36% of GDP respectively in 2017. The country relies heavily on primary commodities (mostly coffee and tea), whose production and export increase the economy’s exposure to climate shocks and international price fluctuations. Burundi is therefore heavily dependent on international development aid. The national development plan for 2018-2027 aims to transform Burundi into a strong and emerging regional economy by 2025. However, persistent political and economic uncertainty, reflected by real GDP growth of only 1.4% in 2018 could undermine these goals. Burundi is ranked 168th out of 190 countries in 2018 Doing Business Rankings, a 13-place improvement from 2010. According to the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness ranking, Burundi placed 136th in 2017 out of 140 economies, compared to 137th in 2010. Burundi ranks 185th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index.
Financial Sector Overview
Burundi's financial sector is underdeveloped in terms of size and depth. The banking sector is the mainstay of the financial system, accounting for an average of 83.4% of the financial system’s total assets between 2013 and 2017. Bank credit to the private sector was 15.1% of GDP in 2016, well below the sub-Saharan Africa average of 21.3%. Bank assets represented 22.3% of GDP in 2016. Assets of non-banking financial institutions were below 2% of GDP in 2016.
A new banking Law No. 1/17 of 22 August 2017 expanded the Central Bank’s scope of regulation and supervision. The law contains new provisions to enhance the financial stability monitoring framework, including special prudential treatment for systemically important banks. The Central Bank now controls the entire process of managing distressed financial institutions, including liquidations and nonperforming asset recovery. The new legislation is a major overhaul of existing regulatory frameworks for all institutions reporting to the Central Bank and reflects the good supervisory practices prescribed by the Basel Committee. A law on the national payment system was enacted in 2018.
The three largest banks accounted for 63.6% of total banking sector assets in 2017 (61.4% in 2016), 60.7% of loans (62% in 2016) and 68% of deposits (68.4% in 2016). The number of inhabitants per service point, was around 0.02 ‰ in 2017, or 50,000 inhabitants per service point. Bank assets reached BIF 1,922.5 billion (USD 1.09 billion), or 35.6% of GDP in 2017, and an average annual rate of 13%. Local private banks held 26.7% of total bank assets compared with 43.3% for foreign banks and 30% for public banks.
Economic difficulties in 2015 and 2016 resulted in negative growth rates for both loans and deposits. Although deposits appear to be picking up again owing to the economic recovery that began in 2017, the level of lending continued to decline from 18.13% of GDP in 2015 to 14.78% in 2017.
Banking sector credit and deposit structure - In nominal terms, credit reached BIF 798.2 billion (USD 455.9 million) in 2017. On average, 59% of the credits are short-term loans and 41% are medium- and long-term loans. Between 2010 and 2017, the most granted type of loans were commercial loans, representing 42% of the total bank loans. Bank deposits reached BIF 1,077.43 billion (USD 615.3 million) in 2017, twice as much as their nominal value in 2010. They are dominated by sight deposits with an average share of 63.3% of total deposits. The main depositors are households with an average share of 54.2%, although their share of total deposits declined steadily between 2010 and 2017.
Financial strength of the banking sector – Overall, the banking sector remains reasonably capitalised, liquid and profitable. Between 2013 and 2017, the solvency ratios met the regulatory requirements. The overall liquidity ratio remained around 64% in 2016 and 2017, exceeding the regulatory minimum of 20%. The non-performing loans ratio increased from 9.3% in 2013 to 17.9% in 2015. This deterioration in credit quality is due in part to sovereign debt and difficulties in collecting collateral from private borrowers. The situation was exacerbated by worsening economic conditions following the 2015 political crisis. The relative improvement in credit quality since 2016 can be explained by the write-off of impaired loans from bank balance sheets. The non-performing loans ratio remained constant from 2016 to 2017 (14.5% and 14.6%, respectively). The provisioning rate for outstanding receivables increased from 73.5% in 2015 to 88.2% in 2016. The decrease in provisions in 2017 (80%) was related to the various accommodative measures implemented by the Central Bank for provisioning certain receivables. Banking sector profitability (ROE and ROA) has remained positive and trending upward since 2014. Conversely, the intermediation ratio has been decreasing since 2014.
Interest rate policy - The marginal lending rate has declined from 14.34% in 2011 to 5.42% in 2018. The purpose of the Central Bank’s approach was to ease bank refinancing conditions by providing the cash needed to finance the economy at reduced rates.
Burundi is not covered in the latest Findex survey (2017). 23.8% of the population had an account with a financial institution in 2013, according to the National Financial Inclusion Strategy of 2014. It is worth noting that the strategy’s definition of financial inclusion is as follows:
“Permanent access by the adult population to a set of financial products and services (i) offered by formal and sustainable financial institutions, governed by adequate regulations, (ii) that are diversified, affordable and adapted to the needs of the population, and (iii) used by the latter for the purpose of contributing to the improvement of the conditions of their socioeconomic life.”
This definition is much stricter than that employed by Findex and most donors. Based on this definition, only 12.5% of the population was financially included in 2013.
The development of financial inclusion is hindered by the fallout of the 2015 socio-economic crises and precarity of some microfinance institutions. Limited branch and ATM numbers is another obstacle to financial inclusion.
The Microfinance Sector
In 2017, there were 35 licenced microfinance institutions (MFIs), including 16 credit unions (Tier 1), 18 microfinance companies (Tier 2) and one micro-credit programme (Tier 3). The relatively large number of authorised MFI agencies and service points (from 265 in 2016 to 270 to 2017) has facilitated access to financial services for those excluded from the traditional banking system, especially rural dwellers. Credit unions accounted for 85.9% of sector assets in 2017. The analysis of MFI financial soundness between 2015 and 2017 shows a solvency ratio down since 2015 but above the regulatory minimum of 5%, while liquidity has remained comfortable. Overall profitability has steadily increased, although the 2015 crisis has resulted in the deterioration of the credit portfolio quality.
Digital finance remains undeveloped in Burundi, but efforts are ongoing to transform it into a lever for economic growth. As part of the regulation and supervision of digital financial services, the Central Bank has issued regulatory texts on the services and activities of payment institutions and the function of commercial agents in bank transactions. The Central Bank approved two (2) Instant Money Transfer Institutions (ETIA) in 2017 as part of the fund transfer service offer. Two microfinance institutions have also partnered with telecommunication companies to offer digital financial services. As of 31 December 2015, 95.69% of the 383,599 fund transfer transactions listed were initiated through Western Union; the other 4 players (RIA, Rapid Transfer and MoneyGram) accounted for only 4.31% of the market. The number of automated teller machines (ATMs) across the country increased from 96 at end-2016 to 97 at end-2017. The number of bank cards in circulation was 93,697 in 2017 against 60,796 in 2015 - an increase of 54.12% over 2 years.
Three mobile operators offer mobile financial services. The number of subscribers to mobile financial services stood at 3.8 million in 2017, accounting for a 32% penetration rate (GSMA, 2017). Although digital financial services are growing significantly, the high cost, long distances to access points of service and poor sector regulation are among other obstacles to financial inclusion.
Insurance companies are grouped together in a professional association called ASSUR (Burundi Insurers’ Association), and the sector is regulated by the Insurance Regulation and Control Agency (ARCA). A regulation governing co-insurance activities has been issued to control the transfer of premiums to foreign reinsurers. The transfer rate to foreign reinsurers dropped by 7% in 2017. The minimum amount of share capital is BIF 1 billion (USD 553 250) for non-life insurance companies and BIF 500 million (USD 276 625) for life insurance companies. The Insurance Code also requires the separation of life and non-life insurance activities, the former being administered according to a capitalisation system and the latter managed on a pay-as-you-go basis. Some companies have had to increase their capital or split into two separate companies to comply with the requirements of the Insurance Code.
The sector achieved a turnover of BIF 40,610 billion (USD 23.2 million) in 2017. Penetration rates were 0.48% and 0.27% for non-life and life insurance, respectively, and 0.75% for the entire sector in 2017. Insurance density stood at BIF 3,533 (USD 2.02) per capita in 2017. Non-life insurance is dominated by the "motorised land vehicles" sector, which accounted for 26.3% of premiums in 2017, while life insurance is dominated by the "savings" category accounting for more than 70% of premiums. Between 2013 and 2017, life and non-life insurance represented on average 31.5% and 68.5% of total premiums. The latter reached BIF 40.7 billion (USD 23.2 million) in 2017. The sector has 16 licensed brokerage firms that play an important role in the output of insurance companies.
The Capital Market
Burundi does not yet have a stock market. The money market (bills and debentures) is open to natural or legal persons regardless of their residency status. Nevertheless, their activities must comply with the law on money laundering and terrorism financing, and with foreign exchange regulations. Treasury bills that generally mature at 13, 26 and 52 weeks are issued for a nominal value of BIF 10,000 (USD 5.53) per security. Bills with maturities of 2 to 5 years and more are issued at a nominal value of BIF 100,000 (USD 55.3) per security. The outstanding amount of securities (bills and debentures) has steadily increased since 2015 from BIF 258.9 billion (USD 165.3 million) in 2015 to 643.5 billion (USD 367.5 million) in 2017. Responsibility for its management lies with the Central Securities Depository (CSD) of the Central Bank. The share of government securities held by banks and financial institutions reached 77.9% in 2016, i.e. nearly BIF 433 billion (USD 258.5 million). Pension and social security institutions and insurance companies held only 15% (i.e. BIF 82.8 billion or USD 49.4 million) and 7% (BIF 40.6 billion or USD 24.2 million) of issued securities, respectively. The annual ranking of the African Bond Market Development Index published by the African Financial Markets Initiative (AFMI) puts Burundi in 40th place in 2016 and 2017 (out of 54 African countries).
The Social Protection System
Social protection is mainly based on contributory programmes, principally managed by the National Social Security Institute (INSS) and the National Pensions and Occupational Risk Authority (ONPR). Contributory health insurance programmes are managed by the Civil Service Mutual (MFP). Formal private sector employers provide coverage for their employees. Supplementary company pensions are managed by commercial insurance under the authority of the Insurance Regulatory and Supervisory Agency (ARCA). Contribution to the MFP is 10% of the gross salary, divided between the State (6%) and the employee (4%). Challenges facing these programmes include the low coverage rate of 3%, 2% and 3.4% for the INSS, ONPR and MFP, respectively. This low coverage rate is also due to the limited ability of most households to pay high administrative costs (25% of contributions for the INSS and 38% of total MFP expenditure), and the currently poor healthcare reimbursement rate due to the obsolescence of the healthcare providers' billing system. Non-contributory programmes consist of cash transfers financed by technical and financial partners and NGOs to strengthen the resilience of extremely poor and marginalised households.