Old Peng: Trying to Make Ends Meeter

Millions of China’s most vulnerable lack even the most basic means to save for their children’s education, make purchases on credit, protect their homes through insurance, and send and receive money. Financial exclusion prevents many of them from realizing their potential and improving their livelihoods.

In the run-up to the February 11 launch of our latest publication, Embracing Informality: Designing Financial Services for China’s Marginalized (event details and RSVP here), we’d like to feature some of their stories.

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Old Peng, 67, has lived in the same 90-person section in the small village of Changjiao his entire life. With government investment focused on urban areas to support export-driven growth, this corner of Guizhou Province, like many rural areas of China, has been left in the dust.

Old Peng shares his small, mud-brick home with his wife, his 34-year-old son and daughter-in-law, and their 8-year-old son. The nearest town with a bank is an hour away by motorbike and four hours by foot.

Every morning, the entire family hikes up to the fields above their village to tend their small vegetable plot. This plot is their entire livelihood. They sell the vegetables the plot produces. They eat the weeds and what they can’t sell. Once a week, Old Peng’s wife hitches a ride on a flatbed truck to the weekly market, where she hopes to earn enough to buy pork so her grandson can eat some meat.

Old Peng keeps a passbook for his bank account in his pocket at all times. He still keeps careful track of his balance and has anxiety about being so far from his bank. The pressure to stay on top of his finances, however, is slightly relieved by his son’s mobile phone. Now he can call the bank and check his balance, instead of making the four-hour trek on foot.

The country government sends dibao payments directly to Old Peng’s account. However, his primary point of contact for accessing services is his village leader. For example, the family can buy cookstoves at a discounted rate through a government subsidy. The village leader brings it to their home in exchange for RMB 120 (USD 19).

But the Pengs can’t be sure if that amount is correct. They’ve heard the charge is only RMB 90 (USD 14) in another village. Unfortunately, there’s no way for them to verify. Old Peng is afraid to challenge the village leader, or to ask the government officials what the rate should be—asking he fears would indubitably get back to the village leader, who could cut them off from future services entirely.

Editor’s Note: This profile is a composite of real people who shared their stories with us. Though the profile takes pieces from different individuals’ lives, the goal was to develop individual stories that are representative of a broader group.

Futher reading.