self-reliant, adaptive, stability-seeking
17% of adult population | 6.3 million people
Often rural, middle aged, poorly educated women, Cautious Individualists are slightly more likely to have higher SES, although they experience somewhat greater income volatility and are frequently disempowered in their households’ financial management. They have more limited supportive social networks, and they are less trusting overall. They report more limited financial behavior across a wide range of measures, feel less dependable, score lower conscientiousness and deliberateness in their saving, and are less trusting of people around them as well as formal institutions. They seek secure savings and the ability to make stabilizing, secure investments. While they express confidence in their own innate agencies, they seem to seek fewer opportunities to exercise them in their lives, households, and communities.
own a smartphone
own a feature phone
own land personally
own land communally
Who are they?
“Money is the only obstacle. when my son starts college, I'm going to have to pawn some of the gold I'm saving for old age."
SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS (SES)
Cautious Individualists are mostly middle aged to older, rural, married women farmers or small business owners who manage their household’s finances even though they tend to identify as spouses rather than heads of household. They are spread fairly evenly across SES quintiles.
Cautious Individualists speak to relatively few people on the phone daily can call on fewer people than average for help when ill, though most have two or more people they can rely on. Though they mostly rely on social sources of financial support in emergencies, they are not confident in the ability to do so in the future, suggesting they may feel they have tapped out their network. Indeed, although they cite social sources in emergencies more than the average, they are also more likely than average to lack confidence in their ability to raise emergency funds.
NUMBER OF PEOPLE CALLED ON WHEN SICK
What do they want?
Cautious Individualists seek to build greater stability, reliability, and a measure of freedom to respond to needs through secure, discreet saving and investment that requires smaller sums and are easy to understand and manage.
How do they manage their finances?
“I grow mango, jackfruit, tamarind, and vegetable seedlings in April and May after the harvest, when I have the time. I sell them to the Japanese NGO and save the proceeds in gold.”
Financial Behavior Overview
Cautious Individualists are the least financially healthy segment in Myanmar, despite average income and average income volatility, which is nevertheless high. They rarely use formal financial services, and make light use of the informal channels through which they manage their money. Nearly three-quarters never or rarely save, the lowest rate among segments. Most believe they do not earn enough to save. They rely heavily on social savings despite feeling this exposes their deposits to the claims of others, likely encouraging spending. Just over half borrow, usually no more than a few times a year, and at rates well below the national average. Only a third clearly consider themselves dependable, and they are split in their comfort holding debt, suppressing their overall borrowing rates. Yet, they rely heavily on their social financial network for support in emergencies, though are not confident in their ability to rely on it in the future. Though most trust people and their network, their confidence is lowest among segments. They identify as effective planners and most maintain expense plans, though less strongly than other segments. They are less conscientious than average, but also less impulsive in their spending, suggesting a level of habituated discipline, if not considered planning. Indeed, they are less deliberate, goal-oriented savers than their peers.
As is true across Myanmar very few Cautious Individualists own formal accounts of any kind, and those who do tend to leave them entirely dormant. Broadly speaking, they primarily transact with family, friends, and informal groups, ultimately preferring informal groups for what little saving and borrowing they undertake. With low trust generally and low confidence that their savings are safe from those around them, informal groups appear to present the accessibility, slight remove, and flexibility to meet their contextual and psychological requirements.
When considering the allocation of potential windfalls, Careful Individualists prioritize building in home cash reserves, followed by bank savings and investment. They would also share a significant portion with friends and family, and pay down their debts. These choices reflect a first priority of responding to short term needs and meeting financial obligations to friends, family and groups, then building security for longer-term plans, and then making investments to grow income. They reflect a heavily cash based financial strategy centered on the home, that also makes use of informal groups to cultivate opportunities and build resilience, and to a much lesser extent, formal accounts. Cautious Individualists desire to save in banks is aspirational, reflecting a desire for extra money to put away towards long term goals, rather than to save for immediate or recurring needs like school fees, business inputs, and clothes.
HOW WINDFALL IS PRIORITIZED
MAKES PLANS AND FOLLOWS THROUGH
Cautious Individualists identify as effective planners and most maintain expense plans, though less strongly than other segments. They are less conscientious than average for Myanmar, but also less impulsive in their spending, suggesting a level of habituated discipline, if not considered planning. Indeed, they are less deliberate, goal-oriented savers than their peers. Their strong sense of self-efficacy may drive their planning, even in the face of limitations and set-backs. A minority likely feel somewhat limited in their freedom to set strategy and pursue goals due to their constrained role in household decision making, suggesting unrealized potential and opportunity.
Shaping Income and Expenses
Cautious Individualists SES is average for Myanmar and they are evenly spread across quintiles. They report moderate income volatility in line with the national average. Two-fifths experience significant variation on a quarterly basis and over half suffering high daily volatility. Four-fifths are confident in their ability to cover future bills, albeit at the the lowest rates in Myanmar, and even more have a plan to do so. Despite trailing other segments on these measures, Cautious Individualists have experienced and average number of expenses struggles and emergencies in the recent past. However, a significant minority may face real constraints on their ability to control money, even that which they have earned. These include spouses, children, and non-senior members of joint households. Lack of agency may subject some to the poor financial management practices of others, especially around spending.
Nearly three-quarters of Cautious Individualists never or rarely save, while just a fifth have saved in the past three months, the lowest overall savings rate among segments. Most save through informal groups and friends, as well as family, and rarely save using formal accounts or mobile wallets. Most save only a few times a year, reflecting a narrow savings strategy and income challenges. However, their moderate ownership rates of land and livestock help make up for their weak savings. They are by far the most impulsive spenders and least deliberate savers in Myanmar. They hold a pessimistic view of the future and low-self esteem, which may drive present mindedness and low savings rates. Three quarters do not think they earn enough to save, likely reducing overall savings rates and pushing them towards ad hoc saving strategies through social channels and the home. Half feel their savings are not safe from the claims of others, likely also contributing to lower savings rates. Nearly half have limited decision making power in the household, which may prevent them from saving or protecting their savings.
Just over half of Cautious Individualists borrow, albeit at rates well below the national average. Most who borrow do so only a few times a year, including from their preferred sources, family, friends and informal groups. However, only about half of those who are members of informal groups borrow from them. Almost none borrow from formal or mobile providers. Only a third clearly consider themselves dependable, and they are split in their comfort holding debt. These dynamics may suppress their overall borrowing rates and push them towards borrowing from safer channels like family, as well as friends and informal groups. Overall, Cautious Individualists have faced an average number of emergency types in the past two years, albeit this number is high, and have primarily relied on social support and informal groups to cope, demonstrating the centrality of their social financial network to their resilience. Yet, over half are not confident in their ability to raise emergency funds in the future, perhaps indicating they have over-taxed their network, which appears relatively small though deep. Moreover, their peers may face similar financial hardships, limiting the amount of support they can provide.
SOURCES OF BORROWING
Although they use digital technology very little and have limited access to phones, Cautious Individualists nevertheless show evidence of readiness to access the internet when equipped with devices that are capable. Although they have limited social networks and infrequently call or text with others, they still use social media in significant ways.
How do they think?
"I’m very confident in my finances. There is no other woman in the village like me who manages money so well. Usually it’s the husband who gives orders and manages the money, but I don’t like that. I like to be in charge. In our family. My husband earns money and I manage it.”
Cautious Individualists have the most internal locus of control in Myanmar and the strongest sense of self-efficacy, despite a significant minority lacking household decision making power. Still, nearly half feel much more limited in their agency, and over half are not confident in their own capabilities. They are the most pessimistic segment, with over half holding negative expectations of the the future. Moreover, nearly three-fifths measuring low self-esteem, the lowest level in Myanmar. They may respond well to financial services that empower them to take greater control of their lives, while building their capabilities, though providers should avoid overly optimistic and aspirational messaging given their low self-esteem.
Conscientiousness, Spending Impulsivity, Openness
Cautious Individualists are the least conscientious segment in Myanmar and much more impulsive in their spending than average. They do not appear to spend much time developing and carefully adhering to a financial strategy, particularly one oriented around investment, though do not appear reckless as evidenced by their moderate measures on both. Given their high self-efficacy, they may feel able to manage in a more ad hoc manner, or develop and pursue a more concrete strategy if and when needed. Moreover, their relatively strong satisfaction with the past and pessimism about the future suggests a strong present mindedness, as further evidenced by their spending impulsivity.
Attitude Towards Savings
Three-quarters feel that they do not make enough money to save, which may suppress their overall savings rate and drive them towards saving with family and in the home on a more ad-hoc basis. Over half feel money they save is not safe from the claims of others, leading amongst segments, which may be due to their exclusive use of social savings channels. Furthermore, this feeling may encourage them to spend rather than save as they expect a portion of money saved will be claimed by others. Half of Cautious Individualists are deliberate, though they are the least goal-oriented savers in Myanmar despite being wealthier and having lower income volatility than average.
Attitude Towards Debt
Cautious Individualists consider themselves moderately dependable, albeit at the lowest level among segments. They are split in their comfort holding debt, with nearly equal amounts feeling comfortable and uncomfortable. These attitudes may suppress their overall borrowing, and predispose them to safer and more flexible social channels like family, friends and informal groups, rather than formal providers where terms are more stringent and defaults carry higher risk.
Trust in People
Most Cautious Individualists have moderate to high trust in people, and in their social financial networks, though their trust is by far the weakest among segments in Myanmar. Furthermore, they are less likely to believe that their communities are equal, and tend to feel that they can not count on the support of those communities for their businesses or the education of their children, despite relying heavily on them for financial support in emergencies. With smaller, more strained social networks, Cautious Individualists likely harbor skepticism about the intention, generosity, or ability to support of those around them. And with a more moderate to low sense of their own dependability, they probably also hesitate to build trust by extending themselves to those around them. However, they are the only who on average are as comfortable with people the know well as with new acquaintances, indicating that it may be easier for providers to build trust with Cautious Individualists than other segments.
TRUST IN PEOPLE
TRUST IN BANKS
Trust in Institutions
Half of Cautious Individualists distrust banks, though nearly two-thirds have high respect for authority, indicating that their distrust of banks may be driven by specific experiences or factors unique to banking. Indeed, nearly two-thirds find financial services complex, which may further alienate them from banks. These factors, along with their stronger trust in people and their social financial network, helps explain their strong preference for informal and social financial tools. Many may find bank services ill suited to their financial lives, given their need for flexible savings and loan options, and strong desire to invest in their family and community, which composes their social safety net. Money saved in formal accounts delivers much less value than that saved with groups or networks, and loans from formal providers carry much more stringent qualification requirements, inflexible terms, and steep penalties for default.
How might we leverage Cautious Individualists strong agency and self-efficacy to empower them to build their
financial capabilities and exert greater control
over their financial lives?
"Usually it’s the husband who gives orders and manages the money, but I don’t like that. I like to be in charge. In our family my husband earns money, and I manage it."
Aung's family have been farmers for generations. If they hadn’t seen the negative effects themselves of chemicals – the deteriorating soil quality, the increased illness in the community, they might not have learned and taken up organic farming, her husband traveling to learn more about the practices on an INGO sponsorship. How, he travels to other farms in the region to teach the practice, and she manages their own farm by herself each week, raising their sons and trying to build the household’s resilience through gold savings. She doesn’t much trust the banks, and she feels it’s shameful to have to borrow in the community. Nevertheless, the savings groups is something she still finds useful.
Aung says she doesn’t trust banks or the government, particularly with finances. Her belief isn’t that the size of large institutions stabilizes them, but rather that it lends them an unaccountability that makes them prone to caprice at the loss of their members.
Aung's reluctance to engage formal channels may have little to do with intimidation related to unfamiliar services. She might understand them to be big enough to be insensitive to the needs and opportunities inherent in her own financial life.
Pawning Isn't a Loss
Aung's relationship with saving in gold and pawning when there’s a need could represent a relationship between this common practice and her segment’s high locus of control. Whereas savings that are spent are gone and must be rebuilt with new savings, and borrowing means spending other people’s money, pawning may represent a form of spending against the value of an asset that is still, with a bit of mental accounting, hers, even when in the pawn broker’s possession. Aung says, as others have, that she’ll buy her gold back, with interest, not that she’ll buy new gold.
Where financial health is weak, income volatility is high, and cash saving is low, pawning potentially offers a way to feel one is building up more durable, dependable, and fully ownable reserves.