Papua New Guinea: Designing Financial Services Around the Wantok Culture in the Highlands

Up until 2017, only 10% of the population in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea were using formal financial services. Local financial institution Westpac Bank believes that understanding people, their culture, values, and the way things work for communities and linking those insights to the design of financial services can greatly improve the uptake and usage of those services. The "Choice Wantok" savings account is a re-engineered bank account from Westpac to test new financial services that are tailored to the needs of lower income Highlanders.

Funded through a grant from the European Union and the Australian Government, the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) has been working with Westpac to test this hypothesis, using an innovation lab approach. The Westpac Innovation Hub is looking at how the traditional wantok system can inspire Highlanders, especially women and smallholder farmers, to adopt and use financial services to improve their daily lives.

Translated wantok means "one talk," implying strong social bonds. Often described as an impediment to development in Melanesian countries, the wantok system brings together communities or tribes to share obligations such as debt, cost of funerals, or simply an unspoken understanding that when your family needs your help, you must provide it without question.