WOCCU's first development program in Tanzania is focused on developing a modernized regulatory framework for the country's savings and credit cooperative societies (SACCOS), or credit unions. WOCCU staff is training regulators from the Cooperative Development Department (CDD) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives on risk-based supervision and regulatory systems and policies, as well as effective operational and financial standards for SACCOS.
Tanzania's SACCOS range from informal, community-based cooperatives to employer-based institutions that took root as part of a government-sponsored microfinance initiative in the 1960s. The institutions follow very traditional operating guidelines whereby members are required to establish a particular amount in savings to obtain a loan, and loan sizes are determined as a multiple of the member's total savings. Liquidity is scarce, and waiting periods to obtain a loan are long. Many SACCOS employees are volunteers, and despite being the most prevalent semi-formal financial intermediary in the country, regulation and supervision to date have been virtually non-existent.
Though SACCOS lack proper guidance and oversight, the number of financial cooperatives in Tanzania has exploded in recent years. In 2009, more than 5,500 licensed savings and credit cooperative societies were in operation, an increase of more than 50% in three years. Despite the proliferation of SACCOS, no single entity provides centralized financial or statistical information on the institutions. SACCOS can be found operating for as long as six months in arrears without reliable data, and regulatory authorities have conducted little analysis of the information that does exist. As the SACCOS sector continues to grow, it faces an increasing need for central oversight to ensure appropriate financial discipline to protect member savings.
With the increasing prevalence of SACCOS in Tanzania, potential outreach is high. Recent studies show that just 11% of the country's population has access to some type of financial institution. In a 2007 appraisal of the SACCOS sector, WOCCU found that the system was capable of broadening the availability of financial services beyond its current outreach of 800,000 people throughout the country, but that it needed to overcome a series of constraints before significant development could occur.
WOCCU is training key CDD personnel in risk-based supervision and helping create an early warning system, develop policies for intervention and provide guidance in helping SACCOS improve their financial structure and operations.