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Liberalisation, Financial Risk, and Formal Financial Participation in Pakistan: Hyperinflationary Microeconomic Responses to Moderate Volatility in a Developing Economy

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With formal financial inclusion much lower than its neighbours, Pakistan has been the focus of intensive efforts to ‘bank’ the ‘unbanked’. Yet, after a drop in deposits in the wake of Pakistan’s 2008 crisis, deposits are still struggling to return to their mid-1990s’ levels. Focusing on distortions in the banking sector, the Central Bank attributes this to ‘crowding out’ amidst a steep rise in the propensity to consume. This study draws on extensive fieldwork, identifying heightened financial risk driven by multifaceted monetary instability since the liberalisation of the rupee and of Pakistani markets. It proposes that heightened monetary risk has translated into a broad-based shift out of the rupee akin to hyperinflationary responses, but revealed in relatively moderate monetary conditions. It argues that, exposed to global markets, national currency itself has become a risky asset, pushing store-of-value and transactional holdings into unconventional liquid assets. This suggests that monetary stability, expressed in the currency itself and in broader pricing patterns in the economy, is key to the uptake of financial intermediation. The issue at the root of disintermediation in Pakistan, it is argued, is less one of ‘crowding out’ than of disruption to the role of national currency as money itself.
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Keywords: Financial inclusion; Pakistan; banks; developing economies; financial liberalisation; informal economy; money

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: May 4, 2018

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