Stokvels make cents

19 September 2005

Estimates are that the total investment in stokvels and burial societies in South Africa has reached the R20-billion mark. According to the latest UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing research study, this sector touches every industry, either directly or indirectly.

The study shows that the average membership size of burial societies is 88, and that 29% of South African adults are members. This suggests a total of 89 000 burial societies.

Figures gathered by the institute, and presented at two sessions in Johannesburg and Cape Town this month, also show that 2.5-million South African adults (9%) belong to 8 000 000 stokvels and that 14% of bank account holders are stokvel members.

The institute's recent presentation to members highlighted the need for marketers and businesses to understand this marketing concept, one that changes and evolves as consumer needs change.

Stokvels and burial societies, says the study, are all about group affinity and network marketing - selling to a group rather than to an individual.

They provide a powerful and cost-effective distribution network that yields great influence and spending clout. Many of the strong woman leaders in stokvels are highly regarded and respected leaders in their community. The brands or corporations they endorse are thus more likely to be embraced by their community, ensuring successful viral marketing.

Burial societies provide a means of informal self-insurance scheme that absorbs the cost of social activities and cultural requirements of funerals among black communities. Stokvels offer a savings instrument that is used to accumulate large lump sums for school fees, feasts such as weddings, funerals and coming of age, or even items like furniture or appliances.

Consequently, this leaves them vulnerable to unplanned events. There is thus huge scope for financial instruments that take cognisance of these factors and build on existing structures.

Marketers, the presenters emphasised, had to ensure they did not try to replace stokvels and burial societies but that they work with them, adopting an Afrocenric and not Eurocentric approach.

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