North Koreans continue to show little interest in saving money in the country’s banks despite the government’s attempts to encourage people’s use of financial institutions. Daily NK also understands that, broadly speaking, North Koreans are becoming less interested in so-called “lottery savings accounts.”

A source in North Korea told Daily NK on Sunday that the authorities are forcing families to save money in banks “in an organized, coercive way,” and that these efforts are taking place at the inminban (people’s unit) level. “They’re even handing down ‘savings plans’ that call for families to save a certain amount each month,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

By “normalizing” people’s use of banks, North Korea is apparently trying to get a handle on the scale and flow of its citizens’ cash possessions and to shore up state finances.

With these goals in mind, the authorities have designated specific deposit dates and amounts. According to the source, however, locals remain uninterested in using financial institutions for saving money. 

North Koreans have a significant degree of distrust in the country’s financial institutions due to memories of the country’s disastrous 2009 currency reform. They also fear major losses if they put money in banks as doing this would expose their net wealth and cash flows to the authorities.

Daily NK reported in April that North Korean authorities were investigating citizens’ foreign currency possessions and coercing deposits, but that locals were apathetic to these efforts.

“People believe that if you put money in a bank, you can’t get it back,” said the source. “With distrust this high, people are not only disinterested in interest rates or financial products, they’re not using banks, either.” 

North Korea’s Central Bank building / Image: Sogwang

North Koreans have even lost interest in the once popular “lottery savings accounts.” 

“In the past, the lottery savings were the favored savings product, but things are completely different now,” explained the source. “The belief is spreading that money that goes into savings accounts is no longer yours, whether it’s the lottery savings or not.”

Lottery savings accounts do not earn regular interest. Instead, depositors can earn winnings from quarterly lotteries. First-place winners earn 100% of their total savings, second-place winners earn 30%, while third-place winners earn 10%. Bank users, however, face a deposit ceiling of KPW 100,000 per account.

In the past, the lottery savings were quite popular as people considered them a good opportunity to make a lot of money. Recently, however, winning percentages have been low, and even if you get lucky, banks fail to properly pay out the winnings. As a result, the accounts have fallen in popularity, according to the source. 

The source made it clear that North Korean banks do not offer a single savings product that draws public interest.

The source also noted that the North Korean Central Bank’s program of exchanging valuables and foreign currency for daily necessities exists in name only. 

“The exchange program worked to some extent during the 1990s Arduous March period,” said the source. “Now, the program isn’t working properly due to credit issues with state-run banks.

“Because you can buy and sell decent products with dollars or Chinese currency, state-run gold and silver collection shops have mostly closed down,” the source continued, adding, “With only locally-made goods in stock, gold and silver collection shops have become useless to people.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.