How do you save money when you don't trust the banking system, or worse, you don't have any banks in your area?

Believe it or not, not everyone has the ability or the opportunity to be near a trustworthy bank. As a matter of fact, twenty-five percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked, with trust and access often cited as the primary causes. Unfortunately, the access problem is getting worse.  According to CNBC, "A lack of access to banks continues to worsen as more and more branches close."

If it's such a challenge for the underserved in the United States, imagine what it's like for communities in developing countries (more on this later).

To say the least, even without access or trust being a problem, it’s difficult to accumulate a large enough sum to meet larger savings goals like starting a business or buying a car.

So, what have some people done? They’ve joined a susu.

If you’re from the Western world, you likely have never heard of a susu. Let’s explore.

A What-What? What Is a Susu?

The idea of a susu has been around for several hundred years. It goes by different names all over the world as different countries and cultures have developed their own versions of a susu.

Most believe that the susu, or sou-sou, comes from West Africa. The term comes from the Yoruba word “esusu”. The African Diaspora from West Africa brought the idea with them, and though it is not well-known among African-Americans, it became popular in the Caribbean.

The name morphed in some places on the Caribbean islands. In Jamaica, it is called a “partner” and Haitians dubbed it a “min”. In the U.S. it is largely unknown among the general population, but is very popular in immigrant communities — particularly so among the underbanked who can’t get a bank account.

How Does a Susu Work?

The basic concept works like this, a group of people decides to save together. Everybody puts in a set amount at set intervals. Each time money is put in, one member receives their “payout” so money never has to be held anywhere.

For example, 10 people get together and choose to put in $100 once a week. Every week, the money is collected and given to one member. After 10 weeks go by, each member has received $1,000 one time. The members can then decide to start the cycle over as is, change the terms of the money pool, or disband the susu.

If it sounds like you’re getting exactly the same amount that you put in, that’s because you do. So, what’s the benefit? Well, obviously, you can do much more with $1,000 than you can with $100. In addition, for those near the beginning of the cycle, it’s basically like getting an interest-free loan. For those near the end, it works as a savings mechanism, which can be helpful for people who have a hard time holding onto cash.

Susus in the Modern World

Susus began as a way for community members to pool their money and help encourage one another towards their financial goals. Now, more than ever, joining a susu can be a great idea. Loans come with steep interest rates, especially when including alternative financial services, like payday lenders, check cashing stores and others.

In difficult economic times, a susu is a great alternative to taking out a bank loan and is a fantastic way for friends and family to help each other. Learn more about how you can start a private or public money here.