In many parts of Africa NGOs work in conditions of instability caused by war, where infrastructure and markets are far from perfect. Under these conditions, the formal banking systems that NGOs often try to establish to provide credit to small businesses are frequently inappropriate. The informal systems which are usually ignored or undermined in favour of formal banking systems may, under many circumstances, serve the poor much better.This article draws critically upon ACORD's (The Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development) historical experiences with the provision of financial services to the poor and makes an attempt to draw lessons that may be applied to other operational and donor NGOs. It argues that given that NGO involvement in financial services is relatively recent, the amateurism with which they approach this particular service is understandable. However, this was acceptable only in so far as an active learning process was taking place. To reduce past inefficiencies, NGOs who choose to be involved in the financial sector for any considerable time need to think and act a little more like bankers, build upon existing informal financial systems, avoid excessive credit and pay attention to operating costs.