It’s that time of year when the high streets switch on the festive lights and, despite the economic gloom, the shops become busier with Christmas shoppers out in force.

Queuing to pay at a cash till here in Oxford yesterday lunchtime, I was reminded of Beauty Munthali, one of our supervisors in the southern region of Malawi – and the lines of customers that form to use the services of the mobile bank she manages.

One of the six Opportunity vehicles in southern Malawi, Beauty’s van makes weekly rounds, bringing financial services to villages so remote that a trip to the bank would normally mean a half day trek or more on foot.

Not surprisingly, Beauty’s clients are content to wait in line when the bank comes to town. It’s in the rainy season that this presents a bit of a challenge – and so Beauty has to find a post office or shop with an awning by which to park in order to provide shelter for her patient customers.