Financial liberalization Policies in the 1990s were intended to raise formal sector interest rates, enhance competition and expand access for users. This article investigates patterns of provision and use in a local financial market in Karatina, Kenya, at the end of the 1990s after a period of financial and economic liberalization. It takes a holistic approach, examining both formal and informal financial arrangements and microfinance interventions. This is because the role of the informal financial sector is particularly important for poor people and has received relatively little attention in the discussion of the consequences of reform. The author does this using a 'real' markets approach that sees markets as socially regulated and structured. Significant provision by the mutual sector (formal and informal), and poor lending performance by the banking sector is explained through an examination of the characteristics of the services on offer and their embeddedness in social relations, culture and politics.