PURPOSE : The purpose of this paper is to explore practitioner and academic conceptualisations about what drives individuals (who are the target of financial inclusion efforts) to adopt and use financial services. It compares this with individual’s personal subjectivities to understand how the similarities and differences might contribute to problems in financial inclusion efforts. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH : To uncover such conceptualisations, a Foucauldian discourse analysis of three texts is conducted. FINDINGS : The analysis uncovers the ways in which financial subjects are produced. Important points of discontinuity are evident between texts, pointing to potential failures within financial inclusion constructs. Distilling aspects of continuity between texts shows up three kinds of subjects produced predicated on the site of economic engagement as owners of bodies, tangible property and intangible property. These subjects are shown to all share concerns with income and expense management. The analysis shows that subject positions and strategic actions (including the use of financial service providers) are mutually reinforcing, and that therefore financial subjects will engage only to the extent that the product or service enacts their subject position. With the financial subject as the starting point, it is possible to understand the use or rejection of particular financial products and services. RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS : Asset building is proposed as a field of activity not currently considered part of mainstream financial inclusion, questioning the terms on which individuals are to be financially “included”. ORIGINALITY/VALUE : Approximately 2 billion people globally, and 66 per cent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa, are excluded from the formal financial system. While financial inclusion is considered beneficial, many projects face significant challenges. This suggests insufficient understanding of what drives individuals to adopt and use financial services. This paper makes a contribution by exploring the gap between academics, practitioners and individuals using a method that has not previously been applied in this field, and uncovering differences in understanding that have not previously been explored. The insights into financial inclusion in provided in this paper are original in the literature.