> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In the client protection section of the FI2020 Roadmap to Financial Inclusion, a specific recommendation was made for financial providers to embrace consumer protection as part of their professional identity, and applying a “financial consumer bill of rights” was identified as a key action point.

Looking into the state of this industry area for our upcoming FI2020 Progress Report on Financial Inclusion, I came to realize that the subject of consumers’ bills of rights is not as straightforward as it seems. Although the recommendation from the roadmap was aimed specifically at providers, the truth is that this is an area where a diversity of players is getting involved. I found a range of approaches: codes of conduct, codes of ethics, charters of rights, and bills of rights, coming from a wide spread of stakeholders, from MFIs to global associations to governments. At the heart of each of these initiatives was the same objective: for service providers to operate ethically and responsibly.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Last week some Democrats blasted conservative U.S. Senator Rand Paul for saying that many people who receive Social Security disability benefits are gaming the system. “What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts — join the club,” he said, drawing a few laughs from the audience. “Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has back pain.”

Hyperbolic and a little mean. Okay, a lot mean. And Rand Paul’s opposition to the Senate’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an outrage, but we should not overlook that on this issue of fraud and waste in the Social Security disability system, there is a lot of truth to what he says – and the system is in need of reform.

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> Posted by the Steering Committee of Truelift

Institutions built upon a promise of poverty alleviation must be motivated and supported to make good on that promise. This continues to be the goal and promise of Truelift, even as we depend more than ever on volunteer leadership and support for Truelift’s journey toward greater transparency and accountability in pro-poor development. Before looking to the future, let’s review where we’ve been.

Among the diverse, and mostly complementary, objectives sought by financial inclusion and social enterprise efforts, poverty alleviation has been by far the most important and the most widely adopted objective, whether in the minds of practitioners, supporters, or the general public. Yet this objective challenges our collective ability to be clear about our intended destination and to show that we are on the right path toward it. It is even more difficult to show how far along this path we have come and how far we have yet to go. How do we motivate and support transparency and accountability for practitioners who claim to pursue poverty alleviation and for those who support them?

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The most exciting trends and startups in inclusive finance this year

> Posted by Vikas Raj, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

There has been a lot of buzz in the financial technology (FinTech) space over the last several months, with a high-profile IPO, several more apparently on the way, and more and more venture funding flowing into FinTech startups. Bold ideas for financial services innovation are getting more visibility – just this month, Australian Wealth Index (AWI) listed the 50 Best FinTech Innovators, and CFI’s Elisabeth Rhyne conveniently categorized the list so it’s easy to see at a glance where the innovations are.

At Venture Lab, we found the AWI list interesting but also felt it missed something significant: namely, that one of the biggest opportunities for FinTech is figuring out new solutions to include the billions of lower-income people who are today excluded from formal financial services. And it’s not charity that compels us to reach these customers – it’s good business. These customers represent a big market. In fact, they’re such a significant part of any emerging market’s customer base that any global providers with dreams of international expansion must cater to them if they want to succeed.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI


“I took today off because the stress is too high. I was going to borrow $200 from a friend and it fell through. I truly need it. I want to cry and can’t. I need it before the month is out. I had it and lent it to my family and I’m catching hell getting it back.”

– Tammy, age 60, U.S. Financial Diaries participant

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. supplemental poverty rate is 15.5 percent, meaning that 48.7 million Americans live below the poverty line.¹ While poorer households face higher difficulties to make ends meet, households across the lower and middle-income spectrum in the U.S. struggle with income volatility, unplanned expenses, and finding ways to save and invest. But they also use creative ways to manage their budgets and money.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Obtaining a mortgage is often the single largest transaction a person will ever make. Despite this, about half of Americans actively consider only one lender or broker before taking out their mortgage. Why? A new report from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) details this phenomenon and some of the factors in play, especially consumer confidence. Tuesday, at an event releasing the report, CFPB Director Richard Cordray put the reality into stark and relatable terms, positing that many individuals spend more time shopping around for a TV or other household appliance than they do looking for a good mortgage. He remarked, “When you are spending a lot of money, you are literally betting the house on the choices you are making.” At the event, Cordray launched a suite of tools from the CFPB to empower informed decision-making. The hope is that these tools will ultimately get Americans to… shop.

Cordray recommends that mortgage seekers fill out applications with multiple lenders to see which one offers the best deal. Filing multiple applications doesn’t hurt one’s credit score, contrary to popular belief; multiple credit checks from potential lenders within a certain time window (generally 14-45 days) are considered a single inquiry. The CFPB report, which is based on new data in the National Survey of Mortgage Borrowers, found that 77 percent of borrowers only apply with a single lender.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI

Inclusive financial services in Africa are blooming. Between the turn of the millennium and 2011, the number of African MFIs reporting to the MIX increased from 58 to 397. From 2000 to 2014, the gross loan portfolio expanded over tenfold to $6 billion. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of borrowers served by MFIs in Africa increased from 1.6 million to 8.5 million. These numbers represent the development of an economic development tool for economies with very small financial sectors. It is impressive progress for an undeveloped industry beset by sparse human capital, problematic governance, and minimal external commercial interest.

AfriCap, which was the first private equity fund to invest exclusively in African microfinance institutions, and other microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) funded by social investors have been a key growth factor through capitalizing MFIs and offering technical assistance and training. This interest is relatively new. The African MIV portfolio grew at an average annual rate of 36 percent between 2006 and 2013. This compares with an average growth of 38 percent for investments in the Latin America & Caribbean region since 2006, and 8 percent in both the Middle East & North Africa and South East Asia regions. The strong connection between MIV financing and microfinance sector growth was also noted in a World Bank paper, Benchmarking the Financial Performance, Growth, and Outreach of Greenfield Microfinance Institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper, released in 2014, explains the relevance of greenfield MFIs to effecting financial inclusion in undeveloped financial markets. These institutions are financed in large part by equity and debt from development finance institutions, as well as a now-significant cohort of MIVs.

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> Posted by Karin Malmberg, PIIF Manager, PRI

How do institutional investors in inclusive finance ensure that their investee institutions manage their social as well as financial performance? How do these investors contribute to the sustainable growth of the industry? And, perhaps most importantly how do they ensure that end clients are fairly treated and adequately protected?

The Report on Progress in Inclusive Finance 2014 by the Principles for Investors in Inclusive Finance (PIIF) Initiative addresses these questions, analyzing data submitted by inclusive finance investors on their responsible investment practices.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Islamic finance is expected to expand substantially in 2015, from 2014’s total of $2.1 trillion to $2.5 trillion, according to figures released last week by the Al-Huda Centre of Islamic Banking and Economics. In 2011, the industry had assets of about $1 trillion. Islamic microfinance, the segment of Sharia-compliant services targeting clients at the base of the pyramid, only occupies a small slice of the pie, at 1 percent of all Islamic finance globally. However this uptick in Sharia-compliant finance, as well as encouraging recent support for the 650 million Muslims living on less than 2 dollars a day, suggest a rising tide for Islamic microfinance.

The industry findings indicate that not only did Islamic finance surpass the $2 trillion landmark in 2014, it gained traction in nascent markets and entered new ones. Markets still green in offering Islamic finance that showed growth in 2014 include Morocco, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Libya, and several non-Muslim-majority countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa. Among the new markets where Islamic finance took root last year are Australia, Brazil, and China. Globally, there are 1,500 organizations working in Islamic finance across 90 countries – 40 percent of which are non-Muslim-majority countries. The expansion of Islamic finance opens the door for the many Muslims whose beliefs preclude them from accepting finance with interest rates and fee structures outlawed by Sharia doctrine.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Amidst all the excitement about disruptive fintech innovators it helps to sort out what innovations are actually at play. Australia Wealth Investors, together with KPMG-Australia and Australia’s Financial Services Council, have created a list of the top 50 fintech innovators for 2014, based on a combination of ability to raise capital and subjective judgment about the degree of innovation or disruption the company represents.

I clicked on all 50 (so you don’t have to) to get a sense of where the action really is. Here’s my quick and dirty categorization. It may help to read this to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, starting with:

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