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> Posted by Shaheen Hasan, Manager, FI2020 at CFI

The “customer centricity” mantra has become a common refrain among donors, policymakers, practitioners, and providers working on financial inclusion. Indeed we would be hard-pressed to find anyone working in the sector who wouldn’t identify him or herself as focused on customer needs. In the Addressing Customer Needs section of the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, however, we report that the number of financial service providers who are actually investing in and implementing these ideas at a scalable level are still few and far between. Although the truly customer-centric organizations are in the minority, we found a host of good examples, and we highlight some examples we like in the report.

A critical element of addressing customer needs is building the right consumer insights infrastructure to gather and translate data into better product offerings and the targeting of new market segments. Organizations use a multitude of methods to assemble insights. Some players, such as Equity Bank in Kenya and Tigo in multiple countries have built up in-house research capabilities. Banco Azteca in Mexico, for example, has one of the most sophisticated market research systems to amass and analyze information on customers. It has used that information to build up a clientele of millions of savers, borrowers, remittance receivers (and some senders), and insurance policy holders. Janalakshmi, an Indian microfinance institution, with the support of CGAP, developed a tool, Kaleido, which utilizes its front-line staff to get a “360 degree” view of a household, providing a rich source of data for developing new products as well as assessing the financial progress of a household.

With increasing availability of data on client behavior and new techniques to analyze that data, there is a rich wellspring to mine for insights relevant to market segmentation, product design, and delivery improvements.

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> Posted by Kim Wilson, the Fletcher School, Tufts University

In the olden days, awards were not given for innovation itself but for how effective an innovation was in relation to the importance of the problem it solved. But what we see today in financial inclusion is the ubiquity of innovation – often front and center – as the lead determinant in a plethora of prize competitions. Check the first judging criteria of this prestigious contest.

Why would the entity commissioning the award, The Wall Street Journal, care about how innovative or unique the business was or how it broke from tradition? Wouldn’t it care most about how well the service solved a problem and the problem’s significance?

In financial inclusion, innovation itself has been an endgame for quite some time. Take the much-hyped “Keep the Change,” Bank of America’s program to hoover in payment leftovers at the cash register. If you buy $3.80 worth of coffee, the amount is rounded to $4.00 of which twenty cents goes to your bank account. Greeted as a clever way to encourage savings, the idea was indeed innovative back in 2006. But was it good? Here is what a critic, citing another critic, had to say about Keep the Change: “If you want something that makes it quick and easy, lets you fool yourself into thinking you’re actually saving, (spend-to-save) programs are good.” But despite this perversion, Keep the Change has been the winner of multiple awards, many with innovation in their descriptions.

Plenty of ideas are creative and go nowhere. That’s where the ideas I have in the shower go, where they should, down the drain. But innovation is the crack-cocaine of the funding world. Funders including donors and impact investors want to be thought of as doing something new and what is newer than innovation? Innovation is the new excellence, the new buzzword, the new impact.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

The following post draws observations from the just-released FI2020 Progress Report on Technology. See the full report to explore other topics and cast your vote on global progress in advancing financial inclusion.

Technology innovation is dramatically changing the financial services landscape—and quickly. No longer are simple 2G/SMS-based payments the talk of the financial inclusion community. Instead, a range of platforms and products and services promise that as we move into the future, the costs of providing services will be lower, and the base of the pyramid will be within reach for mainstream financial services providers.

The world in which these innovations are mainstreamed is one where the agent network concerns we have today will be gone. In the cash-lite or cash-free world that technology providers are seeking, there will, in fact, be few to no agents, as people will receive money electronically and spend it electronically without ever converting it to cash. When is the last time you went to a banking agent?

Consider the following innovations that allow important financial transactions to take place without a detour through cash. (For a more comprehensive list of innovations, see the FI2020 Progress Report on Technology.)

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> Posted by Bruce J. MacDonald, Vice President, Communications & Operations, CFI

(Photo by Damon Jacoby ©2015)

In New York yesterday to celebrate the launch of the FI2020 Progress Report (and Accion’s and Citi’s 50-year partnership, and the awarding of the first Accion Edward W. Claugus Award – Accion never does anything by halves…), we had the privilege of an audience with Dr. Daniel Schydlowsky.

Dr. Schydlowsky, recipient of said award, hardly needs introducing. As Superintendent of Banking, Insurance & Private Pension Fund Administrators for Peru, and as chair of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, he symbolizes the gold standard of financial inclusion regulation. Scratch that – he is the gold standard. Peru has ranked at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Microscope report for seven consecutive years. And to paraphrase the old E.F. Hutton TV ad, when Daniel Schydlowsky speaks, people listen. “We can perfectly well keep banking systems safe, and still do something for inclusion,” he said, explaining his philosophy of regulation (and thereby, perhaps, Peru’s standing). “Indeed, the more we include, the safer we’re making the banking system.”

Like our new Progress Report, Schydlowsky outlined his view of what lies ahead and what he’s excited about. First up: The promise of new loan-origination techniques. Making microloans is an artisanal craft, and thus expensive. But he is optimistic about the promise of new developments: big data, customer-relationship tools, and psychometric training (again, as is our Progress Report). Come to Peru, he urged innovators, where you will find a willing partner and audience.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Today the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) is proud to launch the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, an interactive website that portrays the recent progress and unmet challenges on the path to global financial inclusion.

When we began the FI2020 project in 2011, we hoped to create a sense of both urgency and possibility. We believed that enabling everyone in the world to gain access to quality financial services was a goal of major development significance. We also saw that with many active players and the promise that digitization would enable many more people to be reached at lower cost, it was no longer simply wishful thinking to call for full inclusion within a reasonable time frame. Global financial inclusion had entered the realm of the possible.

Today, in 2015, we are both astonished by the progress and daunted by the gaps that remain. Global Findex data shows 700 million new accounts in the three years from 2011 to 2014, reducing the number of unbanked worldwide from 2.5 to 2 billion. National governments have created ambitious financial inclusion strategies, the FinTech industry is exploding with $12 billion in global investments in 2014 alone, and the World Bank has a plan for reaching universal financial access to transaction accounts by 2020.

Our quantitative review, By the Numbersrevealed that if the current trajectory of expansion in accounts continues, many countries will achieve full account access by 2020. The rails are being laid at a rapid rate, and there is great momentum toward universal access. But access to an account is not the same thing as financial inclusion, and progress toward meaningful financial inclusion, in which people actively use a full range of services, is lagging. The passengers – customers – are often still waiting at the station for services that take them where they want to go.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

In three days the Center for Financial Inclusion will unveil the FI2020 Progress Report. In it, we define progress made toward financial inclusion and make predictions about the most critical issues facing the industry.

This web-based report has been a year in the making, the result of FI2020’s monitoring of industry trends, interviews with experts, and an analysis of financial inclusion data from both the supply and demand side. We organized the report around the five areas identified in the 2013 Roadmap to Financial Inclusion: Addressing Customer Needs, Client Protection, Credit Reporting & Data, Financial Capability, and Technology.

Perhaps the most fun—and most debatable—aspect of the report is the rating we will reveal for each area, marking where we are on the road to financial inclusion along these five dimensions. The financial inclusion community around the world will have the opportunity to weigh in with their vote – and we expect there will be some disagreement with our opinions. We hope you will not only mark your own rating, but also leave comments with your views. Most of all, we hope this thought exercise will help focus all of our attention on how to close the gaps to get to a 10 in each area.

To offer a sneak preview of the content, I thought I would reveal how we rated progress made on client protection:

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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

I rarely think about the cost of convenience. I often use my phone’s navigational system, seeking turn-by-turn directions, but I usually don’t consider the trail of data I’m leaving behind – and even if I do, I decide the benefit outweighs the cost. We live in an age where leaving myriad digital footprints is almost inescapable. Increasingly, we hear of big data analytic companies that “liberate data” or “democratize data” for the purpose of improving products and services or making them more widely available. There are true benefits to advancing our society’s data capabilities and unearthing new patterns and insights. (The phone that tracks my travel can give me advice on promising restaurants nearby.) But the costs can be high. Here in the U.S., the anonymity of “meta” data sets is continually being challenged. Fortunately, in this country consumer advocacy groups and institutions such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Bureau of Consumer Protection at FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working to address and remedy breaches of privacy and data rights.

In most of the world, similar institutions are nonexistent or under-developed. The fast uptake of technology has opened up large population segments to new possibilities, while leaving them vulnerable. Digital financial services users in developing countries are often choice-less and voiceless on how their data is used.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: the prevalence of countries inadequately tracking the well-being of their older citizens; the launch of Monese, a mobile-based banking service targeting immigrants and expats in the U.K.; and CARE distilling lessons learned from its work developing sustainable agricultural value chains in a new book. Here are a few more details:

  • HelpAge International recently released the 2015 Global AgeWatch index, which ranks countries on quality of life for older people based on access to pensions, healthcare, employment, and further education. The index had to exclude 98 countries that don’t sufficiently collect such data on this growing population segment.
  • Monese, licensed as an electronic money institution, lessens “residency restrictions” and offers accounts to those new to the U.K., providing services like cash deposits, withdrawal, and low-cost international money transfers.
  • In their new book on reducing poverty via value chain development, among others, CARE shares the following takeaways: work along the entire value chain – not just with farmers; design for scale from the start; and skillfully empowering women is smart economics and the right thing to do.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to Eric Zuehlke at

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.

In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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> Posted by Kai Hsu, Director of Administration & Finance, Positive Planet China

Over the past five years, peer-to-peer lending (P2P) has grown rapidly. Now more commonly referred to as “marketplace lending” because of the large range of institutions, intermediaries, and non-“peer” parties involved, the industry is poised to continue its year-on-year triple-digit growth. The breakneck speed of P2P’s growth seems natural given the many advantages it offers. As an industry, focus has gradually moved from a community of individuals lending directly to other individuals (often within affinity groups), and has evolved into a powerful engine of technical efficiency. Today, P2P is viewed in many different ways: a potential agent of financial inclusion; an innovation in big data analytics and credit risk evaluation; an efficient mechanism for loan matching without the often burdensome capital and regulatory requirements of banks; an innovative operational model leveraging the cost savings of online platforms; a new asset class for retail and institutional investors; and the list goes on.

This change has also attracted banks that are eager to be cut into the action as well. Banks have made equity stakes in P2P businesses in the past, such as Barclays’ 49 percent investment in South Africa’s RainFin and Credit Suisse’s $25 million note to Prodigy Finance. However, 2015 seems to be the breakout year for P2P into mainstream finance. In June, Goldman Sachs announced plans to enter the consumer lending space through an online platform, akin to what Lending Club and Prosper offer in the U.S. Several days later, Morgan Stanley featured an optimistic report on P2P lending on its home page. In August, Standard Chartered led a $207 million C-round of funding for Chinese P2P company Dianrong.

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Each week the FI2020 team at CFI highlights compelling stories and content on all things financial inclusion from across the web. Click here to visit the news feed.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.


The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.

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