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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program recently released the report ‘Mobile Financial Services in Latin America & the Caribbean’, spotlighting the region’s booming mobile money activity. I talked with the report’s authors, Mireya Almazán and Jennifer Frydrych, to learn more about the project. The first half of our conversation follows. The second half of the conversation will be published in the coming days.

One of the headline messages of the new report is that the mobile money market in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the fastest growing of any region in terms of account ownership. How do the numbers look?

Collectively, the 37 mobile money services in the region account for roughly 15 million registered mobile money accounts and 6.2 million accounts that have been active within the past 90-days. Notably, LAC witnessed a 50 percent growth rate in the number of new registered mobile money accounts between December 2013 and 2014, making LAC the world’s fastest growing region in new accounts. LAC’s users are more active than the global average active customer rate (42 percent of all accounts are active, compared to 35 percent globally). Most encouragingly, there are now five deployments in LAC with over a million registered customers. Each of these deployments counts at least half a million 90-day active customers, and together they cover an extremely diverse set of markets.

The three markets that stand out in the region are Paraguay, Honduras, and El Salvador. These three markets all feature in the top 15 globally for mobile money account penetration (number of active mobile money accounts divided by total adult population).

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PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. Part one can be found here; the following is part two.

While the jury may be out on M-Shwari (see here), the verdict is in on M-Pesa. M-Pesa offers real value to an estimated 14 million disenfranchised and financially excluded Kenyans. Indeed, for many lower-income Kenyans, M-Pesa is not only a payments service, but also a form of insurance. Think of it like an online strategy game. You donate units to members of your group in the belief that they will reciprocate when you request. This same norm operates in Kenya with M-Pesa users, who send spare shillings to friends and family every opportunity they get with the operating belief that if there is ever a need (say their tire pops and they need to pay for a repair) they can send out a request for funds to members of their group and have confidence that their needs will be met. This is a great contribution for a product that former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph called “a gadget” to make phone service stickier.

Another unintended contribution stemming from M-Pesa is the gradual building of a non-financial payment transactions database at Safaricom. Practice and research from around the world proves that this data is highly predictive of consumer and small business credit risk. The collection and use of this data could be an extremely useful tool to drive meaningful financial inclusion in Kenya. Safaricom Financial Services fully realizes this, and like so many other mobile network operators around the world, moved to limit access to this data to themselves and their bank partners.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Hot off the press! We published the third issue of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our new weekly online magazine on the big news in financial inclusion. What’s been happening in the world of banking the unbanked?

Among its stories, the new issue of the FI2020 News Feed spotlights the following:

  • The State Bank of Pakistan ordered all commercial banks in the country to create a new account category, Asaan Account, which targets the base of the pyramid by simplifying account opening requirements
  • Mybank, a new online bank in China, was launched by Ant Financial, utilizing transaction records on Alibaba to extend credit to individuals and small businesses
  • In Tanzania, agent and mobile phone-based banking continues to grow steadily in both the volume and value of transactions

For more details on these and other stories, read the third issue here, and make sure to subscribe 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 us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. The following is part one.

Recently, a number of players have flaunted an impressive array of promising digital technologies to expand credit access, advertising nothing less than a full on revolution in financial inclusion. While the promise of many of these solutions is inarguable, in most cases they are limited to lower-value, higher-interest consumption loans at best, or, at worst, are at risk of being useless as they suffer from the classic error of putting the cart before the horse. The principle limitation on these solutions is a lack of access to sufficient quantities of regularly reported, high-quality, predictive data upon which to base credit decisions and develop credit products.

Consider the case of Safaricom, which revolutionized the payment systems market in Kenya with its M-Pesa offering. The rapid uptake of M-Pesa by lower-income Kenyans was proof positive of the value of digital financial services and spawned a wave of investment into hundreds of copycat service providers around the world.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Blog posts. Twitter feeds. Facebook updates. Email listservs. Google Alerts. Lunchtime conversations… We all have our ways, however handy and effective, of trying to stay abreast of what’s happening around the world. For those interested in financial inclusion, this is quite the challenge. The release of new products, partnerships, publications, and policies is a constant. But at CFI’s Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) project, combing the world for the latest inclusion insights, trends, and developments is part of what we do. So, we decided to go one step further.

Starting today, each week the FI2020 team will bring you the big news in financial inclusion in an online magazine, the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed. We’ll pull from all over to spotlight great new stories, initiatives, videos, podcasts, and more. To give you a sense, the collection of pieces that make up this week’s edition touch on:

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s new report on U.S. households’ financial resilience, Weathering Volatility
  • AllAfrica’s recent article on the new partnership between Tigo and Juntos in Tanzania
  • The Guardian’s interactive post that visualizes borrowing trends globally
  • A World Bank video on assessing if microloans really make a difference

To check out the first edition, click here, and make sure to subscribe 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 us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

Account Use (Developing Economies) - Click to Enlarge

Account Use (Developing Economies) – Click to Enlarge

Especially since the Global Findex report made headlines around the world with its finding that the number of financially excluded dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion during the period 2011-2014, I have been increasingly uneasy with equating account access as financial inclusion, and especially as equivalent to the essential concept of full financial inclusion as defined by CFI. The Center’s new publication “By the Numbers” does an excellent job helping people to digest all the publicly available data about financial inclusion, and make sense of them. It also reinforces my unease.

Despite the progress in account openings, the report makes it clear that the number of people actually using accounts is unfortunately not growing. Even more worrying, it argues that most accounts “are not really functioning as the hoped-for ‘on-ramp’ to financial inclusion.” The risk, as I see it, is that by adopting a stunted definition of financial inclusion that emphasizes account openings, we may be measuring and incentivizing the wrong things. The report wisely urges “caution regarding the value of mass drives for account opening, such as mandated no frills accounts…”

While the available data may overstate progress in some areas, the data may understate it in others due to the tendency to focus only on transactions at formal financial institutions. As the report notes, the percentage of people in low and middle income countries who save increased from 31 percent to 54 percent — quite a jump! — over three years, but this “is not reflected in a commensurate increase in saving in financial institutions.” Global surveys tend to miss savings groups and microfinance institutions, which in many markets play important roles. The alarming gaps in data related to access among vulnerable populations are also noted.

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> Posted by ideas42

The following post was originally published on the ideas42 blog.

For many of us, saving enough for retirement remains a murky, unrealized goal. Behavioral science has already proven useful in some ways, but there are still many opportunities to apply a behavioral lens to better preparing for the future.

In Mexico, not putting aside enough for retirement is a persistent problem for many people. As a result, 27 percent of the nation’s elderly live in poverty. While recent reforms to the retirement system have provided more Mexicans with individual retirement accounts than ever before, mandatory contribution rates remain too low to provide for post-retirement living expenses. To cover the rest, the system currently allows people to make voluntary contributions to their individual accounts. The problem is that they don’t: currently, less than 1 percent of the 50 million account holders make at least one contribution each year.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Can the world achieve full financial inclusion by 2020? By the Numbers: Benchmarking Progress Toward Financial Inclusion, a new Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) publication from CFI, offers a quantitative review of financial inclusion globally, using publicly available data to examine recent progress and projecting a scenario out to 2020.

Last month the development community emitted a collective cheer as the new Global Findex data revealed that the number of unbanked individuals around the world dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion between 2011 and 2014. This looks like huge progress. If the trends continue, the financial exclusion gap will close to 1 billion individuals without access to formal financial services by 2020.

However, know it’s not all about access. We promote financial inclusion to enable people to use financial services to better manage their lives. A fully included person is an active user of quality financial services that bring significant value. Expanding financial access is the first step towards financial inclusion, and it needs to be followed by an uptick in the frequency and ways in which people use services as well as strengthening of the financial ecosystem. By the Numbers explores progress in these areas along with access and estimates the potential for reaching full inclusion by 2020.

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> Posted by Bruce MacDonald, Senior Vice President, Communications, Accion

My first love was Susan Morasky, but my second – and far more enduring – has been Africa. For that I credit Mrs. Walden, my third-grade teacher, who encouraged us to think big.

Sadly, even the loves of your life can let you down. In Nairobi last week to promote the Africa Board Fellowship, our new program on governance for sub-Saharan MFIs, all went well. Until, that is, I tried to go home. A 20-minute taxi ride to the airport became an hour, then two, then four.

I missed the KLM flight to Amsterdam, and of course the connecting flight home. As I sat in the cab, fuming in First-World frustration, I peppered the driver with questions. “What’s the cause of this?” Rain. “Can’t you go another way?” This is the only way. “Where are all the policemen directing traffic?” Incoherent response. And, finally, snippily, “How on earth do you people put up with this?” Obviously embarrassed, he finally stopped answering my questions.

Everything’s relative, especially in Africa – something I should have remembered, given the banking and finance conference I’d just come from, and the presentation by Amish Gupta, head of investment banking at Standard Investment Bank in Nairobi.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Senior Associate, CFI

The Facebook page of JPay, a Florida-based company that provides a range of services to inmates in the U.S. prison system, is calling for visitation pictures – photos of families and their incarcerated loved ones. Happy images seem to echo the company’s statement that JPay is “the most trusted source for connecting incarcerated individuals with family and friends”. Money transfers are one primary element of the connection that JPay and others like it provide. JPay is one of the largest providers in the burgeoning field of financial services for the 2 million-plus inmates in the U.S. prison system. These providers are changing the way that families send money to their incarcerated loved ones and also the way in which inmates receive money upon their release. But has this change been good?

For those that might not know, money sent to inmates can be used in prison for things like making phone calls, sending emails, and buying food, toiletries, and winter clothes. To give you a sense, at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center in Washington State, phone calls begin at $3.13, and emails are 33 cents. When prisoners are released, money accumulated from work in prison or sent from family and friends can be transferred onto stores of value like debit cards.

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Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed

In an effort to become the first stop for people interested in all matters regarding financial inclusion, each week the FI2020 team at CFI highlights compelling stories and content from across the web. Click here to visit the news feed.

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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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