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> Posted by Jessie Fisher and Robyn Robertson, Good Return

Globally 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, with women and girls disproportionately affected. Increasing access to technology creates opportunities in education, expanded informational resources, employment, entrepreneurship, and financial services – all of which can help break the cycle of poverty.

These are not new or debated ideas. However, in the realm of financial services, in order to harness advancements in technology and achieve greater and more meaningful inclusion of women, we still need to better understand their preferences and behaviors and the social context they inhabit.

This is where quality gender-based data, which has almost entirely been lacking in financial inclusion, plays a key role.

For example, to ensure we understand a new market, we must ask ourselves questions like: Have we invested the time and resources needed to meaningfully engage with both men and women? Have we considered the time needed to build trust in these communities (especially if they have had disappointing experiences with other organizations in the past)?

Satisfying such considerations isn’t simple or easy. We may also need to travel further to reach women clients, and provide safe spaces for them to speak openly about their lives and the things they would like to change.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2016 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place March 28 – April 2, 2016 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2016 HBS-Accion Program builds on ten successful years and over 600 alumni – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. Financial service providers participating in the program will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of today’s financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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> Posted by Mark Pickens, Senior Director, Visa

The future doesn’t come with an owner’s manual saying how to set up, operate, or troubleshoot it. When we launched mVisa in Rwanda in 2013, it was the first interoperable mobile phone-based payment ecosystem in any emerging market. We didn’t know what was possible. But we knew what we were aiming at. We wanted to make mobile money work better.

Nearly all mobile money schemes are “closed loops”. They do not permit funds to be shared with users of any other scheme. Since consumers cannot transact with everyone they want or spend everywhere they go, they see mobile accounts as less useful than cash. Fewer make the switch from cash, the net financial inclusion impact is stunted, and commercial returns are blunted. The idea of mVisa is to connect the closed loops by routing mobile money transactions via VisaNet, the global software and data centers that process transactions by more than 2 billion account holders and sustain more than 30 million points of access in the Visa network.

We chose Rwanda to pilot the mVisa concept. A smaller market makes it easier to know and be known by key stakeholders. That is an important consideration when starting a multiparty ecosystem that requires all players to move in a similar direction in a similar timeframe. Rwanda fit the bill well.

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> Posted by David Porteous and Gavin Krugel, Chair and CEO, the Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI)

We have each been involved in the field of payments in some way or other for fifteen years at least. One of us (David) started through the design of a new credit card program for a bank; but soon had the opportunity to experience some of the earliest mobile payment schemes then emerging in Africa from 2003 and thereafter to be more engaged in the policy and strategy issues of mobile money. The other (Gavin) started as lost card call center clerk from where his payment career developed through new product design, delivery and management to being one of the early pioneers of mobile money.

In the early days of mobile money, there was no foundational training available which would have enabled us better to understand the height and breadth of the journey on which we were embarking. Both of us learned ‘on the job’—sometimes from other people more experienced than we were, and sometimes just through having to work through the issues ourselves. Learning on the job in a new field can be fun; but it also is slower. Today, we view as self-evident a range of issues which were anything but in the early days. We certainly had little idea at the outset that payments was a field in itself, worthy of our professional focus. If anything, we first experienced payments as an outgrowth of banking, done mainly by banks, for banks, for the purpose of collecting their loans, for example.

How the field has grown since then! Technological change has swept up and down the payment value chain. The number and nature of payment providers has exploded. So has the scale of related ambition to accelerate it further. In 2015, the World Bank President Kim launched the goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020, which means every adult on the planet having what amounts to a payment account—a safe store of value to and from which digital transfers can be made.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

2652377697_7cd2f08d4e_oAging is an issue that we all hope to face personally, if we haven’t already. As we prepare to participate in European Microfinance Week, we are more convinced than ever that this is a critical topic for the financial inclusion community to address. (If you are planning to be at European Microfinance Week too, make sure to check out our panel on the Sustainable Development Goals and financial inclusion!) In Europe, the aging of the population is well acknowledged. With average life expectancy in Europe among the highest in the world, at 77 years, the proportion of the population reaching older age is naturally growing. About 25 percent of Europe’s population is now over the age of 60, and that percentage is set to rise. The aging of the population is well understood in Europe, but what is less recognized is that the middle and lower-middle income countries of the world – the countries that encompass most of the world’s population – are already beginning to experience the same older age population boom. In most middle income countries, from Mexico to China, over-60s are the fastest growing cohort of the population. Aging is a product of successful development. Increased life expectancy, better family planning mechanisms, and higher quality of life all contribute to growth in the proportion of the population that is older.

Aging is a reality, but can it also represent an opportunity for financial institutions? The smart money is on providers who recognize that the answer is yes, and work to figure out how to respond.

We’ve created a list of activities, some practical and some research-oriented, we think would be valuable to close the gaps in financial inclusion for older people and for younger people who want to prepare for their older age. And, frankly, we would love for you to steal these ideas!

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

It’s important to recognize the work of others, but so easy to let the days slide by silently – until a major transition occurs.

Last week there was such a transition, in the form of a gala to recognize the achievements of Alex Counts, founder and for 18 years, CEO of Grameen Foundation. So I decided to mark the occasion with these thoughts.

The story of the organization’s founding is a simple one, reflecting the naiveté and boldness of youth. As a recent college graduate, Alex moved to Bangladesh to apprentice at the Grameen Bank. On returning home to the U.S. seven years later, in 1997, and with $6,000 provided by Muhammad Yunus, he started the Foundation to carry Grameen Bank’s work for the very poor into countries around the world. He didn’t know what he didn’t know, as is the case for most entrepreneurs, social and otherwise. Grameen Foundation operated on a shoestring in those early days.

Over the next 18 years, Alex built an organization that today works in Asia, Africa and Latin America with a multimillion dollar budget and a high-powered board of directors (just a little self-promotion – I’m honored to be a member). Grameen Foundation has assisted some of the best and most mission-driven microfinance institutions in the world – Fonkoze, Grameen Koota, Cashpor, CARD Bank and many more – to raise money, improve their operations and try new things, with a constant eye on serving the very poor and the least-included, especially women. The Foundation was an early entrant into what is now the Fintech space, with the MIFOS initiative and the Grameen Technology Center, and it has become an important innovator in the use of mobile phones as a tool in support of the financial, agricultural and health needs of the poor.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. I wanted to recognize Alex from a more personal point of view.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Last week, FI2020 Week created a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world participated in more than 30 events and shared their voices over social media, with #FI2020. As part of the week, global financial inclusion leaders offered calls to action. We started to provide highlights, but found that every single contributor had an important perspective to add, so this post includes all of their voices.

If there were any doubts about the potential to achieve global financial inclusion, it would be dispelled by the passion and sense of opportunity in the calls to action that were posted last week as part of FI2020 Week. A visionary tone was set by the inaugural posting by Ajay Banga of MasterCard, who declared that “financial inclusion is both economic and social inclusion and necessary for the future well-being of our planet.” Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo, former Governor of the Central Bank of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, draws the link between financial inclusion, economic growth, and poverty reduction, while also—appropriately, given his role–noting the link to financial stability. Yves Moury of Fundación Capital heightens the urgency by stating that “poverty is the greatest scandal of our times,” and Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya adds that “poverty elimination must be the endgame of all financial inclusion strategies.”

This strong sense of social mission comes out in a call from Dr. William Derban of Fidelity Bank Ghana to “leave no one behind” in the march toward inclusion. Michael Miebach of MasterCard also talks about meeting the needs of all members of society, including women, and Bindu Ananth of IFMR Trust mentions smallholder farmers as another group that is often excluded. In light of breakthroughs in technology, Sonja Kelly of the Center for Financial Inclusion urges us to reach out to those who are traditionally excluded from technology, and not just early adopters. As Larry Reed of the Microcredit Summit Campaign puts it, “We need to approach the challenge with the end in mind, designing a system that can sustainably reach clients in the most remote areas and who transact in the smallest sums.”

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> Posted by Center Staff

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

FI2020 Week is nearing its end! Today is the final day. We’re sad too, but there are still lots of opportunities to get involved, and it’s been a lively four days. Also, we’ll continue to report out on all that happened, so there’s more to come! Along with the in-person events, there are a handful of webinars today, you can submit a call to action, or take part in the far-reaching social media conversations, which we’re capturing on the FI2020 Week site, here.

Since our last recap there have been dozens of events around the world bringing together stakeholders passionate about advancing financial inclusion. Here is a quick look at a few of those events:

Nkosilathi Moyo, CEO, VisionFund Zambia

Nkosilathi Moyo, CEO, VisionFund Zambia

In Lusaka, Zambia, representatives from a variety of organizations, including the Bank of Zambia, came together at an event hosted by VisionFund Zambia to discuss promoting financial inclusion by leveraging savings groups and microfinance institutions. Participating stakeholders identified three major gaps for achieving financial inclusion in the country: lack of a conducive regulatory framework; poor infrastructure; and information asymmetry between different players in the market. Moving forward, the participants agreed on the importance of convening and decided that an FI2020 event should be held each year until 2020. Additionally, the participants agreed, there needs to be a stronger focus on establishing strategic partnerships between mobile network operators, financial service providers, NGOs, and government to develop cost-effective delivery channels that reach people in rural areas.

Forty-five leaders in financial capability, financial literacy, and financial health came together at a roundtable in Washington, D.C. to review a draft paper on innovations in financial capability written by the Center for Financial Inclusion in partnership with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. The event was hosted by the Institute of International Finance. The draft paper focuses on seven principles to re-orient financial capability building toward customer needs and behaviors, with a call to action to all stakeholders—providers, governments, social sector organizations, financial capability providers, and donors—to make this shift.

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> Posted by Michael Miebach, President, Middle East and Africa, MasterCard

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

FI2020 Week offers a good opportunity to review the findings in the FI2020 Progress Report and to consider actions the global community needs to take to advance financial inclusion. This is of particular interest to me as I work every day to expand MasterCard’s payments platform in the Middle East and Africa, and in a volunteer capacity, I also serve on the board of directors of Accion.

The report asserts that it’s not enough to “build the rails” to enable payment and transaction access, but that “providers, regulators and support institutions need to ensure that the financial services that follow provide value and quality to the passengers who climb aboard.” Here is where interoperability is essential—if last mile customers are to benefit. Banks, telcos, merchants, and governments must be connected—despite different rules and technologies—in a way that is seamless to the user. From a customer perspective, that means ubiquity, safety, and utility—the trifecta of success in financial inclusion. It won’t work if all the stakeholders are competing to create their own end-to-end solutions, or operating in silos. It won’t work if we are creating islands, where the unbanked transact with each other and where data is used in proprietary ways to support individual business models, rather than being shared as a public good.

Now, a parent in Zimbabwe sends money to his daughter studying at university in South Africa using a mobile money operator connected to the global banking system. All he needs to do is go to an EcoCash agent and top up his mobile money account. His daughter then accesses the funds using a MasterCard debit card linked to the same EcoCash mobile money account to purchase text books, and pay university fees as well as other day-to-day expenses while at university in South Africa. This is ubiquity, safety, and utility put into action.
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> Posted by Center Staff

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

We’re two days in! FI2020 Week thus far has been a whirlwind few days, with events all over the world, a handful of public webinars, and robust social media conversations. We hope you’ve had the opportunity to take part in the action!

To get you up to speed, though certainly not comprehensive, here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening.

In Bangladesh, BRAC conducted an internal debate about the impact and benefits of its own microfinance program.  Answering tough questions like “Does BRAC risk doing more harm than good by using microfinance in its model of fighting poverty?” staff shared their perspectives, providing insights into how to improve the program. Check out some of the presented arguments on BRAC’s Twitter feed.

In Nigeria, Accion and Accion Microfinance Bank discussed financial inclusion strategies for the country. The three biggest industry gaps identified were the lack of mobile and agent banking infrastructure, human capital in the microfinance banking sector, and a spirit of collaboration and partnership among the various players.  Moving forward, the discussion participants will apply greater focus on savings as a necessary service offering that can be improved.

The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) conducted a webinar on the lessons drawn from a six year project (2009 – 2015) carried out with 12 WSBI member banks aimed at creating usable savings services in the hands of the poor. One call to action from the webinar was the need for greater connectivity to combat the challenge of reaching clients in rural communities. As WSBI aims to add 400 million customers to its network by 2020, it will need to partner with more organizations in order to reach very remote village groups.

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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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