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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 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 United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly held a side event last week on youth financial inclusion; the Microfinance Gateway spotlighted resilience, for both households and financial institutions, in the realm of financial inclusion; and the Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA), in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Data2XCARE, released a report on the value of data to women’s financial inclusion. Here are a few more details:

  • The U.N. General Assembly side event focused on the importance of financial inclusion for youth, including youth entrepreneurs, and it was asserted that the energy and dynamism of young people will be integral in achieving the newly adopted 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Fifty-four percent of youth between 15-24 don’t have a bank account.
  • Resilience, or the ability to anticipate, adapt to, and/or recover from adverse situations, is a key lens for considering financial inclusion. Microfinance Gateway’s spotlight shares industry work on resilience from Freedom from Hunger, ILO, IMF, Making Finance Work for Africa, Microinsurance Network, and MicroSave.
  • GBA, IDB, and Data2XCARE’s new report, based on interviews with over 50 financial inclusion stakeholders, makes the case for sex-disaggregated data – how this data could inform better policies and private sector action – and discusses the challenges to its collection and use.

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, 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 the Smart Campaign

Smart CampaignToday, the Smart Campaign released for public comment new draft Client Protection Standards – which will be the basis for what we term Certification 2.0. The new standards streamline the previous Client Protection Standards, and reflect the evolving financial inclusion industry. They incorporate client risks pertaining to insurance, savings, and digital financial services. The standards operationalize where the financial inclusion industry sets the bar in terms of the minimum behaviors clients should expect from their financial service providers. Now open, the public comment period extends through November 30, 2015.

We’d love your feedback!

The new standards build off of the first set of Client Protection Standards, released in January 2013, as the basis for the introduction of Smart Certification. The standards and their corresponding indicators, which put the Client Protection Principles into practice, are used to benchmark institutions seeking Smart Certification.

Like the first iteration, the development of Certification 2.0 standards has been a highly collaborative process. Over the past 18 months, the campaign consulted a wide array of stakeholders and up to 30 experts to strengthen and update the standards and indicators.

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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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 Center Staff

Are you a senior leader at a financial institution serving lower-income clients in sub-Saharan Africa? The Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program might be for you!

The six-month program was launched late last year to foster peer-to-peer learning and exchange on governance practices among board members and CEOs at African microfinance institutions. The fellowship begins and ends with multi-day in-person seminars; in between seminars, fellows are connected through a virtual collaboration space that includes discussion forums and dialogues.

The first cohort of ABF fellows convened in early June in Cape Town. Guided by the program’s seasoned faculty, advisors, and subject experts, fellows examined a wide range of topics, from board dynamics and managing sustainable growth to technology trends and risk management. A blog post on the inaugural seminar can be found here.

The above video shares highlight footage from the inaugural seminar, as well as remarks from ABF fellows and staff on the program.

For more information on the Africa Board Fellowship, including details on how to apply, click here.

> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist

On August 4, Facebook received approval on a patent it had purchased in a bundle from the defunct social network Friendster. It primarily describes a mechanism to weed out content depending on whether it travels via trusted nodes in a user’s social network. This might not have caused much of a stir, had it not been for entrepreneur and blogger Mikhail Avady’s revelation that the patent also includes the following application:

“In a fourth embodiment of the invention, the service provider is a lender. When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.”

Many commentators and journalists reacted with alarm, while Facebook has not offered comment on the story. It is unclear whether or not a product will be developed out of this particular embodiment of the invention. A Daily KOS headline proclaims that “Facebook Gets Patent to Discriminate Against You Based on Your Social Network”, and a Popular Science writer notes that “It’s totally not something straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia”. This MSN article warns readers to purge their less trustworthy friends, though it also notes that the technology could relegate some consumers to riskier lenders. In the non-financial press, less attention is given to the potential upshots for thin-file loan applicants. The list of concerned news outlets stretches well beyond the first page of search results I examined after Googling the patent’s text.

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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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