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> Posted by Center Staff

Yesterday a digital finance event in Bogota hosted by the Colombian government and the Better Than Cash Alliance celebrated a pioneering business-to-business electronic banking program that’s led to over 300,000 Colombian coffee farmers receiving access to formal banking services. Launched in 2006 by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), the Smart Coffee ID Card program offers the farmers represented by FNC with a dual identification/e-banking card that can be used for payments, debits, and savings. It now encompasses over 8 million transactions totaling nearly $1 billion. The event launched a Better Than Cash Alliance case study on the Smart Coffee ID Card program, which finds that the FNC initiative is a benchmark example of how transitioning from cash to e-payments in emerging economies can lead to increased safety, productivity, growth, and greater quality of life.

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> Posted by Steven Werlin, Communications and Learning Officer, Chemen Lavi Miyò Program, Fonkoze

A new initiative of Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) promises to push financial inclusion for some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Prior to Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010, roughly 800,000 Haitians had disabilities. An estimated 300,000 more were injured in the earthquake. The Secretary’s office is facilitating a partnership between Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest MFI, and Texas Christian University (TCU), with additional support from the Digicel Foundation, to carry out a program that offers financial and livelihood empowerment services for PwDs.

The pilot for the project will test a combination of Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, which translates as the pathway to a better life, and TCU professor Dawn Elliott’s More than Budgets (MTB) program. CLM is a comprehensive graduation program for the ultra poor, based on the approach developed by BRAC. It is a tailored, sequenced program that provides participants with cash installments to build businesses, productive assets (such as goats, chickens, and merchandise to sell), a savings account at Fonkoze, and regular training and confidence-building support in areas of enterprise management, health and nutrition, and life skills. Most importantly, CLM offers weekly one-on-one meetings with trained case managers. It targets the poorest families – those too poor to use traditional microfinance services. Many participants graduate from the 18 month program and go on to join a group credit program to further support their business efforts. MTB, employing a combination of education and incentives, is a personal financial training program that was developed to help poor, unbanked Texans build up savings, gain access to financial resources, and reduce financial vulnerabilities. The program has been applied in homeless shelters and with people recently released from prison.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week global leaders across industries gathered in the tiny mountain town of Davos, Switzerland for the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF). (Though you probably already knew that, given the annual event’s ever-swelling stature and press.) The WEF fosters strategic dialogues in the hopes of developing ideas, insights, and partnerships around the most pressing issues and transformations reshaping our world. This year’s WEF included sessions from Jack Ma of Alibaba on the future of commerce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on global responsibilities in a digital age, IMF Director Christine Lagarde on global monetary policy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres on political affairs affecting the region, and Bill Gates on sustainable future development. Of course we were following the topic of financial inclusion, and the action that got underway made it a week worth noting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the financial inclusion happenings at Davos.

In the “Inclusive Growth in a Digital Age” session held on Wednesday, a panel, which included MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, considered how our age of digitization can confront income and wealth inequality, support investments in education and work-based training, and address vulnerable employment. Among the points of discussion was mobile phone penetration leveraged for financial services access. A full video recording of the session is available, here.

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> 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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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.

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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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