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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Rwanda has a lot to celebrate in terms of financial inclusion these days. Last week in Kigali the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) hosted a conference in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) commemorating their 50-year anniversary. At the event, titled Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, NBR Governor John Rwangombwa highlighted the country’s recent rise in access levels, from 48 to 72 percent between 2008 and 2012 across formal and informal providers. Rwanda now has the laudable goal of increasing this figure to 90 percent by 2020. To help it get there, on Friday the World Bank launched a $2.25 million program supporting key financial inclusion areas for the country.

Along with overall exclusion rates dropping from 52 to 28 percent over 2008 to 2012, formal services access increased from 21 to 42 percent during the same period, according to the 2012 FinScope Rwanda Survey. The new government goal of 90 percent access by 2020 is an extension of the country’s Maya Declaration Commitment of 80 percent access by 2017. Rwanda’s growth in formal access can be attributed to products offered by both banks and non-bank providers, like the country’s community savings and credit cooperatives known as Umurenge SACCOs. Over the past three years, Umurenge SACCOs have attracted over 1.6 million customers. Ninety percent of Rwandans live within a 5 km radius of one of the cooperatives. Countrywide, the number of MFIs, including Umurenge SACCOs, increased from 125 to 491 between 2008 and December 2013. Elsewhere in the sector, over the last three years, the number of banks increased from 10 to 14, the number of insurance companies increased from 9 to 13, and the number of pension providers increased from 41 to 56.

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> Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

A year ago today, I lost a nephew, John Gachoka. He was 33 years old. As it is our tradition, my family met to make burial arrangements. We drew a tentative funeral budget of $1,870 all expenses inclusive.

John worked in a factory earning a salary of $94 a month ($3 a day). He lived with his family of four (wife and three small children, eldest aged 8) in a single room in a low-income neighborhood, rented for $10.58 a month. He belonged to the bottom of the pyramid.

Characteristic of the warmth that pervades people at the BoP, John’s colleagues joined his neighbors and they drew up a parallel funeral budget in consultation with John’s widow. We, as the larger family, were not aware of another budget until the third day when we joined the colleagues and neighbors meeting. It was time to develop one concrete program.

The chairperson of that committee gave me the budget they had drawn. It read a total of $635, all inclusive expenses, morgue to grave. The budget had all the components we as a family had listed, except that the figures were lower. For example, we had a budget of $295 for the coffin. Their budget for the same was $175. We had a food budget of $300 while theirs was $115. Correctly, they had a similar estimated attendance of 200 people, as we had.

This being a financial inclusion blog space, you must be wondering where a funeral comes in. Please bear with me. There is a grave financial management lesson herein.

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> Posted by Jamie M. Zimmerman, Senior Policy Consultant, CGAP

Achieving financial inclusion by 2020 will depend in large part on the proliferation of fast, affordable, and accessible digital financial services (DFS). Indeed these effective, scalable models were a clear theme at the FI2020 Global Forum hosted by CFI last fall. Yet as excitement for DFS dominated much of the public discussion, a small and diverse set of financial inclusion leaders convened a private side-meeting to discuss an often-overlooked question: what are the consumer risks to these new, innovative digital models?

The meeting, co-hosted by CGAP and UNCDF’s Better Than Cash Alliance, introduced the concept of “responsible digital finance” and revealed heightened awareness of and interest in an array of issues related to the potential consumer risks of digital financial services, including:
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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts on how to effectively deploy new technologies to the base of the pyramid, the increasing prominence of mobile savings and credit services, and the growing potential for impact investing in microinsurance.

How can innovative technologies be distributed and adopted at scale in the last mile? Tomohiro Hamakawa of Kopernik addresses this question in a new post on Next Billion. Drawing from a recent Kopernik report, Hamakawa expounds on five key factors to serve as guiding principles in the roll-out of empowering technologies to the BoP: activating a local network of trust; lowering financial barriers; riding the technology adoption wave; focusing on tangible benefits; and staying engaged, showing commitment.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 40 percent of families live in houses to which they have no title or that lack sewage systems, water, electricity, or proper building materials, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). However, current annual investments in living solutions by the base of the pyramid in LAC total $56.7 billion, confirming the increasing buying power of this segment and the growing opportunity in developing housing finance business models.

A few weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the IDB to launch the report Many Paths to a Home: Emerging Business Models for Latin America and the Caribbean’s Base of the Pyramid. The report was written by Christy Stickney for the Opportunities for the Majority Initiative (OMJ), a part of the Private Sector Group of the Inter-American Development Bank. OMJ provides finance to small, medium-sized, and large companies, as well as financial institutions and funds to support the development and expansion of business models that serve BoP markets.

The report analyses cases within OMJ’s housing portfolio in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. Stickney found  two main housing solutions for the BoP, a “complete” housing solution and an “incremental” housing solution.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have illegally entered the United States, mostly through the Rio Grande Valley. Until the justice system processes their cases, they’re being held in miserably overcrowded border detention centers, military bases, and other facilities in Texas and elsewhere.

All kinds of reasons are given for this exodus – gang violence, lack of economic opportunity, the perception that under a “liberal president” amnesty will be granted. The policy wonks and talking heads can debate the causes of this humanitarian crisis and assign blame to their hearts’ content. And of course, we have to “study” the situation and make sure that if we allow some of these frightened minors to join family members in the United States, this doesn’t incentivize other youth to risk life and limb to set off on a dangerous journey from their homelands to reach the United States.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Somalia is facing another potentially life-threatening drought. Aid agencies in East Africa indicate a strong possibility that drought in 2014 will be as severe as that of 2011, which resulted in the deaths of about 260,000 people. But this year, Somalia’s people may not be able to count on a trusted lifeline in times of drought: remittances from the United States and other countries. Remittances from the United States to Somalia are responsible for roughly $214 million annually, but increasingly, U.S. regulators are imposing a string of service provider shutdowns. If these services are constrained, the effects of a drought on Somalis will likely be exacerbated.

The reason for this challenge for cash flows between friends and family across the Somali diaspora? Regulatory issues centering on the risk of these remittances funding potentially dangerous individuals. In 2011, for example, two Somali-Americans from Rochester, Minnesota were convicted of supplying cash to the terrorist group al-Shabab. Such incidents prompt often sweeping regulatory action and/or preemptive actions by banks to avoid transactions involving Somalia.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI), Citi Foundation, and CFI released the latest Microfinance Banana Skins Report, Facing Reality. The first Microfinance Banana Skins was published in 2008, launching a regular series on risks facing the microfinance industry. This fifth iteration in the series reflects the growing complexity of microfinance as newer players such as technology companies, payment platforms, commercial banks, and others begin to serve those at the base of the pyramid. The new report outlines the risks and opportunities facing microfinance in a fast-changing environment.

Despite these challenges, the number one concern is still an old favorite: overindebtedness, which was also the number one concern in the previous report in 2012.

The report presents the risk perceptions of more than 300 practitioners and close industry observers from 70 countries, gathered through a survey. The report provides a commentary on each of the 19 risks that are identified in the survey and breaks down responses by type and region. It also includes a detailed analysis of the condition and prospects for microfinance by industry experts Sam Mendelson and Daniel Rozas.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Since launching microfinance activities in 1974, BRAC has grown to become one of the world’s largest financial services providers to the poor. BRAC’s microfinance operations, which include loans and savings, serve more than 5 million clients in eight countries. In 2012, BRAC started a financial education and client protection project that aims to help clients adopt financial behaviors that facilitate their well-being. Shameran Abed, Director of the BRAC Microfinance program, recently spoke with me to discuss BRAC’s work. Prior to joining BRAC, Abed served as an editorial writer at one of Bangladesh’s main English-language daily newspapers where he wrote primarily on politics. He also serves on the Board of Directors of bKash, a mobile financial services platform in Bangladesh.   

Eric: Can you talk about BRAC’s client protection work and what you learned from your project pilots in 2012 and 2013?

Shameran: We wanted to make sure that any clients coming into the BRAC microfinance program could be very well catered to. They should understand what our products are, what our terms are, what our rates are, and they should make an educated decision on whether they want to take our products. And if they do become our members then they should be treated well, treated with respect, and have access to information. I’m not saying that BRAC didn’t have all these things before two or three years ago, but we really wanted to double-down our efforts on these fronts. So that’s why we decided to do more work around client protection, client customer service, and financial education.

Eric: What do you think are the biggest risks facing microfinance clients?

Shameran: From a financial point of view, there are two or three risks that we’re particularly concerned about. One, of course, is something that’s been talked about a lot, the risk of overindebtedness. Bangladesh, although quite a mature microfinance market, is, in terms of overindebtedness, thankfully still quite low. But still I think overindebtedness is something that you always guard against because there is a lot of demand for credit and if microfinance institutions are not careful they can always have issues around overindebtedness of borrowers.

There are a lot of financial institutions nowadays that are kind of fly-by-night institutions that set up shop… Institutions that are typically unregulated. They come in, they offer products, they lure in clients, and then they disappear. I think around these issues the clients need more awareness, and these are some of the things our financial education components try to address.

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> Posted by Verónica Trujillo Tejada, Consultant, MIF/ Inter-American Development Bank

Building up a regulatory framework for the development of a microfinance market is a complex task. It requires taking into account a broad variety of topics as well as country specific needs and features. There are some internationally-applicable recommendations for the design of microfinance regulatory frameworks (CGAP 2012, ASBA 2010, and Basel 2010) but little is known about how different countries have implemented their guidelines or what the effects are of these rules in each market.

In the recently released paper “Microfinance Regulation and Market Development in Latin America,” published by the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, we analyze the relationship between microfinance regulatory frameworks in 17 Latin American countries and the corresponding markets’ levels of development.

One way to characterize microfinance regulations is as either general or specific rules. The general rules are devoted to regulating typical financial system issues, while the specific rules target microfinance products or institutions. Two other regulation classifications are protection rules and promotion rules. Protection rules have the goal of preserving financial system stability or protecting the financial consumer, and promotion rules aim to favor the development of microfinance services or institutions by softening the restrictiveness of the overall regulatory framework.

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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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