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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI
Last week in Mexico City, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to voice their hope for a better Mexico. In a hotel that overlooked the demonstration, members of the World Savings Bank Institute met to talk about how to make a safer and more effective financial system for those at the base of the pyramid. In terms of inclusive finance, in recent months we’ve seen significant progress. During the meeting, Vice President of the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) in Mexico, Bernardo Gonzalez, opened his remarks by putting up a list of the top 10 countries in this year’s Global Microscope. Modestly, he pointed out that five of the 10 were from Latin America. Perhaps more emphatically, he highlighted Mexico’s place—fifth on the list.
As a regulator, he should be proud. Mexico’s score this year is in part a reflection of the regulatory reforms that the country has been moving forward, with attention to customers at the base of the economic pyramid. While Mexico’s microfinance sector has been under scrutiny in recent years because of notoriously high interest rates, concerns of over-indebtedness, and commercial banks hesitant to go “down-market”, a new set of microfinance regulations attempts to change things.
> Posted by Lindsey Tiers, Communications and Operations, the Smart Campaign
As successful business leaders know, regular evaluation is vital to ensure that improvements are made and growth continues. Here at the Smart Campaign, it is time to reflect on our impact and evaluate the Campaign’s global activities so that we continue to achieve the objective of embedding client protection into the fabric of the microfinance industry. For this reason, we are reaching out to all industry stakeholders for feedback via a short survey.
Launched in September of 2009, the Smart Campaign is already five years old. With over 4,200 endorsers—1,400 of which are financial institutions working to improve client protection practices—it’s clear the message is spreading, and support for keeping the industry on track is strong. Client Protection Certification, launched in January 2013, has already seen 24 financial institutions meet the requirements of adequate client protection. Across these institutions, over 8.7 million clients have access to quality services and treatment. In addition, dozens of other MFIs are in the pipeline working to become certified. With nearly 100 tools available in English, plus translations in Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic, the Smart Campaign website has become a valuable resource for any institution looking to improve client protection practices. The Client Protection Principles have even been incorporated into legislation and regulations for financial service providers in some countries – such as the Industry Code of Conduct in India.
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
In my breakout group at CFI’s workshop last week in Bogota, everyone talked at once. With eight voices coming at me, my brain’s very basic ability to understand Spanish shut down. The workshop participants were bursting with ideas they urgently wanted to express. But, as my colleague Sonja Kelly pointed out, a situation where everyone is speaking and no one is listening is an apt metaphor for the problem the workshop sought to address.
The workshop focused on the challenges in integrating insights from behavioral economics into the operations of financial institutions. Two organizations that leverage behavioral economics for product design, ideas42 and Innovations for Poverty Action, presented the research perspective. Closely connected with academics at Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Princeton, both organizations start from the research finding that a number of cognitive and emotional biases cause people to make decisions that depart from rationality, and that these biases can significantly affect the use of financial services. Ideas42 focuses on identifying features in product design and delivery that, while not overruling choice, nudge people in a desirable direction – features such as commitment savings accounts or reminder messages to encourage savings. IPA promotes the same kinds of nudges, but focuses on the testing of these innovations through randomized controlled trials.
> Posted by Stuart Rutherford and Paul Vander Meer
ROSCAs, or rotating savings and credit associations¹, have enjoyed good press lately in the United States. The New York Times just ran a story about ROSCA users in some states earning themselves formal credit scores; Kim Wilson at Tufts University tells of a New York banker who awarded an immigrant family a mortgage after reviewing their success in making ROSCA payments²; and the U.S. Financial Diaries research project notes that ROSCAs can be the “preferred” financial tool even for people using formal banks. eMoneyPool, based in Arizona, offers Americans the chance to join simplified online ROSCAs. There are online ROSCAs in India, too, and researchers from Ithaca College note that in India “ROSCAs remain strong despite greater financial inclusion.” Similar studies find the same in other developing countries and in this post we introduce the ROSCAs of Chulin, some of the best-structured ROSCAs on the planet.
The renewed interest in ROSCAs is welcome. They are arguably the world’s most elegant, most efficient, and most reliable informal financial device, capable, at their best, of transforming the economies of whole communities, as we show in this blog. After years of relative neglect from proponents of “financial inclusion,” why are they now getting the attention they deserve?
This is our second response to the provocative post two weeks ago from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.
“In other words, why is there such an inherent innovation deficit within the very commercial ventures that we think are going to drive financial inclusion forward? Do market players really need this very granular level of handholding to get what academics, NGOs, and donors so clearly believe in? …Or is the problem, rather, that there isn´t enough of a competitive push to drive them to want to innovate as a key source of market advantage?”
What follows is a response from Gerhard Coetzee, who leads the CGAP Customers at the Centre Team.
In considering the question posed by Ignacio Mas, I am reminded of the work of business strategist C.C. Markides. He did not see it as “the great competition and innovation deficit” question, but rather, the challenge of how large institutions make two business models exist in the same organization. In fact, the question is how to serve two distinct market segments in the same institution. He notes that the large industry players that develop new radical business models are exceptions rather than the rule. Most innovations and market changing models are introduced by newcomers to that industry.
Why don’t we see the large financial service providers (FSPs), who have the ability to change things at scale, jump into this area of the market and deliver solutions to low-income and poor customers even where regulation may enable them to engage? In essence the argument focuses on product centricity, incomplete business cases, an over-emphasis on the supplier view of cost to serve, short-termism of incentive structures, and competition for resources in large organizations. Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI
Last August, I visited Wilmington, North Carolina to roast a friend on his sixtieth birthday with every intention of not thinking about financial inclusion or my work. Pure escapism was the only agenda and my complete itinerary. But on driving from the Wilmington Airport to his seaside home, my senses were assaulted by a series of gaudy, often neon-signed pawn shops named with pizazz like “Picasso Pawn” and “Flash Cash Jewelry and Pawn.” My professional curiosity had been piqued and it was inevitable that before reaching the beach paradise I would be taking an unexpected detour from my vacation.
You see, where I live in Boston, pawn shops are a relative rarity, so I had to take advantage of this opportunity. (And I have never watched any of the cable TV shows on pawn – which may put me in the minority.) The next day, I stopped at Pawn South on Oleander Avenue, and the perky staff guy was more than happy to talk of the role pawns played in his community. He told me some basic facts about this regulated industry:
Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Michiel Sallaets, Communications Manager, Incofin Investment Management
To continue Sri Lanka’s development in its post-war, post-tsunami era, it’s essential that greater investments be made in the country’s agriculture sector and in its financial services for the base of the pyramid.
In Sri Lanka, about 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Agriculture is the main source of income for these people and many of them work at the smallholder level. Loans are necessary for farmers to adequately invest in seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other productive inputs. Loans can also prove instrumental in compensating for the occasional inadequate harvest. Yet, the proportion of people who have taken out loans in Sri Lanka in the past year is a dismal 9 percent. Only 22 percent of the population in the past year has saved in a financial institution.
This is our first in a series of responses to the provocative post last week from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.
“There are three things none of these digital players want to deal with – and never will. They do not want to get a banking license that embroils them in onerous regulation. They do not want to conduct primary identity checks on their customers (Know Your Customer, or KYC), which require physical customer contact. And they do not want to touch their customers’ cash.”
What follows is a response from Tahira Dosani and Vikas Raj of Accion’s Venture Lab, which invests in new fintech start-ups.
While it is true that much of the current innovation in digital financial services has been focused on higher-end consumer segments and less on financial inclusion, in our view this has not been a result only of digital players’ intentions. In fact, mainstream digital financial service companies’ difficulties in serving the financially excluded arise primarily from three key factors – cost, connectivity, and capability. Simply put, these customers are more expensive to acquire, harder to access, and require targeted products, pricing, and distribution. Customers that are banked, connected, and well-understood are the low-hanging fruit today, and that is why they are targeted by large players.
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
What are the most important unanswered questions in financial inclusion?
Last week I was fortunate to participate in the small, idea-packed Conference on Financial Inclusion at Harvard Business School, organized by Professor Rajiv Lal. The attendees were a high-level microcosm of the financial inclusion world, a sort of mini-Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum. A prime purpose of the gathering was to identify a potential research agenda.
Among the ideas emerging from very rich conversations, I identified three distinct areas of research: business questions that could be addressed through HBS’s famous case method; research focused on regulation; and social science research focused on consumers. Because what one says at HBS stays at HBS, I cannot identify who offered what idea, but here is a brief summary.
> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research and Evaluation Specialist, Freedom from Hunger
The day after the closing of the Microcredit Summit in Merida, Mexico, conference participants were also invited to join in a day-long discussion about integrating health with microfinance. Half of the day was spent discussing a set of health indicators that are currently being tested in India, Peru, and the Philippines as part of Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s Health and Microfinance Alliance. Alliance data from several participating institutions was presented, with the goal of the discussion to identify the most appropriate combination of indicators to track changes in client well-being over time and identify aspects of health that can be effectively addressed by financial service providers (FSPs).
The goal of these pilots is to provide the financial services industry with a set of standardized, comparable, relevant, and reliable health indicators that they can add to the existing poverty measurements they are using to assess the impacts of their services for clients. To be most effective, these indicators must also resonate for health sector actors to promote real, active collaboration and appreciation for our respective competencies in improving health outcomes.