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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

I recently attended the annual meeting of the Microfinance Network (MFN), which was hosted by the Alexandria Business Association in Alexandria, Egypt. MFN is a global network of some of the largest and leading microfinance institutions, and its annual meeting has long been known for candid and in-depth sharing of experience among the leaders of these institutions, as this post demonstrates.

Ask a microfinance CEO what’s making his or her life hard these days, and the answer is likely to be politics.

That’s hardly surprising when the speaker is Motaz Tabaa, CEO of the Alexandria Business Association (ABA), one of the largest microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Egypt. On January 28, 2011, when the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo held the world’s attention and led to the resignation of then-President Mubarak, it became impossible for ABA to operate. But before the week was over, staff were back on the streets, collecting and disbursing loans, and sleeping at the office to guard the cash that couldn’t be deposited in banks, which remained still closed.

Nearly every MFI in the group had a similar encounter with crisis – consider the political violence (and/or natural disaster) that has touched Uganda, Nigeria, Armenia, Mexico, Haiti, and Bangladesh in recent years. Today, Al Majmoua in Lebanon and Tamweelcom in Jordan are overwhelmed with the attempt to serve the Syrian refugees that have crossed their borders. The CEOs who have experienced such upheaval agreed about the role of MFIs in responding quickly to help clients obtain cash, keep their businesses open, and then rebuild. Given how prevalent political and natural crises are, organizations have developed protocols for responding quickly. Even while we met, Enrique Majos of Compartamos received news of a tornado in Mexico, and sent the Compartamos natural disaster team into action.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Hot off the press! We published the third issue of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our new weekly online magazine on the big news in financial inclusion. What’s been happening in the world of banking the unbanked?

Among its stories, the new issue of the FI2020 News Feed spotlights the following:

  • The State Bank of Pakistan ordered all commercial banks in the country to create a new account category, Asaan Account, which targets the base of the pyramid by simplifying account opening requirements
  • Mybank, a new online bank in China, was launched by Ant Financial, utilizing transaction records on Alibaba to extend credit to individuals and small businesses
  • In Tanzania, agent and mobile phone-based banking continues to grow steadily in both the volume and value of transactions

For more details on these and other stories, read the third issue here, and make sure to subscribe 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 us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Center Staff

Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, recently sat down with Susy Cheston, senior advisor to FI2020, and Anton Simanowitz, co-author of the new book The Business of Doing Good, to discuss how organizations can do good work and turn a profit, particularly in the microfinance sector.

In exploring this question, Simanowitz draws on key insights from the new book, in which he and co-author Katherine Knotts studied the success of AMK, a social enterprise which has touched the lives of millions of people living in poverty in rural Cambodia. This study revealed six powerful strategies to improve business to do good:

  1. Don’t just offer products; respond to client needs
  2. Ask good questions and have good conversations
  3. Do what it says on the tin
  4. Motivate staff to do difficult work in an excellent way
  5. Own the dirt road
  6. Adapt to the changing landscape

Find out more about the thinking behind these insights, here.

In the latter half of the book, the authors explore the disconnect between theory and practice and the resulting implications for client value. AMK’s success is largely attributed to its recognition of the distinction between client wants and client needs, which are rooted in the meaningful conversations the organization has with its clients. The authors observe, through their exploration of AMK, that vision is ensured only when it follows intent, instead of being constrained by conventional wisdom.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

My proudest moments as a parent are when my 2-year-old son finds change lying around the house and runs excitedly to put it in his piggybank. We never consciously did anything to encourage this behavior. I like to think it is due to some small part of my DNA shining through.

The recent CFI and HelpAge report, Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity, highlights that most people expect to use accumulated savings and assets to fund their retirement, but in reality end up relying primarily on support from family, friends, and the government.

I’ve blogged in the past about how much trouble people have with saving. And it seems financial intuitions for their part use every imaginable mechanism to make it easy (pension contributions at 7/11, behavioral nudges for opting employees into retirement plans), fun (prize-linked savings, lotteries, and games), or obligatory (compulsory savings as a loan requirement) for their clients to save.

I have always believed that the ability to save is a key piece of financial security, and that building the financial capability to save at a young age has a profound impact on financial security throughout a person’s life, even into the retirement years. Recent research undertaken by CFED to “deepen our understanding of youth financial capability and explore the behaviors, types of knowledge and personality characteristics that help children and youth achieve financial well-being in adulthood” supports that belief. The research included an extensive literature review of consumer science, developmental psychology, and related fields to explore the factors that comprise youth financial capability, as well as how and when these abilities are developed.

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PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. The following is part one.

Recently, a number of players have flaunted an impressive array of promising digital technologies to expand credit access, advertising nothing less than a full on revolution in financial inclusion. While the promise of many of these solutions is inarguable, in most cases they are limited to lower-value, higher-interest consumption loans at best, or, at worst, are at risk of being useless as they suffer from the classic error of putting the cart before the horse. The principle limitation on these solutions is a lack of access to sufficient quantities of regularly reported, high-quality, predictive data upon which to base credit decisions and develop credit products.

Consider the case of Safaricom, which revolutionized the payment systems market in Kenya with its M-Pesa offering. The rapid uptake of M-Pesa by lower-income Kenyans was proof positive of the value of digital financial services and spawned a wave of investment into hundreds of copycat service providers around the world.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

What financial inclusion stakeholders believe is most important in advancing client protection

Regulators take the lead in advancing client protection in financial services, we’ve heard.  Providers “merely comply.”

If you are of the view that providers can, and should, take a leading role in client protection, then the results of a recent survey conducted by the Aspen Institute are discouraging.  The survey, carried out on behalf of the Smart Campaign as part of its strategic planning, took a look at the three-legged stool of client protection—providers, regulators, and consumers—and asked which element was the most important.  Of the financial inclusion stakeholders who were interviewed, only 24 percent said that provider-led initiatives were the most important element in client protection.  By comparison, 39 percent thought regulation and governance were the most important, and 37 percent put their faith in consumer awareness and activism.

I disagree!  We believe action from the financial services providers themselves is a vital missing link.  But what is holding them back?  In a consultative process carried out by the Financial Inclusion 2020 project over the past year, here are the top six reasons we heard for providers not taking the lead in consumer protection. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Sonja Kelly, CFI, and Thierry van Bastelaer, Abt Associates, American University, and the Microinsurance Network

Even 10 years ago, most of us would never have thought that the words “insurance” and “low-income households in the developing world” would be heard in the same sentence. It would have been as strange as, say, hearing the words “really good coffee” and “Washington, D.C.” in the same sentence.

But times have changed. Thanks to tremendous innovation in product design, pricing, and distribution systems, insurance is increasingly affordable to low-income households that are looking for ways to protect themselves from daily risky events. We should take a few moments to stop and celebrate this development. (Pause for celebration.) Thank you.

At the same time, we should learn from the history of the broader financial inclusion field. It took many years for the majority of the field to admit that credit alone can’t meet all the financial needs of poor families. Hopefully the excitement over insurance will not similarly delay the realization that it alone can’t address all the financial protection needs of these families. A great variety of financial products is needed to address an even greater diversity of needs.

So, over a cup of really good coffee one afternoon in Washington, D.C., we sketched out a possible framework that articulates where insurance fits into the product spectrum for financial risk protection vis-a-vis savings and loans.¹

We thought of risk protection expenses along two axes: frequency and size, and plotted expenses on a 2×2 table (forgive our back-of-the-napkin scribble).

Financially inclusive products are best designed to finance risk management expenses in the top left and bottom right quadrants of the graph. High-frequency inexpensive outlays can, when accumulating over time, significantly disrupt the cash flows of low-income families. Similarly, low-frequency expensive payments can ruin years of carefully planned asset accumulation. Low-frequency and inexpensive events (bottom left) can usually be covered by cash, and high-frequency expensive events (top right) are usually beyond the reach of most financial inclusion products.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Can you confidently speak to the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities (PwDs)? How about the proportion of PwDs that live below the poverty line? …The prevalence of disabilities?

The financial and economic hardships of PwDs don’t get much mainstream attention. You, if you’re like most, don’t know that in the United States, for example, about one-fifth of the population (roughly 60 million) has a disability, PwDs are twice as likely to use informal financial services like payday lenders and check cashers, the unemployment rate for PwDs is more than double the national average, and about one-third of adult PwDs live in poverty. These statistics are severe. Not to mention, current demographic shifts will result in larger older adult populations and position the incidence of disability, and the magnitude of these unmet inclusion needs, to grow.

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a mainstream U.S. financial player, announced an initiative that will work in concert with financial empowerment and disability organizations to tackle these pressing issues.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Today, in 2070, with advanced robotization of jobs in all sectors, “work” has become a minority pursuit and financial inclusion is mostly understood to mean government cash transfers. Other financial products like loans are anachronisms of a bygone era. The government knows that such transfer programs like “unemployment benefits” are the only way to keep the anemic engine of demand alive for the goods and services that are now produced by a smaller and smaller sliver of the population who live in Byzantine splendor far removed from the humdrum circumstances of the vast majority. (Indeed in 2070, “unemployment” is a forgotten term from an era when “work” was a defining feature of life.) And the lack of work extends to what is today called “knowledge economy” occupations as well as almost every other category of white and blue collar work. Now, all humans enjoy a pension plan that goes into effect at birth and is more than enough to meet basic consumption needs. The benefit ends only with death by lethal injection at the mandatory termination age of 120.

Am I painting a scenario that seems wildly implausible? Perhaps.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Blog posts. Twitter feeds. Facebook updates. Email listservs. Google Alerts. Lunchtime conversations… We all have our ways, however handy and effective, of trying to stay abreast of what’s happening around the world. For those interested in financial inclusion, this is quite the challenge. The release of new products, partnerships, publications, and policies is a constant. But at CFI’s Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) project, combing the world for the latest inclusion insights, trends, and developments is part of what we do. So, we decided to go one step further.

Starting today, each week the FI2020 team will bring you the big news in financial inclusion in an online magazine, the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed. We’ll pull from all over to spotlight great new stories, initiatives, videos, podcasts, and more. To give you a sense, the collection of pieces that make up this week’s edition touch on:

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s new report on U.S. households’ financial resilience, Weathering Volatility
  • AllAfrica’s recent article on the new partnership between Tigo and Juntos in Tanzania
  • The Guardian’s interactive post that visualizes borrowing trends globally
  • A World Bank video on assessing if microloans really make a difference

To check out the first edition, click here, and make sure to subscribe 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 us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

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Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed

In an effort to become the first stop for people interested in all matters regarding financial inclusion, each week the FI2020 team at CFI highlights compelling stories and content from across the web. Click here to visit the news feed.

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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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