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> Posted by Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace & Associates
This week I received my self-addressed postcard from the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum reminding me of my personal commitment to help ensure the safety of consumers’ savings and rights as they join the financial system. My first reaction was how slow the post is, but on deeper reflection I recognized that the postcard arrived just at a time when I needed a reminder of my commitment.
In addition to the new connections made at the Global Forum, two comments stood out for me; one was rooted in the past and the other in the future.
Remembering the Past
When Michel Khalaf from MetLife described the company’s roots as an insurer for the working class and the legions of agents who went door-to-door collecting weekly premiums of $.05 or $.10 and dispensing financial advice, I instantly understood something important about my grandfather. Until then, I had just thought of him as a MetLife agent in the steel belt towns of the northeastern U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. He left school at age nine to help the family make ends meet when his own father prematurely passed away. He first worked shoulder-to-shoulder in the coal mines with many other immigrants. His math skills and ability to work across ethnic groups enabled him to leave the mines and become a top agent for MetLife. He knew firsthand how dangerous the mining work was and how a temporary or permanent injury could be a huge setback for these vulnerable families. Once the Great Depression hit and people could not access their deposits in banks, many of his clients turned to my grandfather for financial help. He had some liquidity and became a de facto deposit insurer, paying people what he could and in the process becoming a larger creditor of the illiquid banks.
Anticipating the Future
While Michel Khalaf’s comments helped me piece together my own family history, what stood out more was the collective prediction by attendees in London that the most important story in the next five years will be the presence of a “bank run” on mobile money.
> Posted by Center Staff
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but last week, the CFI Blog published its 1,000th blog post. We started this blog in September 2008 in conjunction with the Center’s launch, as a forum for discussion, analysis, and even debate on the many issues facing financial inclusion. A lot has changed since 2008. The past few years have seen a shift in focus toward wider financial inclusion, moving beyond microcredit to include services such as savings and insurance. Technology, through mobile banking, big data, and other developments has made greatly expanded access to financial services. Client protection has become more firmly embedded into the microfinance industry. And yet, the quality of services and effective regulation continue to be as important as ever before. Going through our archives, you can see these shifts before your eyes. As this blog goes on, in addition to being a platform for sharing the latest developments and insight, it has become a historical record of how the microfinance industry has developed and changed.
This blog couldn’t be successful without the input of our many guest bloggers over the years who have leant their insight and expertise. If you ask us, it’s this range of outside expertise that makes this blog successful. We thank all of you who have written for us over the years and all of you who have shared your thoughts by commenting on our posts (5,557 comments and counting!).
Feel free to browse through our posts throughout the years via the “Archives” drop-down menu on the left-hand side. Here’s to the next 1,000!…
All-time most-read blog posts:
5 Great Books About Microfinance and How the Poor Use Money (August 23, 2011) by Yvonne Chen
5 Countries Where Microfinance Works (February 18, 2011)
Nicaraguan Microfinance in Crisis (November 5, 2009) by Sergio Guzmán
Interest Rates 101: APR vs. EIR (June 8, 2010) by Courtney Piper
Microfinance vs. Financial Inclusion: What’s the Difference? (February 27, 2013) by Susy Cheston and Larry Reed
> Posted by Calum Scott, Program Impact Director, Opportunity International
As a network of 40 microfinance institutions in 22 countries, Opportunity International is well positioned to play a powerful role in supporting the positive development of the microfinance industry. For client protection, we believe that the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification represents the highest standard of assurance that an institution’s practices are responsible.
To promote client protection and certification among our network, we’ve engaged the support of MicroFinanza Rating – a specialized microfinance rating agency and one of the Smart Campaign’s licensed certifiers.
The agreement with MicroFinanza will facilitate our network partners to undergo certification missions, and promote the sharing of lessons learned from certification experiences across our network of institutions. This agreement also demonstrates our confidence in the quality of the work that MicroFinanza does.
> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign
Over 165 investors and donors have endorsed the Smart Campaign and the Client Protection Principles. But our Campaign staff wanted to dig deeper: what does this support mean in practice? Are investors using the Client Protection Principles in their everyday work? How? Earlier this year, we embarked on a project to find out.
The Campaign worked with three Virtual Volunteers from Credit Suisse - Lloyd Yetton, Meha Jain, and Nicolas Vucekovic – to create a short survey aimed at understanding how investors incorporate client protection into their due diligence, post-investment monitoring, and reporting. The virtual volunteers spoke with representatives from 12 of the leading microfinance investors.¹ The findings, highlighted below, will help the Campaign shape its engagement with this pivotal stakeholder group.
Client Protection Universally Important But Not Uniformly Applied
All the investors interviewed stated that client protection was important to them from both a social perspective and for their bottom line. Most had seen first-hand the positive influence from strong client protection practices as well as the problems and instability that sprang up in their absence. Such universal recognition is an encouraging step forward from earlier days of the Campaign. In addition to understanding the importance of client protection, nearly all respondents said that client protection was already explicitly incorporated into due diligence. Investors are indeed scrutinizing a microfinance institution’s client protection practices before investing in it.
> Posted by Alyssa Passarelli, Communications and Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign
The findings in the Study of Client Protection Practices in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a new report from the Smart Campaign, are intended to help microfinance stakeholders reflect on the current state of practice among institutions in LAC and on how performance gaps can be addressed.
Over the past two years, the Smart Campaign conducted a study on the client protection practices of twelve Latin American microfinance institutions, examining their implementation of the Client Protection Principles. The study looked at an assortment of organizations such as NGOs, banks, and credit unions in different countries, analyzing their client protection performance from the point of view of practitioners, and offering recommendations to improve their client protection practices.
Overall, the MFIs studied in the report performed well in the principles of Preventing Over-Indebtedness, Responsible Pricing, and Ethical Staff Behavior, but there was (sometimes significant) room for improvement in the principles of Transparency, Appropriate Collections, and Mechanisms for Complaint Resolution. The report revealed that client protection performance is not easily generalized, and that it’s often essential that particular client protection areas be improved if clients are to be served responsibly.
Kate McKee, Senior Advisor at CGAP, reflects on key issues raised during the FI2020 Global Forum’s panel discussion on ‘Why Financial Inclusion is More Important Than We Ever Knew,’ ending with an exciting prediction market from the panelists.
In this panel, which began with an emphasis on behavioral economics opened by Sendhil Mullainathan, co-author of the recently-published book Scarcity (reviewed on this blog by CFI’s Sonja Kelly here), who focused on how the reality of scarcity translates into a “bandwidth tax” on people who constantly live in poverty. Research by Sendhil and others has documented how the constant worry and distraction of living with too little – what Sendhil and his co-author Eldar Shafir refer to as “tunneling,” with its intense focus on making ends meet day-to-day – ultimately, affects poor people’s ability to make good decisions. Basically, this growing body of research shows that when people are in a situation of scarcity, they are not as smart, not as able to resist temptation, and are less likely to be able to make and stick to a plan, as compared to themselves in a time of less scarcity.
This scarcity framework and evidence has potentially powerful consequences for financial inclusion. The panel that followed focused on how scarcity, the bandwidth tax, and tunneling affect the relevance, uptake, and usage of financial services by lower-income people. Tine Wollebekk (Vice President of Telenor Financial Services and Board Chair of Tameer Microfinance Bank, the sponsor of Easypaisa in Pakistan) and Kamal Quadir (Managing Director of bKash in Bangladesh) reflected on the experience of these two fast-growing mobile money service deployments, including insights about customers’ underlying demands and how the mobile wallets and other services are designed to meet them, how to make the offerings intuitive and simple, and how to earn trust from customers new to formal finance. Bill Gajda (Global Head of Strategic Partnerships, Visa) rounded out the panel by bringing in findings from deep consumer research that Visa has supported in additional developing countries, as well as experience with different business models and customer interfaces including cards.
Entry products need to be ‘in the tunnel’
One of the key insights was that the entry product needs to meet a really immediate need. It needs to be ‘in the tunnel’ of what the customer is focused on to meet their day-to-day needs. Obviously mobile telephony is firmly in the tunnel virtually everywhere in the developing world. Person-to-person money transfer has also passed the “tunnel test” of rapid uptake in an increasing number of markets – Kamal noted that he felt the company had reached an important tipping point when “bKash” had become a verb commonly used across Bangladesh. Tine made the point of needing excellent execution and recruiting the right kind of agents that customers will trust, in order for customers not to have extraneous worries that would prevent them from really being able to make decisions.
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
The following post was originally published on the World Bank Private Sector Development Blog.
The issue of financial inclusion seems to be everywhere – from the World Bank Annual Meetings to the new UN post-2015 development goals. It’s got buzz in the private sector, public sector and development organizations big and small. Policymakers are increasingly making financial inclusion a priority through specific financial inclusion targets and commitments, such as the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Maya Declaration. In fact, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim recently launched an initiative “to provide universal financial access to all working-age adults by 2020.”
As we know from the Global Findex, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to even a basic bank account — a huge gap in inclusion and an enormous opportunity. Demographic changes, economic growth, and advances in technology are making global financial inclusion more possible than ever before. With a massive new market of people demanding new services as incomes rise among the bottom 40 percent, the stage is set for dramatic leaps in access in the next few years. Emerging technologies are bringing down costs and opening new business models while providing greater access to a range of services.
Recognizing that the time is ripe for significant progress on financial inclusion, the Center for Financial Inclusion developed a consultative process aimed to raise everyone’s sights about the possibilities of achieving full inclusion within a foreseeable timeframe – using the year 2020 as a focal point. The process sought to build a more cohesive financial inclusion “community” through the development of a common vision. It brought together experts from the World Bank, IFC, and CGAP along with many representatives of the private sector and the social sector. Financial Inclusion 2020’s Roadmap to Financial Inclusion is the result.
With all of the financial inclusion buzz, you would think that we would be closer to full inclusion. But if closing the gaps were easy, it would have happened already. Many factors still stand in the way. In the case of regulatory accommodation to new technology, for example, the gaps result from such factors as the pace of the spread of know-how among policymakers globally, national legislative and political processes, and uncertainty about the risks involved with new models. In the case of fully addressing the needs of customers at the base of the pyramid (BOP), gaps stem from a combination of doubt among providers about the likely profitability of these customers and limited knowledge inside institutions about the financial lives of the poor. In the case of client protection, providers face perverse incentives, while many regulatory bodies are only beginning the major task of establishing robust oversight of market conduct.
We see encouraging examples of financial inclusion in the most remote corners of the world, often done by surprising actors. However, the momentum is uneven. The Roadmap process included many of the thinkers and entrepreneurs behind such initiatives. Each of the five working groups — Addressing Customer Needs, Technology, Financial Capability, Client Protection and Credit Reporting — has developed a roadmap to direct the world community toward the actions most needed to achieve FI2020’s vision of full financial inclusion. Most of the recommendations are addressed either to governments or to providers, but they point the way to actions needed by a range of supporting organizations, including multilateral and bilateral organizations, donors, social investors and non-profits, at both the global and the national levels.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
The following post is comprised of research from three Credit Suisse Virtual Volunteers, Vipin Gupta, Kajal Shah, and Jennifer Hughes.
Most persons with disabilities (PWDs) don’t have an account at a formal financial institution. In India, 5 – 6 percent of the population (roughly 66 million) are estimated to have a disability, and three-quarters of Indian PWDs live in rural areas where access to banking services is limited. In India on the whole, about 35 percent of the adult population has a formal bank account. In Mexico, about 10 percent of households have at least one member with a disability, and about 27 percent of the country’s adult population has an account at a formal financial institution. These two countries present huge financial inclusion opportunities for PWDs. Encouragingly, significant PWD inclusion in-roads in both are underway.
In India, low financial inclusion incidence among PWDs is connected with poverty and unemployment. A meager 0.14 percent of PWDs in India hold regular jobs. This employment statistic stands in spite of efforts from the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) mandating that 3 percent of government jobs be reserved for PWDs, and incentivizing private employers to ensure that at least 5 percent of their workforce is comprised of PWDs. The same low fulfillment of positions reserved for PWDs has been seen in several of the government’s rural employment schemes. In a study examining labor-intensive agricultural occupations in India, it was found that the majority of PWDs were not chosen by potential employers, and that PWDs in rural areas mostly depend on non-agriculture-based-self-employment as a means of livelihood. For these individuals and others pursuing self-employment, a lack of adequate capital can be a critical roadblock to earning a livelihood.
There are a multitude of factors contributing to this situation, including low education (only half of Indian PWDs have any formal education), inability to afford health treatments, un-inclusive employment settings, un-inclusive surroundings, prejudice against PWDs, lack of awareness of support programs and other resources, and geographic remoteness to banking, education, employment, training, and rehabilitation facilities. Nearly any of these factors are enough to pose large, or in some cases insurmountable, challenges to accessing formal financial services. When combined, the task of accessing traditional avenues of financing can be overwhelming. For many PWDs, the only viable source of financing is money from friends and family, but in lower-income rural areas even that is difficult to come by.
Other challenges that stand in the way of greater inclusion of PWDs in India include lack of a standardized method for defining and evaluating disability, and lack of up-to-date data.
> Posted by Hemang Mandalia, Software Engineer, Investment Banking, Credit Suisse
The Financial Inclusion 2020 project at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”
This is the third in a series of several posts from this year’s Credit Suisse Virtual Volunteers, where research and insights across a variety of financial inclusion areas will be shared.
This brief tale begins with an investment scheme from a corporation called Sahara that claimed to seek “financial inclusion” through investments from the unbanked, but at the same time sought regulatory exclusion for its practices. Sahara provided investment opportunities to the rural nooks and corners of India that were overlooked by most major banks – but it is alleged to have falsified records and subverted Indian regulations.
Sahara India Pariwar is an enormous Indian conglomerate with headquarters in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Its diversified business has interests in finance, infrastructure and housing, media, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, and information technology. Sahara has also been the main sponsor of the Indian national cricket team for several years, cricket being so popular it is often referred to as a religion. The link to cricket has helped Sahara establish itself as a household name.
Sahara’s financial services companies are said to have 100 million depositors and investors in villages and small towns, often from rural unbanked areas. As for the group’s investment products, Subrata Roy Sahara, chairman of Sahara, indicates they serve small investors who are outside the banking system.