You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Client Protection’ category.
> Posted by Center Staff
Last week Palestinian government officials announced plans to create a national financial inclusion strategy, an initiative that would put it on a short list of two countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that have nationwide, government-led inclusion plans (Morocco being the other).
The Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Palestine Capital Markets Authority (PCMA), the country’s central bank and a national regulating body will co-lead the project along with support from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) and other public and private groups.
The policies and guidelines of the strategy will aim to facilitate greater access, improve awareness and financial education, and reinforce client protection. An area inviting particular attention is access to credit, which is low for both individuals and SMSEs. The strategy will build on inclusion principles endorsed by the G20, World Bank, AFI, and the OECD Principles on National Strategy for Financial Education.
> Posted by Fernando Botelho, Founder, F123 Consulting
Microfinance institutions (MFIs) may not be aware of tools and resources at their disposal that can make it easier for them to work with persons with disabilities (PWDs) as clients or staff. A new tool launched a few weeks ago attempts to close this gap, “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Microfinance through Organizational Learning and the Strategic Use of Low-Cost Technologies.” This tool is part of the Framework for Disability Inclusion toolkit produced by CFI through work with Fundación Paraguaya and others.
The new tool provides concrete guidance for selecting appropriate technologies, forming partnerships with disability-related organizations, and incorporating disability inclusion throughout an organization. It was developed by myself and my organization, F123 Consulting, inspired by our work with the staff of Fundación Paraguaya, to make their organization more disability inclusive.
For example, free and open source assistive technologies can be used by organizations that have an interest in ensuring that operational and financial viability are maintained. In that regard, it’s important to take advantage of the many available low-cost, high performing technologies, and to adapt instead of replace existing processes whenever possible. Managers don’t have to roll their eyes and fret about cost. Small modifications to already existing systems can often make MFIs accessible to staff and clients with disabilities. And the best part is that some of these modifications are free!
> Posted by Laura Galindo and Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Associate and Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign
A few days ago a post on this blog detailed debt collections practices in the United States. The Smart Campaign, led by Jami Solli of Consumers International, is working to shed light on provider practices in microfinance through exploratory research in Peru, India, and Uganda.
Once a client becomes seriously delinquent and moves into default, the possibilities for serious consequences for the client arise. Yet little is known about how microfinance institutions treat clients at these later stages. What alternatives do providers offer to clients who are in protracted arrears? How are clients treated when they are defaulting on multiple loans? What do clients experience during this difficult and stressful stage? And after the default, are client debt obligations resolved? Is there a concerted effort to rehabilitate or re-include defaulters?
In September, the Smart Campaign kicked off a research project to explore what happens to clients who default. The project focuses on how microfinance practitioners treat defaulting clients. It is scanning for best practices around the world – like debt mediation projects in Europe and middle-income countries – and examining practices in detail through interviews with practitioners and regulators in Peru, India, and Uganda. Interviews were also conducted with credit bureaus, debt collections agencies, consumer advocacy/protection groups, and researchers specialized in those markets. These countries were chosen, in part, because of their variation in credit bureau infrastructure and the hypothesis that this would have significant impact on provider practices.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
Thirty million Americans are currently being pursued by debt collectors. During 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 180,000 complaints about the practices of these companies – a 13 percent increase over 2000 levels and more FTC complaints than from any other industry. Troublesome practices seem to only be limited by the imagination, but some of the more reported-on ones are incessant calling at all hours and issuing unsubstantiated, misleading threats. Today the U.S. debt collection industry stands at over 4,500 companies and $12 billion.
To make matters worse, many of those being pursued don’t even have the debt in question. About one-quarter of the collection-related complaints the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received last year were from individuals who were being wrongly pursued.
Debt collection happens, with some variation, in one of three ways: lenders carry out the collection in-house; third-party companies are hired and paid to complete the collection; or third-party companies buy a lender’s debt and independently complete the collection. In the latter case, collection companies buy individual’s debts from lenders for as low as a few cents for each dollar of debt and in return they receive a spreadsheet with basic information like names, phone numbers, and debt amounts. Collectors pocket the difference between what they paid to the lenders and the total they collect. It’s not uncommon for this spreadsheet information, intentionally or not, to be inaccurate or faulty. And even when a person is wrongly pursued, the consequences can be serious.
A popular debt collections practice brought to public attention in recent years thanks to legal suits centers on collectors taking debtors to court without their awareness (giving new meaning to the phrase blind judgment). Collections agents fail to serve a debtor a notice of complaint, produce a false affidavit claiming the individual has been properly served, and then proceed with a court hearing. The defendant, of course, does not attend, and so most often the debt collector wins the case and a default judgment is issued. (More than 95 percent of credit card lawsuits end in a default judgment, an automatic win for the collector or lender.) Such rulings could include the freezing of bank accounts, garnishing of wages, and they are very likely to reduce credit scores.
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
The following post was originally published on the IFMR Trust Blog.
The Mor Committee Report offers a radical take on client protection, built around the concept of a legal right to suitability. After describing the recommendations briefly, I would like to tell IFMR’s readership why I’m excited about the approach (two big cheers), provide some thoughts on how to make it work (and how the Smart Campaign could assist), and raise a couple of questions.
Suitability is about ensuring that clients are sold financial services that are appropriate for their circumstances. A suitable product is one the client can be expected to manage with a low probability of serious hardship and a reasonable prospect that it will provide value. The concept has been present for some time in financial consumer protection regulation, most notably in the UK and Australia. The Mor Report proposes a unique approach to implementing suitability, which places responsibility on the service provider to install processes to ensure that clients are sold suitable products, e.g., client targeting and underwriting procedures that adequately assess repayment capacity. Regulation would hold the board of directors responsible for approving and overseeing the implementation of these processes, subject to external review. Hand in hand with this, the report recommends an energetic grievance redress system (which I will not address here), including both internal and external mechanisms to cope with individual problems.
The first big cheer goes to the decision to focus on suitability as the heart of client protection. This directs attention exactly where the greatest potential for harm occurs. Overindebtedness, is perhaps the greatest failure of suitability, resulting from selling loans that exceed a client’s debt threshold. This is why the Smart Campaign places Appropriate Product Design and Delivery and Prevention of Overindebtedness as Client Protection Principles #1 and #2, even ahead of Transparency. Among all the standard client protection problems, only overselling of credit has repeatedly caused sector-wide crisis and collapse, and thus if there is to be a focal point, this is the right one. (The report discusses the relative merits of suitability vs. disclosure as the core of consumer protection policy, which raises both practical and philosophical issues – an engaging topic for another day’s post.)
> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI
Over the last two years, the Center for Financial Inclusion has worked to develop a series of tools and trainings (a how-to guide) for MFIs that have decided to become disability inclusive but don’t know how to do so.
Through our strategic partnership with Handicap International, Fundación Paraguaya, and the Smart Campaign, we have now completed a comprehensive toolkit. And today, we are pleased to announce that we are making these tools and trainings available to the industry in English, Spanish, and French on the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) page on the CFI website. Everything is open source and available to any MFI or other financial services provider that wishes to use the tools.
The Center made inclusion of PWD an institutional priority because at 15 percent of the global population, PWD represent a very large vulnerable minority, and are largely unbanked – no more than 0.5 percent of current MFI clients worldwide are PWD.
In its Responsible Treatment of Clients principle, the Smart Campaign emphasizes the importance of non-discrimination. As the Smart Campaign’s principles evolve, MFIs are encouraged to broaden their scope of services to minorities like PWD and promote equal opportunity to financial services.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) stipulates in Article 27 on Work and Employment that countries that have ratified the treaty must level the playing field so that persons with disabilities have an equal right to employment. The Center’s White Paper “A New Financial Access Frontier: People with Disabilities” made the case for disability inclusion, drawing on the approaches used around the world to guide implementation of the Convention. Now we present the industry with practical implementation guidelines for those institutions seeking to close the financial inclusion gap for persons with disabilities.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
To combat high and rising national over-indebtedness levels, last month the South African Minister of Finance and Minister of Trade and Industry announced new steps the government will take to aid those entrapped in over-indebtedness and to prevent more individuals from befalling the same fate.
The actions follow the presidential cabinet the week prior authorizing the ministers to take action on the issue, as over-indebtedness has grown to be an alarming nationwide problem. The government enacted legislation in the last decade, including the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act (2002) and the National Credit Act (2005), to protect clients and control for reckless lending. However, such industry aims have proven to be no easy task. The level of household indebtedness has increased from 50 percent of disposable income in 2003 to 76 percent in June 2013.
A few focus areas of the government’s forthcoming actions are enhancing lending controls, reviewing pricing caps, regulation of credit life insurance policies, regulations on debt-collection firms, relief for distressed borrowers, and improving the emolument attachment and garnishee orders system. Here’s the full list of planned measures shared in the government’s media release.
> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI
Client protection (and the Smart Campaign) had a big year in 2013 in India, with five Indian MFIs becoming client protection certified and the release of the Implementing Client Protection in Indian Microfinance report.
Following the Andhra Pradesh crisis in 2010, client protection became a priority in India across microfinance stakeholders including the Reserve Bank of India, industry associations such as MFIN, Sa-Dahn, and DFIs, and investors such as IFC, the World Bank, Oikocredit, and SIDBI. In 2011, the Smart Campaign began a two-year capacity-building program with support from Accion and the International Finance Corporation to move MFIs from endorsement of the Client Protection Principles to actually improving their practices.
The results of this Accion-IFC-Smart Campaign project are presented in the Smart Campaign’s State of Practice Report Implementing Client Protection In Indian Microfinance, launched at the Microfinance India Summit 2013 in Delhi, India in December. By examining client protection through the lens of the seven Client Protection Principles, the report takes a comprehensive look at the status of client protection in India, including areas where progress has been made and areas that still need improvement.
Based on self-reported questionnaire results and 18 in-depth Smart Assessments, the report presents areas where there has been marked improvement in client protection practices in India, and a few areas that require additional attention. High scores were reported for the principles of Responsible Pricing, Ethical Staff Behavior, and Appropriate Collections Practices. This is in part due to MFIs incorporating Code of Conduct trainings and providing guidelines for staff behavior. Less progress has been made in Complaints Resolution. Even when MFIs have a complaint policy, this is often not communicated to clients and many staff members aren’t trained on how to handle customer complaints. Privacy of client data remains an issue as well as most MFIs don’t recognize client data protection as a major issue and clients are not educated on how to keep their passbooks safe. The lack of external regulation on these issues magnifies this trend.
A major focus since the 2010 crisis has been avoiding over-indebtedness. According to the report, “Both RBI directives and the Smart Campaign emphasize evaluating borrowers’ repayment capacity and loan affordability. Out of the total MFIs assessed, around 70 percent of the institutions demonstrated adequate analysis of their clients’ capacity to repay.” Over the past two years, MFIs have started to provide a wider range of products and regulations mandate that institutions offer a variety of repayment options.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
A few weeks ago Tanzania launched a National Financial Inclusion Framework, which includes the ambitious goal of expanding access to more than half the country’s population by 2016. As of 2012, 17 percent of Tanzanians had access to formal financial services accounts, compared to an average of 24 percent for all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in her role as UN Special Advocate on Inclusive Finance for Development joined the framework’s launch event, and emphasized how the effort builds on the country’s recent national commitments. At the G20 Leaders Summit in 2012, Tanzania was one of 17 countries that pledged to create a national financial inclusion strategy. It was also one of the first countries to make a Maya Declaration commitment.
Despite disappointing account ownership figures, the country has achieved progress in other areas. Between September 2012 and 2013, access to mobile money services increased from 63 to 90 percent nationally, with nearly 43 percent of the population actively using a mobile money service.
The national framework, alongside the goal of 50 percent account ownership by 2016, aims to achieve 50 percent regular usage, 25 percent of adults with at least two weeks’ worth of income in formal savings accounts, and 25 percent of adults with electronic personal financial records.