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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Smart CampaignToday, the Smart Campaign released for public comment new draft Client Protection Standards – which will be the basis for what we term Certification 2.0. The new standards streamline the previous Client Protection Standards, and reflect the evolving financial inclusion industry. They incorporate client risks pertaining to insurance, savings, and digital financial services. The standards operationalize where the financial inclusion industry sets the bar in terms of the minimum behaviors clients should expect from their financial service providers. Now open, the public comment period extends through November 30, 2015.

We’d love your feedback!

The new standards build off of the first set of Client Protection Standards, released in January 2013, as the basis for the introduction of Smart Certification. The standards and their corresponding indicators, which put the Client Protection Principles into practice, are used to benchmark institutions seeking Smart Certification.

Like the first iteration, the development of Certification 2.0 standards has been a highly collaborative process. Over the past 18 months, the campaign consulted a wide array of stakeholders and up to 30 experts to strengthen and update the standards and indicators.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

In three days the Center for Financial Inclusion will unveil the FI2020 Progress Report. In it, we define progress made toward financial inclusion and make predictions about the most critical issues facing the industry.

This web-based report has been a year in the making, the result of FI2020’s monitoring of industry trends, interviews with experts, and an analysis of financial inclusion data from both the supply and demand side. We organized the report around the five areas identified in the 2013 Roadmap to Financial Inclusion: Addressing Customer Needs, Client Protection, Credit Reporting & Data, Financial Capability, and Technology.

Perhaps the most fun—and most debatable—aspect of the report is the rating we will reveal for each area, marking where we are on the road to financial inclusion along these five dimensions. The financial inclusion community around the world will have the opportunity to weigh in with their vote – and we expect there will be some disagreement with our opinions. We hope you will not only mark your own rating, but also leave comments with your views. Most of all, we hope this thought exercise will help focus all of our attention on how to close the gaps to get to a 10 in each area.

To offer a sneak preview of the content, I thought I would reveal how we rated progress made on client protection:

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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

I rarely think about the cost of convenience. I often use my phone’s navigational system, seeking turn-by-turn directions, but I usually don’t consider the trail of data I’m leaving behind – and even if I do, I decide the benefit outweighs the cost. We live in an age where leaving myriad digital footprints is almost inescapable. Increasingly, we hear of big data analytic companies that “liberate data” or “democratize data” for the purpose of improving products and services or making them more widely available. There are true benefits to advancing our society’s data capabilities and unearthing new patterns and insights. (The phone that tracks my travel can give me advice on promising restaurants nearby.) But the costs can be high. Here in the U.S., the anonymity of “meta” data sets is continually being challenged. Fortunately, in this country consumer advocacy groups and institutions such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Bureau of Consumer Protection at FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working to address and remedy breaches of privacy and data rights.

In most of the world, similar institutions are nonexistent or under-developed. The fast uptake of technology has opened up large population segments to new possibilities, while leaving them vulnerable. Digital financial services users in developing countries are often choice-less and voiceless on how their data is used.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, CFI announced the upcoming launch of Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) Week, taking place November 2-6, 2015. During FI2020 Week partners across the globe will organize and participate in conversations exploring the most important steps to achieving financial inclusion.

FI2020 Week will bring together diverse stakeholders to conduct interactive and participatory events, each of which will produce calls to action. The range of participants will include banks, insurance companies, payment companies, telecommunication companies, policymakers, regulators, NGOs, microfinance institutions, investors, financial inclusion support organizations, financial capability experts, and fintech companies, across multiple geographies. FI2020 Week participants will focus on the question, “What are the most important actions needed in our country (or our industry segment) to advance financial inclusion?”

FI2020 Week partners to-date include the following industry leaders: AVAL Consulting, BRAC, CGAP, Fidelity Bank Ghana, Freedom from Hunger, Good Return, Grameen Foundation, GSMA, Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute of International Finance (IIF), JP Morgan Chase, LeapFrog Investments, Making Cents, MetLife Foundation, Micropension Foundation, Microsave’s The Helix Institute, Pakistan Microfinance Network, Sightsavers, the Smart Campaign, and Accion.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Momentum for Smart Campaign Certification is accelerating. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that there are now more than 20 million lower-income clients whose financial service provider has been certified as meeting the Campaign’s standards for consumer protection.

Since February 2015, the number of clients served by Smart-Certified financial institutions (FIs) has grown by 6 million, to a total of 21 million, with the certification of an additional 11 institutions. To date, 39 FIs, from 19 countries across Latin America to Africa and Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s best-known institutions dedicated to serving the poor.

As you might be familiar, the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party evaluators. Smart Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to microentrepreneurs with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. Customers of Smart-Certified organizations can be confident that their financial service provider has policies and processes in place to ensure that they are treated responsibly.

“Twenty million clients is an exciting milestone – recognition of the fact that there’s growing momentum in the industry for client protection,” said Isabelle Barrès, Smart Campaign director. “These organizations are not just paying lip service to the concept of fair treatment, but actually working hard to improve practices,” she added.

In April 2015, having listened carefully to evaluation results and industry feedback, we launched certification program revisions to streamline the process while maintaining high standards. These revisions included an appeals and complaints system and a process for renewing certification validity. At the end of 2015, the Campaign will introduce an accreditation system to license existing and new certifiers, and a version 2.0 of the certification standards. Certification 2.0 standards remove duplication and ambiguity, and deepen standards for savings, insurance, and digital financial services.

Even as the coverage of the certification program approaches critical mass, the broader Smart Campaign continues to advance. For the Campaign’s next phase we are excited about working on the following:
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> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation

The following post was originally published on NextBillion, in two parts, here and here

The Smart Campaign was born in the midst of extraordinary upheaval in the microfinance sector. Its launch in 2009 was sandwiched between the 2008 global financial crisis, repayment crises in several microfinance markets, and the 2010 debtor suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the turmoil served to amplify the campaign’s main point: that microfinance needs to focus on customer protection. In the succeeding years, it has labored to unite microfinance leaders and practitioners around this goal – most notably through its efforts to convince microfinance institutions (MFIs) to undergo the process of Smart Certification, in which independent evaluators verify that they are “doing everything [they] can to treat [their] clients well and protect them from harm.”

Over time, these efforts have started to gain traction. The campaign – which is steered by a group of prominent leaders in the industry and housed at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion – has certified 39 microfinance institutions. (Note: Accion is a NextBillion Content Partner.) Certified institutions include a number of leading MFIs in markets around the world, from Equitas in India to Kompanion in Kyrgyzstan. And the campaign calculates that certified MFIs now serve slightly more than 20 million clients. In a recent interview with NextBillion, its director, Isabelle Barrès, called the 20 million client mark “an exciting milestone, recognition of the fact that there is momentum growing in the industry for client protection –  not just paying lip service to it, but actually working hard to improve practices.”

But achieving this momentum hasn’t been an easy task for the campaign – or for the industry whose practices it’s trying to improve. Barrès discusses the challenges it has faced – and the controversy it has sparked – in this two-part Q&A.

James Militzer: Do you have any data on which markets have the highest percentage of Smart Campaign-certified MFIs?

Isabelle Barrès: I think Kyrgyzstan probably is the one where we currently have the most right now – 60 percent of microfinance clients are served by organizations that have been certified. This shows that when there are some substantial efforts that are put towards improving client protection – whether it’s at the market level or at the regulatory level, or through market infrastructure, such as supporting a good credit bureau – it can make a difference for the entire industry.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Will microfinance continue to be relevant in 2020 and beyond? Should regulators or the industry lead on client protection? Will data analytics replace traditional credit reporting systems?

A new Financial Inclusion 2020 e-magazine explores these three essential questions debate-style, tapping industry leaders from around the world to weigh in with their perspectives.

Microfinance as a development strategy has in the past few years been eclipsed by the excitement around financial inclusion. This transition reflects the recognition that people need a full range of financial services. What does the future hold for microfinance institutions and other players like traditional banks and new fintech companies? Bindu Ananth, Chair of IFMR Trust and IFMR Holdings, Dean Karlan, President of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Liza Guzman, Vice President of Accion share their views.

The ideal balance in client protection is often conceived as a three-legged stool in which regulators, providers, and consumers work at equal levels of responsibility. Globally, regulators have often taken the lead, but initiatives such as the Smart Campaign prove that there is room for providers to move beyond compliance. Is a balanced three-legged stool realistic? Among the debaters are Alok Prasad, Principal Advisor of RBL Bank, Sanjay Sinha, Managing Director of M-CRIL, and Isabelle Barres, Director of the Smart Campaign.

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group

As a member of the Smart Campaign Steering Committee, I had the pleasure last week of attending the first ever Certification Summit held in Turin, Italy. The CEOs of 24 client protection certified microfinance institutions (MFIs) came together to discuss with one another their experiences with certification, their practices for preventing over-indebtedness, collections and grievance redressal, and their thoughts on how the certification process could be made more valuable.

I tried my best to talk with each and every participant there in order to get their honest thoughts about certification. I was surprised but pleased to discover that, without exception, every one of them said how happy they were that they had gone through the process and achieved the recognition. Some examples of the types of comments I heard are:

  1. Client protection has always been part of our DNA. It’s who we are. The certification process helped us align our practices with our values – and come closer to what we aspire to be.
  2. It has allowed us to improve our relations with the regulators in our country more than we imagined. They now turn to us for advice!
  3. It was great for our employees. It was a truly motivating exercise for them . . . and the recognition that comes with certification made them feel very special. Our employees are proud to be associated with a responsible institution.
  4. There was a cost to it, no question – but the process convinced us that it was well worth the investment.
  5. We wanted third-party validation of our practices, and this gave us that validation.
  6. The process was excellent. I have tremendous respect for the rating agency that conducted our mission. It was far more rigorous than I anticipated, and it did result in our making some very significant changes, especially to our disclosure practices.
  7. Our customers have told us that they appreciate the changes we made that were clearly visible to them. They especially like the improvements we’ve made to our grievance redressal mechanism.
  8. Certification must be seen as a risk management tool because that’s what it is. We need more MFIs to go through the certification process in order to control risk in our market. We need to engage more closely with investors and regulators about what it means and how it acts to mitigate risks.
  9. The process helped us to get back to our fundamentals, for the reason we were formed. This was something we had needed to do, without really realizing it, for a long time.
  10. There’s no question that it contributed to our ability to get new capital from our local bank.

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> Posted by Ros Grady, Senior Financial Sector Expert, the World Bank Group

The following post was originally published on the World Bank Private Sector Development blog.

The Client Protection Principles: Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (the “Model Law”), recently launched by the Microfinance CEO Working Group, has the potential to be a useful resource for the many developing and emerging economies that are seeking to design and implement international best practices in financial consumer protection, having recognized that consumer protection is a critical element in building and maintaining trust in the financial sector and achieving financial inclusion targets.

The Model Law was prepared on a pro-bono basis by the international law firm DLA Piper on the basis of the seven Client Protection Principles of the Smart Campaign. The project, which took place over a 15-month period and was managed by Accion on behalf of the Council of Microfinance Counsels, included consultations with financial inclusion stakeholders and legal experts, who undertook a review of existing legal frameworks in various countries. Reference was also made to international best practices and principles such as the World Bank’s Good Practices on Financial Consumer Protection and the G20 High Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.

The Model Law is a high-level, activities-based law that is intended to apply equally to all financial services providers. This includes “banks, credit unions, microfinance institutions, money lenders and digital financial service providers.” The apparent aim is to ensure an equal level of protection for all consumers and a level playing field. The consumers concerned may be an individual or a micro, small or medium-sized business, and so the law will apply equally to consumption and small-business facilities. Many of the provisions are framed in terms of principles, the detail of which would need to be filled out in related legislation.

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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 »

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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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