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> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

Enthusiasm for mobile money among the financial inclusion community is generally high, but like with most topics, when you pierce beyond the surface-level praises, the tone of the conversation becomes more mixed. As Harvard Business School professor Shawn Cole stated on day three of the HKS Executive Education course Rethinking Financial Inclusion, “Mobile money has been next year’s big thing for the last ten years.”

Comments on disappointing levels of mobile money services uptake are common, and are often paired with another dominant piece in the mobile money narrative: M-Pesa’s runaway success in Kenya. Since its introduction in 2007, M-Pesa has been taken up by 70 percent of the country’s population. And as the professors pointed out, of those who used M-Pesa in the last 12 months, 43 percent did not have formal bank accounts. This statistic exhibits how mobile money provides financial services to many who might not otherwise have them. The statistic also alludes to the question of whether the service is a good on-ramp to more financial services. Questions about on-ramps and services uptake are essential to the mobile money and financial inclusion conversations at the heart of discussions throughout the weeklong HKS program. Balancing such questions were conversations that illustrated clear, and perhaps surprising, benefits of mobile money.

Jenny Aker, a professor at Tufts University, cited a study that took place during a drought in Niger which showed that distributing government aid via mobile money versus cash not only cut costs, it increased diet diversity. In this case, when women received their government benefits through their phones, they had greater control over the use of the money, and this affected household decision-making. The study also demonstrated that with mobile money the distribution and receiving of funds was cheaper for government and the recipients.

In addition, mobile money helps users weather economic shocks. Tavneet Suri, MIT professor and scientific director of J-PAL Africa, presented the results of a study of several thousand Kenyans she conducted with William Jack of Georgetown University. It showed that M-Pesa users are better able to share risk through an increase in remittances received and a higher diversity of senders. A shock that reduces consumption of a non-user by 21 percent reduces consumption by M-Pesa users by only 11 percent. Mobile money dramatically increases the size and breadth of the user’s safety net: Suri estimates the insurance value of M-Pesa at around 3-4 percent of the user’s income.

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The huge potential for digital finance to reach the last mile of the financially excluded

> Posted by Peer Stein, Director, IFC Access to Finance Advisory 

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

Last week’s seminar on digital finance at the 2014 World Bank Group / IMF Spring Meetings convened innovators, private sector leaders, and government representatives to discuss the potential innovative business models and new technologies have in reaching and empowering the financially excluded poor and small businesses faster and with greater scale, while contributing significantly to the World Bank Group goal of universal access to finance by year 2020. The session highlighted the diversity of business models that use technology to reach the excluded market segment, showcased by innovators from bKash in Bangladesh, Airtel Money-Africa, and Berlin-based Mobisol operating in rural East Africa.

I’d like to share three key points that emerged from the forum.

First, multi-stakeholder collaboration is a must.

None of the featured innovators is a traditional bank or financial institution but each one realizes the importance of partnering with banks and other players in this dynamic space. For example, bKash was born from a fusion of BRAC Bank and Money in Motion, and continues to operate as a subsidiary of BRAC Bank, holding 80 percent of the mobile money market in Bangladesh. With such an adoption success within two and a half years, recording 90,000 digital money agents and 11.6 million registered users, in the words of Kamal Quadir, CEO, “bKash is now a Bengali verb [synonymous with ‘to send money’].” Chidi Okpala, Director of Airtel Money-Africa, a mobile money service with an active base of 5 million customers, reinforced that one of the factors of success in this diverse market is the need to position your mobile money service for stakeholder collaboration rather than competition. The real competitor is cash. Walt Macnee, president of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, emphasized the company’s connecting and collaborative role focused on ensuring interoperable platforms among a diversity of players.

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> Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

The Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bankers (G20) is targeting financial inclusion through the G20 Development Working Group (DWG), which is in the process of finalizing an agenda for its 2014 goals. The DWG focuses on developing an agenda for tackling development challenges, with the intent to remove constraints to sustainable growth and poverty alleviation. Recently, through our participation in InterAction’s G20/G8 Advocacy Alliance, CFI teamed up with other non-profits in the financial inclusion community to develop a set of recommendations for G20 leaders. While the Alliance and DWG span a diverse range of issues, our focus was, of course, on financial inclusion.

Our recommendations to the G20 were developed in coordination with CARE International UK, the Grameen Foundation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, HelpAge USA, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, among others. They urge governments to implement national strategies for financial capability and client protection, ensuring that these strategies and targets address a full suite of financial services and include underserved groups. You can read the full set of recommendations and contributing organizations here.

Last week we had the opportunity to discuss our recommendations with senior leadership from the Australian G20 presidency. As you may know, the G20 Presidency rotates each year, and this is Australia’s year. Each presidency takes a lead in setting the agenda and priorities, which are then discussed and (ideally) implemented by all G20 members.

The G20 Australian presidency issued a global development agenda, which was supported by the DWG. It highlighted two major outcomes for 2014 related to financial inclusion and remittances. We were happy to see an expressed desire to move beyond a focus on cost reduction for remittances, where there has been a great deal of progress, to maximizing the potential of remittances to increase financial inclusion.

During the meeting, our financial inclusion team brought three key points to the conversation: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

“Know your client” is a popular phrase in conversations about financial inclusion and business in general. But where does such knowledge come from? Does it end with your client’s expressed needs and desires? Can it also incorporate behavioral research insights or consumer protections that the client may not even demand?

Shawn Cole of Harvard Business School opened the second day of “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” – a one-week program offered by Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education – with a question all providers might ask themselves when modifying existing products or developing new ones: “If you were the customer, would you go for that deal?”

Cole pointed out that products meant to “bank the unbanked” (i.e., first-time users) must be designed differently from products meant to tempt new customers away from competitors. He described the experience of First National Bank of South Africa in responding to government calls to encourage savings among the poor and draw black South Africans into the predominantly white formal banking sector. First National Bank decided to offer a lottery with large prizes to new depositors.

In debating whether a lottery would attract customers, participants cited examples from their own work, such as a mobile money account offering free insurance to savers who maintain a sufficient balance in their accounts. Recognizing that the poor are already saving, informally, the challenge is to develop products that draw them into the formal sector safely and responsibly. Another provider warned against complicated offers. “Structured products can be very esoteric.”

The concerns participants voiced fell into two categories: ones that apply to anyone (e.g. for nearly everyone a flashy new product loses its luster after the third page of terms and conditions), and ones that are specific to the poor (e.g. how do you draw people into banking, when even walking into the building itself is intimidating?). Both sets of concerns underline the need for financial capability development and customer-centered product innovation. The potential interest in formal financial products may be there, but uptake is obstructed by consumers’ lack of confidence, or poor understanding of the products’ components, or inability to surmount intimidating “barriers to entry” such as small print. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on Next Billion.

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum, in October 2013, was an opportunity for hundreds of leaders to come together and dedicate themselves to quality financial access for all, while at the same time proclaiming that global access is, in fact, within the realm of the possible. The Forum itself generated many action ideas, forged new relationships between actors and created a surge in momentum.

Since October, we at the Center for Financial Inclusion have been in a (very welcome) quiet phase, during which we are laying the groundwork for the next big push. Over the past few months we have been busy following up on some of the most fascinating insights that came out of the FI2020 process. I’d like to mention a few here – and describe how these insights can make a difference in the quest for global financial inclusion by 2020.

Aging and Financial Inclusion

One of the biggest “Aha!” insights for us came from our Mapping the Invisible Market work, which revealed the rapid growth of older population segments, especially among middle-income countries. In these countries, including much of Latin America and Asia, the over-65 age cohort will rise within a decade or two from about 5 percent of the population to about 15 percent, putting great stress on traditional systems for supporting later life.

We are sure that such changes will have big implications for financial inclusion, and so we decided to team up with HelpAge International, one of the premier global organizations dedicated to aging. When we contacted HelpAge, it had just released its “Global Age Watch Index, 2013,” a ranking of countries on the basis of quality of life for older people. HelpAge has done important analysis on income strategies actually used by people as they age, and it knows that these strategies are more diverse and creative than stereotypes might suggest. CFI and HelpAge will work together to dig deeper into the financial services needs related to aging and preparation for later life. We will also look at the financial barriers older clients face, whether these are physical limitations (related to acquired disabilities), policies (such as arbitrary age cut-offs), or susceptibility to fraud and abuse. We will focus this research in Latin America. We are convinced that the life-course lens on financial inclusion will reveal a wide range of opportunities to advance inclusion. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

On February 23, Rohini Pande opened classroom sessions of  “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” – a one-week program offered by Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education – by drawing a distinction between two models of change: the magic bullet and penicillin. The magic bullet is an unstoppable cure-all. It takes down whatever problem you set your sights on. Penicillin is the product of many cycles of experimentation, refinement, and the occasional stroke of luck. (Researchers found the best strand of the penicillin fungus on a moldy cantaloupe from an Illinois market.) Magic bullets solve problems in German folk tales, penicillin in the real world.

Pande spoke to a group of 45 participants – leaders of government ministries, MFIs, banks, and NGOs from 29 countries (click here for a breakdown). She said that the hope that microcredit could, by itself, lift very different poor populations out of poverty – a hope initially bolstered by quick spread and high repayment rates – appears to have included some magical thinking. Given microcredit’s disappointing performance according to metrics such as new business creation and development indicators, the challenge now is to put it through a penicillin-style process of trial, error, and re-trial – including testing its effects in combination with a broader range of products.

The penicillin metaphor allowed Pande to place early emphasis on the value of evidence-driven (re)design in policy, a theme that would be frequently revisited throughout the week. By citing the rising use of rigorous evaluations as a policy instrument, she turned the moral of the cautionary tale from a statement about microcredit specifically to a much more general maxim: “Don’t trust the quick and easy result.”

The other products that the “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” program promised to focus on, such as savings and insurance facilities and new payments mechanisms, must also be put through the same process of experimentation and evaluation, Pande said.

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> Posted by Annalisa Bianchessi, Microinsurance Network

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Although Africa has 17 percent of the world’s pastures and arable land, the value of premiums for agricultural insurance in Africa represents less than 0.7 percent of the world’s total. This remarkably low figure is deplorable when one considers that about 60 percent of the active population in Africa is working in the agricultural sector and that with the advent of climate change the risks in agricultural activities are becoming even more frequent and severe. The agriculture insurance sector in Africa is also unevenly distributed, with sector development in West Africa restricted to a handful of countries such as Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana. Should governments intervene to support the development of the agricultural insurance sector in Africa?

For smallholder farmers, agriculture insurance offsets risks associated with weather fluctuations. This risk reduction can make it more likely that a farmer will qualify for credit and thus invest in the tools and resources (e.g. seed, fertilizer, labor) needed prior to harvest that would potentially increase crop yields. Furthermore, it also provides farmers with the peace of mind required to invest savings into businesses and increases their confidence to engage in contracts with buyers and processors.

According to Ismaïla Diakité, President of COPROCUMA, a farmer cooperative in Mali, and spokesperson for a network of 500 cooperatives representing over 500,000 Malian farmers, “Microinsurance is an avenue for the people of Mali to develop our country.” Ismaïla recalls that a few years back, COPROCUMA had taken out a loan to sow 10,000 hectares of sesame seed. However due to bad weather the crop failed, and the cooperative and farmers ended up in debt. It was then that they realized the value of insurance. While very lucky (the lending institution cancelled their debt), the farmers embarked on an agriculture insurance scheme, which today is compulsory for all members of their cooperative. Ismaïla says, “Our main objective is to ensure the survival of our farmers, their life and their livelihood.” To this end, he believes that insurance is an essential part of the benefits that the cooperative needs to offer the farmers. When asked whether all farmers are happy with the compulsory insurance scheme he says, “A farmer cannot see the importance of microinsurance until he can see the bigger picture. In the sector I work in there will never be unanimous agreement on anything. However a few years into the insurance scheme, 80 percent of farmers in Mali are now convinced of the importance of agriculture microinsurance.” Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

How can governments best regulate to advance financial inclusion? Effective regulation is often brought up when discussing essential components for expanding banking services. Like all industries, the world of financial services requires rules to ensure protection and fair practices. However, when it comes to advancing financial inclusion, the most effective way to handle regulation is not unanimous or even widely defined.

In recent years, more governments have taken steps to advance financial inclusion. Many have developed national inclusion strategies. A number have enacted regulation pertaining to new products and services, like mobile money. For government payment systems, such as social welfare benefits, some have switched over to electronic methods. Though on the whole, regulation struggles to keep pace with the increasingly complex services landscape, and progress is limited.

In the following video, global leaders discuss the role of regulation in financial inclusion, and how coordination within governments and between sectors can lead to more informed and enabling regulation and services environments.

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> Posted by Adriana Magdas, Specialist, CFI

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, the most famous, are the hot topic of the moment. In light of the shutdown of the most popular Bitcoin exchange in the world, Mt. Gox, and a loss of an estimated US$ 400 million worth of Bitcoins, it’s important to take another look at digital currencies, their pitfalls, and their relevance for financial inclusion. Hailed by many as the greatest monetary innovation of our time and by others as nothing but “libertarian exuberance,” cryptocurrencies show the opportunity that exists for financial transactions, especially international transactions, to move from cash to digital form. As someone working in financial inclusion, I have been wondering whether cryptocurrencies have any role to play in the critical path toward greater inclusion, which ultimately requires lower dependency on cash for low-income consumers.

Other cryptocurrencies abound—Dodgecoin, Litecoin, and Ripple are a few of the others—but Bitcoin, which launched in 2009, is the first decentralized mainstream P2P payment network and digital currency. Independent from hard, government-backed fiat currencies, Bitcoin is an internet-based, software dependent, inflation immune currency that can be purchased with cash and exchanged for services or goods with merchants who accept it. The market supply of Bitcoin is fixed at 21 million, meaning that once 21 million “coins” are in existence, the cash value will be fully determined by demand. In the last four years, the popularity of Bitcoin in developed economies has increased considerably, not necessarily because it’s an easier medium of exchange but because it is new, interesting, a source of revenue for Bitcoin miners and speculators, and because it decreases the costs retailers incur from accepting credit card payments. For example, Overstock.com is the first large online retailer to accept Bitcoins, in an effort to minimize the costs incurred from credit card transactions.

Does Bitcoin have any relevance for low and middle-income countries? As in developed economies, for P2P and P2C payments, its greatest benefit is in significantly decreasing the cost of sending remittances to friends and family. Bitcoin transactions are free, meaning remittance senders do not incur significant money transmitter fees.

But what are the challenges?

The challenges to Bitcoin in particular, and cryptocurrencies in general, are substantial. It will be a while before Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be able to substantially help advance financial inclusion in developing countries. In the short-term, Bitcoin might take a significant chunk out of the profits of money transmitters and will definitely underline the appetite for monetary and payments innovation.

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> Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

Tomorrow, people around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day. In honor of the day, and the tremendous impact that financial services can have for women, we’d like to highlight some of the top resources from the past year that focus on financial inclusion of women. Though there are many great resources out there, below are a few that have caught our attention.

1. Findex Notes: Women and Financial Inclusion

Drawing from the Global Findex Database, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created a briefing on the state of women’s access to and use of financial services globally. It’s a concise snapshot of financial inclusion data on women. It highlights gaps that persist for women, as compared to men, globally and across regions. It looks at variations in account ownership for savings and credit, as well as barriers to usage identified by women. And if you’re looking for more, I suggest exploring the Findex database or the CFI Data Explorer and conducting your own analyses!

2. Promoting Women’s Financial Inclusion: A Toolkit

DFID and GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development prepared a toolkit aimed at policymakers, donors, and NGOs who want to learn how to design and implement programs to enhance the financial inclusion of women. It provides insight into factors that contribute to financial exclusion of women and offers recommendations to address access barriers. In addition, the toolkit provides methods for client segmentation as well as several illustrative case studies. Rather than suggesting focusing on women exclusively, the toolkit also recommends understanding the distinct needs of men.

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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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