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> Posted by Center Staff

vkast_album_coverDo you want to know about the coolest financial inclusion startups in the world and how they work? Or the entrepreneurs behind these startups and how they got off the ground? VentureKast, or VKast, is a new podcast series from Accion’s Venture Lab that takes you directly to the entrepreneurs, offering a window into the converging worlds of impact investing, startups, fintech, and financial inclusion.

As you’re probably familiar, Venture Lab, or VLab, is an Accion investment initiative that provides patient seed capital and support to pioneering financial inclusion startups. What you may not know are all the innovations in business and technology that Venture Lab investees harness to provide customers with better, cheaper, and more appropriate financial services. VKast spotlights how these startups break new ground in the financial inclusion landscape, from the unique perspectives of the entrepreneurs that lead them.

The VLab team writes, “We want to celebrate our entrepreneurs’ journeys and let their voices be heard to inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs, to draw in investors and potential clients to their businesses, and to let the world know how cool financial inclusion entrepreneurship really is.”

The inaugural episode of VentureKast features Ranjit Punja, CEO and Co-Founder of CreditMantri, a Venture Lab portfolio company based in Chennai, India that offers financial advisory services to consumers that are underbanked, credit negative, or new to formal financial services. CreditMantri uses an automated web platform and call center to help consumers access their credit reports, understand their credit scores, improve their creditworthiness, restructure outstanding debt, and get access to relevant financial services. Check out the first VKast episode to hear Ranjit discuss, among other things, how he came up with the idea for CreditMantri, how he assembled his team of co-founders, and his vision for the company.

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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

West Africa is the second-fastest growing regional economy in Africa. Its GDP is more than double that of East Africa. However, its impact investing landscape doesn’t reflect this.

There are currently 45 impact investors active in the region, including 14 development finance institutions (DFIs) and 31 non-DFIs. Direct impact investments deployed in the region totaled $6.8 billion between 2005 and 2015. This is small relative to East Africa, which has over 150 investors and $9.3 billion in deployments on the books for roughly that same time period. Nevertheless, the investing trends in West Africa are encouraging, according to The Landscape for Impact Investing in West Africa, the third in a series of regional market landscaping studies published by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

The main barriers to impact investment in the region, according to the GIIN, include a lack of investment readiness among entrepreneurs and investees (in part due to difficulty obtaining bank financing), unpredictable policy environments, difficulty raising capital locally (among fund managers) compared to global standards, few exit examples, and macroeconomic and political instability. That is a truly daunting array of challenges. While in recent years there has been strong growth and investment in ecosystem actors such as incubators, accelerators, associations, and technical assistance providers, the ecosystem is not at sufficient scale to service the needs of the region.

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> Posted by Hatem Mahbouli, Investment Officer, FMO

Social Impact Bonds

A lot has been said on social or development impact bonds (SIBs), and the instrument evidently has acquired enough vintage to be subjected to an insightful review by the Brookings Institute on the promises and limitations of its applications.

To give a short description, SIBs are not bonds (too late to change the name apparently), but sort of a public-private partnership, where investors are only repaid by the donors or government commissioners if and when pre-agreed social outcomes are achieved, transferring the risk of failure from donors/government (outcome payers) to investors.

SIBs can change perspectives where social issues move from being budget issues to business cases. The proposal is very appealing for impact investors as it offers new opportunities to deploy capital for social impact, with a strong focus on accountability and credible measurement of the achieved impact.

Applicability to the financial inclusion space

To date, very few SIBs have been launched in low income countries, despite many parties closely watching deployments elsewhere. Issues range from legal constraints to high transaction costs, but let’s assume for a moment that there is enough will, incentives, and capacity to overcome those limitations and launch a SIB in financial inclusion. What would this look like?

For a SIB to work, it needs to tackle what we call a “SIB friendly” issue or segment. You cannot apply it to any problem. The intervention – to put it very shortly – needs to be limited in time, have a specific scope, and an output (or outcome) that is relatively easy to measure and to value. Of course, for the whole structure to make sense, there needs to be an outcome payer who is willing to buy those outcomes, and an investor willing to take the risk.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) released the 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum Report, distilling the happenings of the network’s largest and most diverse forum to date; new startup PayJoy is attempting to solve the financing problem surrounding the 2 billion individuals globally who have access to the internet but can’t afford a smartphone; The Guardian spotlights how mobile money supported healthcare workers during the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. Here are a few more details:

  • The 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum brought together over 500 senior financial inclusion policymakers, regulators, international organizations, and private sector partners in Maputo, Mozambique. Highlights from the forum include the adoption of the Maputo Accord, making SME finance a larger priority for the network, and sessions on green finance and gender.
  • PayJoy, beginning an initial roll-out in California, is offering an alternative to the tech industry’s equivalent of payday lenders who charge upwards of 500 percent interest on loans to buy smartphones. PayJoy covers 80 percent of the cost of a phone at 50 to 100 percent interest, and if individuals aren’t able to make their monthly installments, the phone locks until the payment is received.
  • In Sierra Leone, payment to healthcare workers combating Ebola was originally largely disbursed inefficiently in the form of cash, resulting in incidences of workers not being paid for months at a time, which caused disruptions to both healthcare and public trust in the system. NetHope, a consortium of NGOs working in IT, enrolled workers into an automated mobile money-based payment system using an open source facial recognition software.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here. This is the final issue of the News Feed. Though if you have any stories or initiatives that you think we should cover on the blog or via our other social media channels, email your ideas to Jeffrey Riecke at jriecke@accion.org.

> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: Omidyar Network investing in eCurrency Mint, a company that has developed a new technology that enables central banks to issue digital fiat currency; FMO, the Dutch development bank, providing a five-year US$10 million loan to benefit VisionFund International’s MFIs in rural Africa; Tyler Wry, a professor of management at Wharton, discussing his research on how patriarchal power manifests itself in microfinance. Here are a few more details:

  • Omidyar’s investment in eCurrency Mint was made through the firm’s Financial Inclusion Initiative. The digital fiat currency, called eCurrency, is issued by a central bank and has the same legal and monetary status as notes and coins – differentiating it from the various forms of private sector digital value available today.
  • FMO’s investment in VisionFund International’s African MFI network will help support the growth of these institutions via debt capital. Additionally, FMO provided a US$275,000 capacity development grant to support VisionFund in creating an innovative approach to disaster resilient microfinance.
  • In a video interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Wry discusses findings on gender and microfinance from his recent paper “Bringing Societal Institutions Back In: How Patriarchy Affects Social Outreach”. The baseline finding from the research is that when you have a high level of patriarchy in the state, in religion, in the professions, and in the family, it makes it harder for microfinance organizations to lend to them for a number of different reasons.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine 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 Jeffrey Riecke at jriecke@accion.org.

> Posted by David Porteous and Gavin Krugel, Chair and CEO, the Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI)

We have each been involved in the field of payments in some way or other for fifteen years at least. One of us (David) started through the design of a new credit card program for a bank; but soon had the opportunity to experience some of the earliest mobile payment schemes then emerging in Africa from 2003 and thereafter to be more engaged in the policy and strategy issues of mobile money. The other (Gavin) started as lost card call center clerk from where his payment career developed through new product design, delivery and management to being one of the early pioneers of mobile money.

In the early days of mobile money, there was no foundational training available which would have enabled us better to understand the height and breadth of the journey on which we were embarking. Both of us learned ‘on the job’—sometimes from other people more experienced than we were, and sometimes just through having to work through the issues ourselves. Learning on the job in a new field can be fun; but it also is slower. Today, we view as self-evident a range of issues which were anything but in the early days. We certainly had little idea at the outset that payments was a field in itself, worthy of our professional focus. If anything, we first experienced payments as an outgrowth of banking, done mainly by banks, for banks, for the purpose of collecting their loans, for example.

How the field has grown since then! Technological change has swept up and down the payment value chain. The number and nature of payment providers has exploded. So has the scale of related ambition to accelerate it further. In 2015, the World Bank President Kim launched the goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020, which means every adult on the planet having what amounts to a payment account—a safe store of value to and from which digital transfers can be made.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Last week, FI2020 Week created a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world participated in more than 30 events and shared their voices over social media, with #FI2020. As part of the week, global financial inclusion leaders offered calls to action. We started to provide highlights, but found that every single contributor had an important perspective to add, so this post includes all of their voices.

If there were any doubts about the potential to achieve global financial inclusion, it would be dispelled by the passion and sense of opportunity in the calls to action that were posted last week as part of FI2020 Week. A visionary tone was set by the inaugural posting by Ajay Banga of MasterCard, who declared that “financial inclusion is both economic and social inclusion and necessary for the future well-being of our planet.” Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo, former Governor of the Central Bank of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, draws the link between financial inclusion, economic growth, and poverty reduction, while also—appropriately, given his role–noting the link to financial stability. Yves Moury of Fundación Capital heightens the urgency by stating that “poverty is the greatest scandal of our times,” and Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya adds that “poverty elimination must be the endgame of all financial inclusion strategies.”

This strong sense of social mission comes out in a call from Dr. William Derban of Fidelity Bank Ghana to “leave no one behind” in the march toward inclusion. Michael Miebach of MasterCard also talks about meeting the needs of all members of society, including women, and Bindu Ananth of IFMR Trust mentions smallholder farmers as another group that is often excluded. In light of breakthroughs in technology, Sonja Kelly of the Center for Financial Inclusion urges us to reach out to those who are traditionally excluded from technology, and not just early adopters. As Larry Reed of the Microcredit Summit Campaign puts it, “We need to approach the challenge with the end in mind, designing a system that can sustainably reach clients in the most remote areas and who transact in the smallest sums.”

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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 Center Staff

Impact investing in East Africa has grown strongly over the past five years with over $9.3 billion disbursed, more than 1,000 deals, and roughly 150 investors managing about 200 active investment vehicles. These are among the findings outlined in a new report from the Global Impact Investing Network and Open Capital Advisors, which provides a state of the market analysis for impact investing in the East Africa region. The report examines the supply of global impact investment capital, the demand for investment resources, challenges and recommendations, and the country-level markets. What was found?

Here are a few of the report’s key messages:

  • Kenya dominates impact investing in the region, accounting for more than half of its deployed impact capital and having more than three-times the in-country fund staff of any other country.
  • Uganda ranks a distant second in capital received at 13 percent of that of the region, receiving support from its favorable business and regulatory environments.
  • Despite its GDP being 50 percent bigger than Uganda’s, Tanzania claims about 12 percent of the region’s impact capital, owing its stature in part to its low population density, weak transportation infrastructure, and relatively unpredictable government interjections.

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Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group publish an operational framework for measuring impact in inclusive financial services investing

> Posted by Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group

A key aspect of investing for social impact is being able to effectively measure impact, which has always been challenging. Whilst there have been several well-informed attempts to create uniform standards to address this challenge (such as IRIS and GIIRS Ratings), these have largely been intended to compare impact investments across multiple industries. This can be a valuable exercise for multi-sector fund managers, but the approach invariably leads to a trade-off: using the same scale to measure impact across a number of diverse industries leads to a lowest common denominator analysis. These standards seek to measure impact across industry sectors, but they do not provide information about the nature of social change created within each industry. At the other end of the spectrum, several fund managers have developed bespoke systems to measure the impact of their own portfolios. These systems have been tailored for insurance at the base of the pyramid or poverty alleviation progress, and they do a good job of accomplishing those goals. Unfortunately though, they are often too specialized to allow for any comparison across impact managers.

Therefore, the most optimal approach to impact measurement is that which: (1) surfaces the specific nature of impact created in a sector, (2) remains broad enough to allow for some objective comparison across managers, (3) but does not seek to compare the incomparable. Such an approach only seems possible when impact measurement is focused on specific industries.

It is with this approach that Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group have chosen to operate. Apis and Accion are fund managers investing specifically in inclusive and innovative financial services for the un- and under-banked. Like other impact focused investors, we have a dedicated mission to provide social as well as financial return on investments, which requires the measurement of social impact in a real, quantifiable way.

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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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