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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

FI2020 Week is 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 are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

We’re two days in! FI2020 Week thus far has been a whirlwind few days, with events all over the world, a handful of public webinars, and robust social media conversations. We hope you’ve had the opportunity to take part in the action!

To get you up to speed, though certainly not comprehensive, here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening.

In Bangladesh, BRAC conducted an internal debate about the impact and benefits of its own microfinance program.  Answering tough questions like “Does BRAC risk doing more harm than good by using microfinance in its model of fighting poverty?” staff shared their perspectives, providing insights into how to improve the program. Check out some of the presented arguments on BRAC’s Twitter feed.

In Nigeria, Accion and Accion Microfinance Bank discussed financial inclusion strategies for the country. The three biggest industry gaps identified were the lack of mobile and agent banking infrastructure, human capital in the microfinance banking sector, and a spirit of collaboration and partnership among the various players.  Moving forward, the discussion participants will apply greater focus on savings as a necessary service offering that can be improved.

The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) conducted a webinar on the lessons drawn from a six year project (2009 – 2015) carried out with 12 WSBI member banks aimed at creating usable savings services in the hands of the poor. One call to action from the webinar was the need for greater connectivity to combat the challenge of reaching clients in rural communities. As WSBI aims to add 400 million customers to its network by 2020, it will need to partner with more organizations in order to reach very remote village groups.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, Founder, Grameen Foundation

I have written extensively about how I believe practitioners and researchers can work most effectively together in reducing poverty, often using some of the missed opportunities for this kind of collaboration in microfinance as a point of departure. In the process, quite a few people have come to believe that I am opposed to randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Perhaps part of the issue is the tendency of many people, especially those in the media, to reduce a point of view to whether it is “for” or “against” something else.

In fact, my position has always been that RCTs have an important place in improving development policy and practice. I have, however, been uneasy with the way they have been promoted – dare I say “over-hyped”? – as a “gold standard” and also with the misleading assumptions and comparisons some of its proponents routinely make. The limitations of RCTs are frequently minimized, as are the potential contributions of other research methodologies.

In the case of microcredit, the way RCT studies have been digested, interpreted, and acted upon has done considerable and unnecessary damage to policy and practice, even as it has increased our knowledge of some important issues. No one group bears responsibility for this damage, but too many continue to ignore or minimize it.

Enter Angus Deaton

Like many others, I have struggled at times to articulate the source of my unease. Now comes powerful commentary on RCTs and related topics by 2015 Nobel laureate economist Professor Angus Deaton in his interview with Tim Ogden of NYU’s Financial Access Initiative.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

Known as the “hardest interview you’ll have with a client,” the interview you have with a client who is leaving is also, however, one of the most important interviews for a microfinance institution – and likely any organization or company concerned about the costs of client acquisition and retention.

The latest debates on the success of microfinance have encouraged Freedom from Hunger to dig deeper into our repertoire of “impact stories” and critically review the reasons why microfinance clients whose lives were not improving were dropping out, particularly since critics often suggest that microfinance tends to result in negative outcomes among participants.

Since 2007, Freedom from Hunger has been developing and testing an “impact story” methodology to discover client experiences that are representative of the entire clientele of an MFI or even multiple institutions, ranging from success to failure and whatever is happening in between.

Thus far, Freedom from Hunger has collected over 700 client impact stories from 25 local partners located in ten countries throughout Latin America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Six countries were visited a second time after an interval of three or four years to re-interview the impact story participants. This is a significant effort to take qualitative interviews and conduct them with a small random selection of clients and use the information for fairly meticulous research purposes.

With these impact stories, we wanted to answer some basic questions. Why are some clients successful and why are some not? Why do some clients drop out? Are all the reasons for drop-out negative and does the drop-out result in a client being worse off than if they stayed a client? Can we tell if microfinance is to blame for their negative status? What can we do to improve?

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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 Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group

A few weeks ago, I attended the Global Forum on Remittances and Development sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Commission, and the World Bank. Much of the meeting was focused on two critically important questions:

  1. Are or could remittances be a major driver of financial inclusion?
  2. Is it possible (and desirable) for a greater percentage of remittances to be put to productive use as opposed to consumption once the funds arrive in the hands of the recipient?

First, a few facts to underscore why these discussions are so important:

  • In 2014 there were at least 240 million international migrants. That is a BIG number – bigger than the populations of all the countries of the world except China, India, the U.S., and Indonesia.
  • This year these migrants will send back to their countries of origin more than 440 billion U.S. dollars! This amount is more than three times the amount of foreign aid. It is estimated that $200 billion of this amount goes directly to rural areas in developing countries where the most poverty is.
  • Remittances can constitute up to 40 percent of GDP or more in some countries, often the most fragile, most conflict-ridden countries in the world.
  • Some 750 million people are estimated to receive remittances, the vast majority in developing countries. Forty percent live in rural areas.
  • The global average cost of sending this money home is 8.6 percent of the amount sent, so the potential customer benefits to cost reduction are very important. (In July 2009 the G20 set a goal of reducing the average cost from 10 percent to five percent in five years. Despite failing to achieve the objective, it recently established a new goal of three percent by 2030!)

Are remittances a driver for financial inclusion? Could they be? In a moment of frustration, Fernando Jimenez-Ontiveros, the Acting General Manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund said at the conference, “We’ve been working on these issues for some 15 years, and estimates are that 60 percent of senders and recipients still don’t even have an account! We’ve got to do better!”

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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 Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

Account Use (Developing Economies) - Click to Enlarge

Account Use (Developing Economies) – Click to Enlarge

Especially since the Global Findex report made headlines around the world with its finding that the number of financially excluded dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion during the period 2011-2014, I have been increasingly uneasy with equating account access as financial inclusion, and especially as equivalent to the essential concept of full financial inclusion as defined by CFI. The Center’s new publication “By the Numbers” does an excellent job helping people to digest all the publicly available data about financial inclusion, and make sense of them. It also reinforces my unease.

Despite the progress in account openings, the report makes it clear that the number of people actually using accounts is unfortunately not growing. Even more worrying, it argues that most accounts “are not really functioning as the hoped-for ‘on-ramp’ to financial inclusion.” The risk, as I see it, is that by adopting a stunted definition of financial inclusion that emphasizes account openings, we may be measuring and incentivizing the wrong things. The report wisely urges “caution regarding the value of mass drives for account opening, such as mandated no frills accounts…”

While the available data may overstate progress in some areas, the data may understate it in others due to the tendency to focus only on transactions at formal financial institutions. As the report notes, the percentage of people in low and middle income countries who save increased from 31 percent to 54 percent — quite a jump! — over three years, but this “is not reflected in a commensurate increase in saving in financial institutions.” Global surveys tend to miss savings groups and microfinance institutions, which in many markets play important roles. The alarming gaps in data related to access among vulnerable populations are also noted.

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> Posted by Shameran Abed, Director, BRAC Microfinance Program

Shameran Abed, BRAC’s Director of Microfinance, joined the Microfinance CEO Working Group in January. He joins the Working Group’s efforts to support the positive development of the microfinance industry and brings tremendous insight into the discussion on pathways out of poverty.

This month, the results from six randomized control trials (RCTs), published in Science magazine highlighted a model of development that is an adaptable and exportable solution able to raise households from the worst forms of destitution and put them onto a pathway of self-reliance. The graduation approach – financial services integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services – is gaining steady recognition for its astonishing ability to transform the lives of the poorest.

These findings can be contrasted with the results of six RCTs published in January by the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, which cited limited evidence of “microcredit” alone transforming the lives of the poor.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group

The Microfinance CEO Working Group, as part of its commitment to client protection in microfinance and financial inclusion, set out in early 2014 to develop a model law that could be adapted, in whole or in part, into different national contexts. The Working Group’s partners were the global law firm DLA Piper and its “Council of Microfinance Counsels” which is composed of the in-house counsels of all Working Group members. After 15 months of effort, the first version of this law has now been completed and released. The blog below describes this tool and how it can be used.

Those who set policy for consumer protection in financial inclusion have a powerful new tool at their disposal, one that financial inclusion practitioners, legal experts, and regulators have had a hand in creating.

Over recent months, the law firm DLA Piper/New Perimeter has been working with the Microfinance CEO Working Group and a subgroup of the Council of Microfinance Counsels to prepare the Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection. This is a framework of suggested legislation on financial consumer protection based on the Client Protection Principles as promoted by the Smart Campaign. The seven Client Protection Principles set standards that clients should expect to receive when doing business with a microfinance institution, and cover such critical areas as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, privacy, and prevention of over-indebtedness. The team that developed this studied multiple countries that had the most progressive and effective laws related to client protection in financial services, and in other areas.

The Model Law can be used in a variety of ways.

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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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