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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Today the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) is proud to launch the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, an interactive website that portrays the recent progress and unmet challenges on the path to global financial inclusion.

When we began the FI2020 project in 2011, we hoped to create a sense of both urgency and possibility. We believed that enabling everyone in the world to gain access to quality financial services was a goal of major development significance. We also saw that with many active players and the promise that digitization would enable many more people to be reached at lower cost, it was no longer simply wishful thinking to call for full inclusion within a reasonable time frame. Global financial inclusion had entered the realm of the possible.

Today, in 2015, we are both astonished by the progress and daunted by the gaps that remain. Global Findex data shows 700 million new accounts in the three years from 2011 to 2014, reducing the number of unbanked worldwide from 2.5 to 2 billion. National governments have created ambitious financial inclusion strategies, the FinTech industry is exploding with $12 billion in global investments in 2014 alone, and the World Bank has a plan for reaching universal financial access to transaction accounts by 2020.

Our quantitative review, By the Numbersrevealed that if the current trajectory of expansion in accounts continues, many countries will achieve full account access by 2020. The rails are being laid at a rapid rate, and there is great momentum toward universal access. But access to an account is not the same thing as financial inclusion, and progress toward meaningful financial inclusion, in which people actively use a full range of services, is lagging. The passengers – customers – are often still waiting at the station for services that take them where they want to go.

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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 Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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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 Center Staff

Are you a senior leader at a financial institution serving lower-income clients in sub-Saharan Africa? The Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program might be for you!

The six-month program was launched late last year to foster peer-to-peer learning and exchange on governance practices among board members and CEOs at African microfinance institutions. The fellowship begins and ends with multi-day in-person seminars; in between seminars, fellows are connected through a virtual collaboration space that includes discussion forums and dialogues.

The first cohort of ABF fellows convened in early June in Cape Town. Guided by the program’s seasoned faculty, advisors, and subject experts, fellows examined a wide range of topics, from board dynamics and managing sustainable growth to technology trends and risk management. A blog post on the inaugural seminar can be found here.

The above video shares highlight footage from the inaugural seminar, as well as remarks from ABF fellows and staff on the program.

For more information on the Africa Board Fellowship, including details on how to apply, click here.

> 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 Sonja E. Kelly and Misha Dave, CFI

Dhanalakshmi (far right), client at Equitas

If there is one thing we have learned from working on disability and age inclusion in financial services, it is that including these populations in financial services is in some ways easier than practitioners expect it to be but, in other ways, harder than it looks.

In our research on aging and financial inclusion, one of the key insights was that financial service providers of all sizes often apply age caps on credit products. However, many institutions we talked with did not know exactly where these standards came from. Some attributed them to concerns about life expectancy of older clients, some to institutional history (“that’s just the way we do it”), some to the increase of credit portfolio insurance it would incur, and some to a perception of older people as economically dormant.

Many of these concerns can be mitigated by better research and dispelling myths about the creditworthiness of older people. Easy, right? In fact, there are some institutions that apply creative ideas to providing credit to older people. Group guarantees and automatic withdrawal payments on loans from publicly administered pensions through government partnerships are both examples of this.

However, such institutions providing credit to older people seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Worse, convincing institutions to care about this population is not easy. One institution we spoke with in India was baffled by the idea of providing credit to people over the age of 55. “But [the older people] could die and wouldn’t pay the loan,” the product developers insisted. Doing the research and articulating the issue was the easy part — now the hard work begins of advocating on behalf of older people.

Similar attitudinal barriers exist in financial institutions for serving persons with disabilities. Let’s take stock: over one billion people around the world — 1 in 7 of us — have a disability and four-fifths live in developing countries like India. Despite this and the fact that many microfinance institutions (MFIs) claim to be dedicated to “serving the world’s financially excluded people,” less than 1 percent of their clients are persons with disabilities.

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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 prevalence of countries inadequately tracking the well-being of their older citizens; the launch of Monese, a mobile-based banking service targeting immigrants and expats in the U.K.; and CARE distilling lessons learned from its work developing sustainable agricultural value chains in a new book. Here are a few more details:

  • HelpAge International recently released the 2015 Global AgeWatch index, which ranks countries on quality of life for older people based on access to pensions, healthcare, employment, and further education. The index had to exclude 98 countries that don’t sufficiently collect such data on this growing population segment.
  • Monese, licensed as an electronic money institution, lessens “residency restrictions” and offers accounts to those new to the U.K., providing services like cash deposits, withdrawal, and low-cost international money transfers.
  • In their new book on reducing poverty via value chain development, among others, CARE shares the following takeaways: work along the entire value chain – not just with farmers; design for scale from the start; and skillfully empowering women is smart economics and the right thing to do.

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 Eric Zuehlke at

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.

In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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Three questions every ‘pro-poor’ group needs to ask themselves

> Posted by Chris Dunford and Carmen Velasco

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

This month, the United Nations will celebrate achievement of Millennium Development Goal No. 1. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. How did this happen? Is it because of targeted anti-poverty programs, or is it due to broad-based economic growth, especially in China and India? If economic growth is the main cause, as it seems to be, further progress may be doubtful. Economic growth alone is unlikely to reach the residual hundreds of millions still living in extreme poverty.

Nor is it likely that anti-poverty programs, whether public or private, will lift this “bottom billion” from extreme poverty. For example, the U.S. poverty rate hovers around 15 percent of the population, nearly unchanged for decades, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on U.S. anti-poverty programs. For another example, in poorer countries, microfinance was billed as a self-financing solution to deep poverty and became a darling of international development donors in the 1990s and “social investors” in the 2000s. Then smart social scientists tested the claims with sound field research and found little to no impact on poverty.

Is it reasonable, however, to expect anti-poverty programs, by themselves, to lift large numbers of people above an arbitrary poverty line? Given that the poor must overcome many burdens before they can seize whatever economic opportunities are available, perhaps we should ask a different question:

Do anti-poverty programs ease the burdens of poverty?

While the recent research into microfinance shows little to no increase of annual household income, on average, the same studies very often show that the burden of poverty is alleviated by giving microfinance participants access to money when they really need it during the year. Economists call this impact “consumption smoothing.” In plain terms, it means people get enough to eat throughout the year instead of going without adequate food for a day, a week, or even months at a time. If so, this is an impact worth celebrating, is it not?

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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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