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> Posted by Alvina Zafar, Deputy Manager, Financial Education and Client Protection, BRAC Microfinance

Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

“I am not sure if I can repay more loans, and I don’t want to be overburdened by debt.” That was how Noyon, a small grocery shop owner with a physical disability, replied when BRAC asked whether he would like to take a loan to expand his business. This is a common response we hear from clients with disabilities when they’re offered credit products. Many prefer to avoid taking loans unless absolutely necessary. They guard their reputations closely against a society that sees persons with disabilities as less capable, and defaulting on a loan is not a risk they are willing to take. This insight raises an important question with regard to the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities: Is access the biggest barrier?

In 2015, BRAC scaled up its Engaging People with Disabilities project with ADD International, an organization that focuses on campaigning for equal rights and ensuring social justice for people with disabilities. The objective of this partnership is to leverage the access and coverage that ADD International has with people with disabilities in Bangladesh and provide financial services (e.g. savings, loans, insurance, etc.) to interested beneficiaries. As of May of this year, the project has a client base of over 7,000 people with disabilities, with an average loan size of US$ 282 and a repayment rate of 100 percent. Clients are saving on a regular basis, with an average saving account balance of US$ 50. The majority of the clients are entrepreneurs—they own and operate grocery shops, tea stalls, small vending businesses, and the like. One objective of BRAC’s is to empower all clients by building their financial capabilities. A by-product we see in many of our clients from this pursuit is, on top of enhancing their knowledge about financial management, it raises their confidence and self-respect. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Positive Planet China

In an industry that is constantly evolving due to new technology and abundant knowledge-sharing opportunities, practitioners of socially-driven microfinance and inclusive financial services are also helping to drive new innovation. Accompanying research critically assists this process, especially in evaluating the impact of these new methods and initiatives. This presents a problem for countries like China where a dearth of credible (or existing) data resources makes a critical review of practices far harder to manage. As such, researchers interested in the world’s second-largest economy often must settle with statistics that may suffice but rarely meet higher standards found elsewhere.

The work of Li Gan, a Texas A&M professor who also heads the Survey and Research Center for Household Finance at Southwestern University of Finance & Economics (SWUFE) in Chengdu, China, is helping to address the problem. Professor Li has spent much of the last four years spearheading an effort to gather more data on the financial condition of Chinese households and businesses. Through generous funding by SWUFE and support from the PBOC, China’s central bank, Professor Li has set into motion two key multi-year surveys: The China Household Finance Survey (CHFS) and the “ChinaPnR-SWUFE SME Index” which looks at small enterprises.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Good morning! Freshly published is the latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. Among the stories in this week’s edition are the World Council receiving a USAID award to catalyze affordable housing in Haiti, a multi-partner initiative to train women across Nigeria to become mobile banking agents, and Tanzania setting a new financial inclusion goal. Here are a few more details:

  • The World Council with support from USAID and others will work directly with financial institutions and housing developers to help expand affordable housing financial products and services in Haiti.
  • The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is working with FirstBank to provide technical, business, and financial literacy training to 2,500 women across Nigeria to become agents for FirstBank’s mobile banking platform.
  • Last week Tanzania set a new goal of extending financial services access to 75 percent of the population in 2016 – as a follow-up to the goal of 55 percent in 2016, which was surpassed in 2014.

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 ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Kettianne Cadet, Program Coordinator, CFI

It’s been a few weeks now since our return from Cape Town and the kick-off seminar of the inaugural Africa Board Fellowship, a six-month program launched this year to foster peer-to-peer learning and exchange on governance practices among board members and CEOs at financial institutions serving low-income clients in sub-Saharan Africa. The fellowship begins and ends with multi-day in-person seminars and between seminars fellows are connected through a virtual collaboration space that includes discussion forums and dialogues.

In early June, CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance (IIF) team and the fellowship’s seasoned faculty, advisors, subject experts, and inaugural class of fellows all came together in South Africa for the in-person kick-off seminar. This first seminar was very well received by both fellows and staff and here are some of the reasons I believe it went well.

Participant Diversity: The first cohort of fellows connects 30 board members and CEOs from 13 institutions throughout 11 countries, all with diverse backgrounds and experience. Each participating institution is required to send their CEO along with one or two board members. Having this mix of participants throughout the seminar led to numerous engaged, candid, and rich discussions about roles, board dynamics, and responsibilities. Had we only brought together one fellow from each institution, these conversations would have been far more one dimensional.

Structured Accountability: Having both CEOs and board members present supports accountability within each institution – to participate in each session and to take action afterwards. If only one member from each institution attended, would they be able to transfer their takeaways to their organization or actually implement any of the lessons learned? Additionally, given that the fellows either came from a different geographical location, offered differing products, or perhaps targeted a different niche market, it seemed that everyone got enormous value from their exchanges with one another.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

One theme we come across repeatedly at CFI is the discrepancy between financial services access and usage. A central tenet of our vision of financial inclusion is that access isn’t enough; financial services need to meet client needs and actually be used. One example is mobile banking. As is now well known, millions are now accessing financial services for the first time with mobile payment platforms through telcos. As our By the Numbers report found, however, the proportion of financial services accounts that are mobile is much smaller for the world in general – East Africa is the outlier.

I just returned from an exciting two-week assignment through Accion’s Ambassador program with Akiba Commercial Bank in Tanzania. I met with Akiba staff, visited branch offices, and talked with clients. (You can read about my experiences, including a trip to Zanzibar and terrifying/awesome motorcycle taxi trips on the Ambassador blog.) Since I was in the region with the world’s highest adoption of mobile banking, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about how Akiba’s mobile banking experience has worked out, both from staff and client perspectives. Has adoption and usage met expectations? What kind of feedback was Akiba hearing from clients? What challenges was Akiba facing with their mobile platform?

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Good morning! It’s the start of another week, which means there’s a new issue of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. This week’s issue includes stories on the Islamic Development Bank supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s research on bitcoin and blockchain technology, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) creating a new financial inclusion committee. Here are a few more details:

  • Last week the Islamic Development Bank’s Chief Economist asserted the importance of Islamic finance in achieving the SDGs and the Bank pledged over $150 billion over the next 15 years towards achieving them.
  • An interview with CoinDesk highlights the Gates Foundation’s recent research on how blockchain technology might be helpful as a means of settlement between payment systems and in international remittances.
  • The RBI created a committee to devise a five-year measurable action plan for financial inclusion covering areas such as payments, deposits, credit, social security transfers, pensions, insurance, and consumer protection.

For more information on these and other stories, read the sixth 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 ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Magauta Mphahlele, CEO, National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA)

A few weeks ago, South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry published new proposed regulations pertaining to the National Credit Act limiting fees and interest rates on short-term and unsecured loans along with credit cards. The public may lodge comments to the draft regulations up until 30 days after its publishing date of June 25th. The intelligence used to inform the proposals have not been released so it is not clear what policy, cost, or operational factors were taken into consideration to arrive at the outlined changes. Meanwhile, the microfinance industry in the country, which has been lobbying for the flexibility to charge significantly higher interest rates and fees, seeks to understand the regulators’ rationale.

The draft regulations were published after a protracted court battle where one of the industry associations representing micro-lenders requested the court to force the regulator and policymakers to review the fees requirements of the National Credit Act. The fees and interest rates hadn’t been reviewed since the Act became effective in 2007 – a concern when taking into account factors like inflation.

Credit providers have responded with dismay and concern about the proposed changes, especially the interest rate caps on unsecured loans. They have expressed the fear that the proposed interest and fee changes will affect the cost of administering credit, reduce profits, and constrict access to credit for borrowers. Other commentators have viewed the reductions favorably considering consumers are already over-indebted to a large extent and the interest rate cycle is predicted to start trending upwards. On this blog a few months ago, I shared that in 2014, the National Credit Regulator (NCR) Credit Bureau Monitor revealed that out of South Africa’s roughly 23 million credit active individuals, about 11 million have impaired records.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

We are looking for four research fellows to explore some of the most relevant and exciting questions facing the financial inclusion community. Interested?

Before answering, some background. A few months ago we articulated some ambitious unanswered questions that we think will propel financial inclusion forward, and offered the space for you to contribute questions, too (many thanks to those of you who made suggestions!). Since the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is committed to figuring out what is working in financial inclusion and worth replicating, we have made it a priority to partner this year with researchers to explore some of these questions in greater detail.

And that’s where you come in.

We are looking for researchers who are interested in becoming fellows for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s brand new Fellows Program. The Fellows Program will empower independent researchers to systematically analyze some of the most important and critical challenges facing the industry. This year, we are selecting four fellows to explore the following topics:

  • What are the conditions for “on-ramps” to lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access and the Better Than Cash Alliance’s pursuit of G2P payments, both of which focus on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to greater inclusion, through either active account usage or access to additional products. What cases demonstrate successful on-ramps and what factors or strategies enabled deeper inclusion to take place? Research could examine one or several examples.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

fi2020 issue five

Good afternoon! Freshly published is this week’s Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. Among its stories are a new partnership between MetLife Foundation and Opportunity International to expand financing and skills training in rural China, the launch of a World Food Programme initiative that integrates climate risk reduction with financial services, and the release of the first annual Consumer Banking PACE Index, which gauges bank performance to consumer expectations. Here are a few more details:

  • MetLife Foundation and Opportunity International have embarked on a three-year partnership to support thousands of small businesses in rural China with financial services and business development training via banks, mobile vans, and rural service centers.
  • The World Food Programme launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, which helps smallholder famers in Zambia navigate environmental demands using index-based agricultural insurance, improved natural resource management, credit, savings, and productive safety nets.
  • The new Consumer Banking PACE Index, drawing on input from over 9,000 consumers, examines bank performance in a handful of countries around the world to conclude that, among other findings, fair and transparent pricing falls below consumer expectations, and trust in banks remains an issue.

For more information on these and other stories, read the fifth 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 us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on the Accion Ambassadors blog.

At some point during our walk down the dusty, uneven road packed with minibuses and motorcycles inches away from hitting me, unfamiliar music and sounds blasting from unseen speakers, people selling everything from plastic toys to Adidas shorts to cell phones to furniture, and a profusion of life and color all around, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I was hoping to see in Tanzania.”

My fellow Accion Ambassador Javier and I were walking with a staff member from Akiba’s headquarters office and Dominik, the assistant branch manager at Akiba’s Temeke branch. Akiba is a commercial microfinance institution based in Dar es Salaam with branches throughout Tanzania. The four of us were off to visit clients down the street from the branch office. Before our walk, Dominik shared some background on Akiba’s work and their clients.

While every Akiba client has a deposit account, not every client has a loan. So for example, the Temeke branch serves over 4,000 clients – 2,100 have a loan while around 2,000 only have deposit accounts. However, “savings is a big problem,” Dominik tells us. “People are not saving regularly.” This is partially because Akiba has only recently promoted savings as part of their client outreach and education. The Temeke branch’s clients are all in the neighborhood and are food vendors, manage their own clothing or cell phone shops, or own other small businesses. The branch’s clients tend to be at Akiba’s “medium” level, with loans ranging from 20 million to 50 million shillings (about US$10,000 to US$25,000 – a much higher amount than I was expecting to be normal). Group solidarity loans are also popular and are smaller loans ranging from 200,000 to 5 million shillings (US$100 to US$2,500).

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