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What Happened and Where Are We Today?

> Posted by Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, Financial Inclusion Lead, MetLife Foundation, and Graham A. N. Wright, Group Managing Director, MicroSave

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.

In the previous post “The Ebb and Flow of Customer-Centricity – Beyond the Basics” we discussed the details of building a customer-centric, or market-led financial service provider – and the intricate jigsaw puzzle of skills, processes, incentives, planning, and execution required to pull it off.

Results

So, did all of our action research partners become client-centric market leaders? Are clients in their countries receiving amazing customer service and great products? The truth is that some institutions are better at delivering client-centric products than others. As a result of the project our 10 action research partners* developed or refined nine savings products and 11 loan products. At the end of 2007, when the project closed and MicroSave transformed into a consulting company, 373,705 customers had loans from our action research partners; the outstanding balances on these loans were $300 million; 2.5 million people had savings accounts and an overall outstanding balance of $530 million.

Over the same period MicroSave trained more than 51 Certified Service Providers and over 1,000 staff in marketing, R&D, operations, and risk management departments. Many of these people remain in the industry (if not in the same jobs). These people and institutions have a deep understanding of being “market-led” and we need to build on the talent and experience the industry already has.

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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 Indonesia’s first floating bank branch, a new report from the Impact Programme on the impact investing markets in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and a paper from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the evolving cryptocurrency market. Here are a few more details:

  • Bank Rakyat Indonesia’s new floating branch, offering all the services of its traditional branches, will boat its way around six of the Thousand Islands off the coast of Jakarta, which encompass around 8,000 of the bank’s customers.
  • The Impact Programme’s new report explores investment patterns and future plans, revealing that, among other findings, industry participants are optimistic, though they see the need to both disaggregate the market and increase the range of investment instruments.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a recently released paper, asserts that: “The discussion is no longer one of whether cryptocurrency will survive, but rather how it will evolve.” The paper examines how key market participants (merchants and consumers, tech developers, investors, financial institutions, and regulators) fit into the big picture.

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 Joshua Goldstein, Vice President, Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

“Over a sixth of the world’s population has directly experienced armed conflict, torture, terrorism, sexual and gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing or genocide,” states the website of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF). I recently attended the 8th Annual PCAF Pan-African Psychotrauma Conference in Nairobi, a multidisciplinary event that focuses on psychological trauma in Africa’s war-affected societies. PCAF operates mental health clinics in Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda and conducts trainings for mental health professionals. At the conference, I was surrounded by global leaders from health care, academia, and a litany of organizations working in the mental health space.

At first blush, my participation at such an event might seem odd as my work focuses on disability inclusion for microfinance. But, I’d argue that’s more of a reflection of how society, and our industry, views mental disabilities – with reductive biases – rather than how they fit within microfinance.

I had the privilege of presenting a keynote to the attendees. I discussed whether it’s possible for trauma patients who have gone through a successful course of treatment that includes counseling, medication, and livelihood trainings to become clients of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and build small-sized enterprises. Immediately below is an abridged version of my speech, with the complete text linked at the end.

Can MFIs help victims of trauma find hope and dignity through self-employment?

As a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor myself from the U.S., who received treatment, I believe with all my heart that in a just society poor people with mental health challenges should get the help they need so they can flourish as human beings. Unfortunately, in the international development world I come from, this great cause is barely on the radar—in spite of the fact that reaching the most destitute is at the urgent core of all international development work. Indeed, I share your outrage at the paucity of funding and support for community mental health from governments and foundations.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, Founder, Grameen Foundation

On Sunday, August 23, as I was enjoying some of the final days of summer visiting friends in New Hampshire, I noticed that I had been tagged in a tweet by Dean Karlan, the founder and president of Innovations for Poverty Action.  He provided a link to an article about FINCA that included extensive quotes from its CEO, Rupert Scofield.  He asked Rupert if he really believed microfinance could reduce terrorism, and asked me what I thought (“whatcha think?” was the precise formulation of his question).  He tweeted again on Monday, asking whether I was “still going to stand by [my] claim that no microcredit leaders make grandiose and overselling impact claims?”

First of all, I have never said that no microcredit leaders have ever exaggerated impact claims.  I believe that those exaggerated claims have been rare and atypical, especially in recent years.  In other words, the tendency for practitioners and advocates to make exaggerated claims not backed up by data has itself been quite exaggerated.

But I don’t think Twitter is the best medium for exploring such topics.  So I was grateful when the Center for Financial Inclusion agreed to publish this response to Dean’s public queries of me, in which I could address some related issues about microfinance advocacy and research.  (This post builds upon some of the observations I made in reviewing Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s impressive but flawed book, More Than Good Intentions.)

Regarding the article Dean tweeted about, I am supportive of Rupert’s statements and encourage others to read it and come to their own conclusions.  (Having been the public face of an international humanitarian organization for 18 years, I also realize that journalists sometimes focus on a very small part of what someone says in an interview, often on those things that are potentially the most controversial.)  For the most part, Rupert comments on specific microfinance clients he and the journalist met and on his past experiences and how they shaped his view of microfinance.  It’s impossible to challenge any of those observations and recollections.  They are statements of personal experience and opinion.

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> Posted by Rafael Chapman, Analyst, UpSpring

Based on the latest report from the Giving USA Foundation, philanthropy efforts in the United States hit a record high in 2014 with total contributions reaching about $360 billion. Charitable giving is on the rise in the United States, as this figure represents a 7 percent increase over 2013. However, contributions to nonprofits serving Native American communities remain persistently low, representing well under 1 percent of philanthropy in the country.

The need is growing, however. The Native American population grew 27 percent from 2000 to 2010, almost three times the national average. Based on 2012 data, there are over 5 million people in the U.S. who identify themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Natives, and this number is expected to exceed 6.5 million by 2020.

More than 20 percent of Native Americans live on reservations where living conditions are far from tolerable. In these lands that have been inhabited for centuries, the average unemployment rate is well over 10 percent and nearly a third of reservations consider themselves considerably overcrowded. Moreover, due to lack of formal financial history records and conventional employment information, most residents in these reservations lack access to the traditional banking system, which has contributed to a severe unmet need for accessible capital among Native American communities.

All of this leads to the question: If living conditions are so deplorable in this growing community, why haven’t we increased our charitable contributions and attentions towards Indian country?

Myth #1: Indian gaming brings a lot of money to Native American communities

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Beyond the Basics…

> Posted by Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, Financial Inclusion Lead, MetLife Foundation, and Graham A. N. Wright, Group Managing Director, MicroSave

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.

In the first part of this blog series, we saw how understanding customer demand is not enough to deliver mass financial inclusion … or even a successful product. Supply side factors are key … if rather more difficult than a quick market research exercise. Even after careful pilot-testing and a structured roll-out, all that preparation and keen balancing of client desires and institutional capacity to deliver sustainably didn’t necessarily work! Where were the clients? Why weren’t they storming the doors and asking for these wonderfully designed products? Weren’t our loan officers as excited as the project team? Did the CEO’s endorsement and great speech at the annual meeting make loan officers ready to sell the new products? Weren’t clients telling each other, and their cousins and friends?

No, they weren’t.

The supply side (staff) had not conveyed to the demand side (clients) that they had new products based on their feedback; they hadn’t convinced and trained staff, who were concerned that their jobs were about to get harder. Clients weren’t buying, and staff weren’t selling these new products. Once again, the action research partners* attacked the issues and MicroSave worked alongside, frantically learning and documenting.
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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

The Helix Institute of Digital Finance recently launched the Kenya Country Report 2014 as part of their Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) project. The ANA project is aimed at increasing global understanding of how to build and manage sustainable digital financial services (DFS) networks by conducting large-scale research among DFS agents and issuing training to providers and other stakeholders. In this two-part interview, Dorieke Kuijpers, Research Project Manager at the Helix Institute and co-author of the report, provides insight into the ANA project and the Kenya Country Report. The following is part two. Part one can be found here.

One of the big findings of the survey is that banks’ agents now account for 15 percent of the agent banking market in Kenya – a threefold increase over last year. What are some of the other key developments in the market?

We have identified a number of market developments by comparing the Kenya 2014 survey findings with those of the Kenya 2013 survey. Mobile network operators (MNOs) have led the success in the digital financial services industry in Kenya and historically have been considered better in marketing and distribution than banks, which is not surprising given that many MNOs in East Africa have more clients than banks do. Nearly a decade of development later, we see this changing: banks are now making large investments in the DFS business and they are approaching it in a very different way.

An interesting finding is that although we observe a significant increase in the market presence of bank agents, the products and services they offer are in many ways additive as opposed to competing with those of MNO agents. While MNO agents are still conducting a higher number of transactions (almost twice as many as bank agents), bank agents are offering a greater and more sophisticated array of services, including bill payments, savings, and credits. Also, the median amount transacted among bank agents is roughly 50 percent higher, which means their revenue is now similar to that of MNO agents. This is reflected in the fact that out of the 32 percent of agents that report wanting to open a new till for another provider, the overwhelming majority of agents would like to join a bank’s network, with Equity Bank being the most popular option.

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> Posted by Bindu Ananth, Chair, IFMR Trust

The following post was originally published on the IFMR Trust blog.

Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced in-principle Payment Bank licenses for eleven applicants. To put things in perspective, there were two new bank licenses in the last decade. The successful applicants include the largest telcos, corporate houses, business correspondents, a depository, and a mobile wallet provider. The number of licenses and the diversity of the pool bode well for the scale and scope of what will be pursued by this new category of banks in the years to come.

While previous licensing rounds were always for “full-service” banks, this represents the first round of licensing for a differentiated banking design following on RBI’s Discussion Paper on Differentiated Banking and the recommendations of the Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Business and Low-Income Households. To recap, a Payment Bank can provide deposit and payment products but cannot lend. This very important design feature has an important implication from a regulatory perspective – Payment Bank promoters now cannot “cross the floor” in terms of raising public deposits and lending these out. Therefore, the implications of “fit and proper” are now quite different for this group of promoters. This perhaps explains why this round produced eleven licenses against two in the last decade. And at this stage of development of the Indian banking sector, these eleven new entrants could be just what the doctor ordered for innovations on savings and payment services while not adversely impacting the stability of the banking system. An IFMR Finance Foundation working paper reported that the asset portfolio of the average rural household in India is composed almost entirely of two physical assets—housing and jewellery with little to no financial assets of any type.

Also from a financial system design perspective, this is a timely acknowledgement that the credit and payments strategy must evolve differentially within the broader financial inclusion strategy. While progress on credit would necessarily have to be much more measured and prudent no matter what strategies are adopted given the inherent risks and customer protection concerns, there is an urgent need to make access to payments ubiquitous. Yesterday’s announcement is an important step forward in that direction.

Why Being Customer-Centric Is a Supply Side Strategy…

> Posted by Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, Financial Inclusion Lead, MetLife Foundation, and Graham A. N. Wright, Group Managing Director, MicroSave

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.

In recent years Human Centered Design (HCD) became a buzzword in the financial inclusion world. It focused financial service providers on the design of products and services based on customer insights. Design firms became part of the technical provider fraternity, servicing financial service providers in the quest to improve inclusion. At the same time, the network of financial service providers broadened to include mobile network operators and retail chains, in addition to microfinance institutions (MFIs), banks, cooperatives, and a myriad of microfinance suppliers. With new entrants come new ideas – and repetition of old ones. One consistent, but underrated idea, is to focus on the customer.

Customer-centricity is not a new concept in the microfinance and financial inclusion world. In 1998, MicroSave was set up (by UNCDF/DFID who were then joined by CGAP, the Ford Foundation, and the Austrian and Norwegian governments) to promote savings in the microcredit landscape of East and Southern Africa. Initial research in Uganda revealed that although microfinance institutions (MFIs) did not have a legal mandate to collect savings, they did have another problem: drop-outs as high as 60 percent per annum. Further investigation revealed that much of the problem lay in poorly designed credit products. Much of 1999 and 2000 was spent understanding the problem, re-designing products, and developing the “market research for microfinance” tools and training.

This past experience resonates with the current realization among proponents of financial inclusion that customers are not using products. This is evident in the GSMA research that found that 68 percent of registered mobile money customers do less than one transaction in 90 days. No frills accounts in India, and transactional accounts in many other settings, are mostly dormant (GAFIS, 2011, DNA, 2015). The market-led research approaches aimed at microfinance, and the human centered design approaches of the recent years, did not fully succeed in focusing provider efforts on the customer, nor did they help to increase the use of financial products and services. In the quest to understand this, we return to the unfolding story of the early years of market-led approaches, based on the MicroSave experience.

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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 Microinsurance Network’s first annual “The State of Microinsurance” magazine, the findings of Child and Youth Finance International’s (CYFI) survey on youth finance regulation in Latin America and the Caribbean, and a blog post from the MasterCard Foundation on the role of microfinance associations in expanding financial inclusion. Here are a few more details:

  • The Microinsurance Network magazine sheds light on global microinsurance progress, failures and innovations, approaches to regulation, assessing and meeting demand, and the role of microinsurance in disaster risk management strategies.
  • The Latin America youth finance regulation survey, which CYFI aims to replicate in other regions, revealed that there is a great diversity in approaches to regulating practices affecting this client segment, and that young people are rarely seen as independent economic actors.
  • In a recent blog post, the MasterCard Foundation draws on its experience working with microfinance associations in sub-Saharan Africa to discuss their myriad abilities to advance financial inclusion, including through knowledge sharing, collecting and analyzing sectoral data, and supporting collective lobbying.

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.

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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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