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> Posted by Monica Brand Engel and Jackson Scher, Managing Director and Program Coordinator, Frontier Investments Group, Accion

Innovative payment solutions are proliferating globally. Enabled by the exponential expansion of mobile phones, social media, “big data”, and internet access, financial players throughout the world are inventing new ways to complete transactions. Disruptive innovations such as prepaid options, NFC-enabled payments, and cryptocurrencies are gaining significant adoption and are changing the payments space. These trends are especially pronounced in emerging markets where many new entrants have chosen to “leapfrog” traditional, resource-intensive systems and dive directly into the seamless and nimble world of digital financial services. Although these exciting innovations in digital payments have the potential to increase convenience for customers and dramatically reduce costs, some challenges remain. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced substantial increases throughout the country’s microfinance market: growth in the volume of loans dispersed to microentrepreneurs, in the number of microcredit institutions offering savings services, and in the return on equity of rural banks with microfinance operations. Concerning regulation and institutional support, the recently released 2014 Global Microscope found that the Philippines has the best environment in Asia for financial inclusion.

In 2014, loans extended to microentrepreneurs in the Philippines totaled P9.3 billion (US$209 million) as of June, according to figures reported by BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. at the recent Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards in Manila – a roughly 7 percent increase over last year’s figure. On savings, in early 2012 only 22 banks in the country offered micro-deposit accounts. Now, 69 of the Philippines’ 183 banks with microcredit operations take deposits, with a total of 1.7 million micro-deposit accounts. Beyond credit and savings, 86 of the country’s institutions offering microcredit also provide microinsurance and 26 provide electronic banking services.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Last week in Mexico City, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to voice their hope for a better Mexico. In a hotel that overlooked the demonstration, members of the World Savings Bank Institute met to talk about how to make a safer and more effective financial system for those at the base of the pyramid. In terms of inclusive finance, in recent months we’ve seen significant progress. During the meeting, Vice President of the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) in Mexico, Bernardo Gonzalez, opened his remarks by putting up a list of the top 10 countries in this year’s Global Microscope. Modestly, he pointed out that five of the 10 were from Latin America. Perhaps more emphatically, he highlighted Mexico’s place—fifth on the list.

As a regulator, he should be proud. Mexico’s score this year is in part a reflection of the regulatory reforms that the country has been moving forward, with attention to customers at the base of the economic pyramid. While Mexico’s microfinance sector has been under scrutiny in recent years because of notoriously high interest rates, concerns of over-indebtedness, and commercial banks hesitant to go “down-market”, a new set of microfinance regulations attempts to change things.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in taking a close look at financial inclusion efforts around the world, it’s that context matters. That’s why we are excited to be part of the team releasing the Global Microscope 2014: The Enabling Environment for Financial Inclusion. The Microscope is carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with sponsorship and guidance from the Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB, CAF, and Citi. The Microscope evaluates the environment for financial inclusion in 55 different countries and provides powerful signals to policymakers in each country on their progress. Which countries topped the list and which have the most room to grow?

We’ll tell you, but first, it’s important to know what the results mean. Each country inspected in the Microscope is assessed on 12 indicators that consider best practices in national regulatory environments and institutional support for providers serving clients at the base of the pyramid. Indicators range from government support for financial inclusion, to supervision of microfinance and other financial products, the status of credit reporting, regulations governing mobile banking and, last but not least, consumer protection.

This year is an important one in the publication’s eight year history because the focus shifted from microfinance to the environment for financial inclusion, a process that involved adapting the framework to account for today’s diversity of providers and products. What we were surprised by, however, was just how little a difference this made in the rankings. We charted last year’s results on the microfinance environment against this year’s results on the financial inclusion environment and we found a very high correlation between the two (see figure below). Environments that are enabling for microfinance are often environments that are enabling for financial inclusion. Six countries from last year’s top 10 were in this year’s top ten. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Welcome to the second Financial Inclusion 2020 e-magazine!

It’s been a year since the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum. The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is taking this moment to review how the drive for financial inclusion is faring. With this e-zine we bring you highlights of the past 12 months from around the financial inclusion world – new ventures, milestones, and ongoing debates. Inside, you’ll find a snapshot of progress in each of our five “Roadmap to Inclusion” areas, from technology-enabled business models to consumer protection. Over the past months we spoke with dozens of industry participants to gauge their views of the progress of each major recommendation presented at the Global Forum, and we’ve distilled their responses here. We learned of many exciting initiatives, though we have room to cite only a few.

To read the e-zine online, click the cover above or here. Although the e-zine is best viewed online, a PDF download is also available, here.

This is our first in a series of responses to the provocative post last week from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.

“There are three things none of these digital players want to deal with – and never will. They do not want to get a banking license that embroils them in onerous regulation. They do not want to conduct primary identity checks on their customers (Know Your Customer, or KYC), which require physical customer contact. And they do not want to touch their customers’ cash.”

What follows is a response from Tahira Dosani and Vikas Raj of Accion’s Venture Lab, which invests in new fintech start-ups.

While it is true that much of the current innovation in digital financial services has been focused on higher-end consumer segments and less on financial inclusion, in our view this has not been a result only of digital players’ intentions. In fact, mainstream digital financial service companies’ difficulties in serving the financially excluded arise primarily from three key factors – cost, connectivity, and capability. Simply put, these customers are more expensive to acquire, harder to access, and require targeted products, pricing, and distribution. Customers that are banked, connected, and well-understood are the low-hanging fruit today, and that is why they are targeted by large players.

Read the rest of this entry »

In this thoughtful and provocative blog post Ignacio Mas lays down a series of challenges for everyone working on financial inclusion. We think that the questions he’s asking need to be talked about. We’re asking three experts — on customer-centricity, on fintech start-ups, and on regulation — to respond to his provocations, and for the next three Wednesdays we’ll publish one of them.

Have you noticed how narrow the interventions of the chorus of financial inclusion supporters have become? Academic researchers are immersed in proving whether an SMS message sent at the right time can push people to repay their loans more promptly (a.k.a. nudges), or whether someone with more savings is likely to be happier and more empowered in some way (a.k.a. impact evaluations). NGOs fund numerous papers and conferences to promote the idea of seeking early and frequent customer feedback in product design (a.k.a. human-centered design), or of looking into customer data for some clue as to what interests them and how they behave (a.k.a. big data). Donors set up round after round of tenders with subsidized funds to spur fully-grown banks and telcos to try out a new product feature (a.k.a. challenge grants), or to prop up the marketing and distribution wherewithal of selected players (a.k.a. capacity building).

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

2014 World Bank/IMF Annual Meeting

Sound financial inclusion regulation and policy does not an ethical financial system make. In financial inclusion, we often talk about the importance of consumer protection, industry transparency, and fair market conditions. In the absence of universal standards of what these principles look like in practice, we turn to regulators and policymakers. I contend that we cannot keep relying on regulation to make the financial system moral and just. Since much of my own research promotes financial inclusion policy and regulation, this is a fairly inflammatory statement for me to make. But when we look only to regulators to create a financially inclusive and fair marketplace, we miss the mark.

In my own life, I see an analogy to our family game night. I am a very competitive person. I confess that there are times (fairly frequent times) that I cheat. I can easily miscount the number of spaces my piece is moving in Monopoly, or I can set down three cards and make it look like one card in Uno. My husband sometimes catches me, or my efforts to cheat simply aren’t drastic enough, so very rarely do I change the outcome of the game. But no number of rules can keep me from trying. Nevertheless, I’m sure my husband would agree that rules and regulations are not sufficient. Game night would be far more ethical if, instead of relying on the game rules, we relied on our responsibility to one another (check back with me in a few months to ask how a recalibration of my own internal compass is going).

In his remarks to during the recent World Bank Annual Meetings, the Most Reverend Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) emphasized that ethics in finance is not about creating carrots and sticks, but about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Welby’s charge to participants in the meeting, including Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, recognizes the necessity of the personal ethical compass—not solely a reliance on regulators.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

Last Friday I attended an event organized by The Guardian and sponsored by Visa called “How to Bank Billions: Exploring New Models for Financial Inclusion in Emerging Economies” at George Washington University. Speakers included Camille Busette, lead financial sector specialist at CGAP; Martha Brantley, director of business development at the Clinton Global Initiative; and Stephen Kehoe, head of global financial inclusion at Visa Inc.

The panelists shared new models for financial inclusion, emphasizing the need to truly address consumers’ needs and the importance of building a whole market ecosystem. Camille Busette affirmed that the intersection between these two approaches will truly advance financial inclusion. Other trends were highlighted, especially the need to have traditional financial services providers interested in financial inclusion in order to truly scale up its impact. Marin Holtmann from the IFC pointed out entirely new developments as mobile network operators (MNOs) acquiring banks or banks acquiring MNO licenses, as in the case of Equity Bank in Kenya.

The second half of the discussion was focused on barriers faced by the financial inclusion community. Most participants identified obstacles like regulation and traditional business models. However, the panelists agreed that these obstacles also present themselves as the greater opportunities. Stephen Kehoe illustrated both issues in a very insightful way. He stressed the need to develop public-private partnerships so that regulations are conducive to a growing ecosystem for digital financial services. Kehoe affirmed that the community doesn’t need to work on one particular business model but rather five different business models:

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The CFI’s Financial Inclusion 2020 project team has been talking to the experts lately to get their views on the main recommendations that came out of our 2013 Roadmap to Inclusion process.

One of the high level recommendations was as follows:

Regulators need to craft regulation that allows technology-enabled business models to emerge, while balancing access and protection for base of the pyramid consumers.

We asked some of the experts to give their views on whether this recommendation is moving forward across the developing world. The general response was, “Not fast enough,” and so we probed to find out more about what is getting in the way.

Many of the players in financial inclusion envision a rich technology-enabled ecosystem in which customers can affordably use electronic means to make payments (inter-operably, of course) and to access savings, credit, and other financial services. In this vision, providers sometimes compete and sometimes partner to offer various services. Financial institutions, telecommunication companies, payment providers, governments, and others find themselves part of a complex network that seamlessly enables consumers to manage and enhance their financial lives.

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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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