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> Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

The Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bankers (G20) is targeting financial inclusion through the G20 Development Working Group (DWG), which is in the process of finalizing an agenda for its 2014 goals. The DWG focuses on developing an agenda for tackling development challenges, with the intent to remove constraints to sustainable growth and poverty alleviation. Recently, through our participation in InterAction’s G20/G8 Advocacy Alliance, CFI teamed up with other non-profits in the financial inclusion community to develop a set of recommendations for G20 leaders. While the Alliance and DWG span a diverse range of issues, our focus was, of course, on financial inclusion.

Our recommendations to the G20 were developed in coordination with CARE International UK, the Grameen Foundation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, HelpAge USA, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, among others. They urge governments to implement national strategies for financial capability and client protection, ensuring that these strategies and targets address a full suite of financial services and include underserved groups. You can read the full set of recommendations and contributing organizations here.

Last week we had the opportunity to discuss our recommendations with senior leadership from the Australian G20 presidency. As you may know, the G20 Presidency rotates each year, and this is Australia’s year. Each presidency takes a lead in setting the agenda and priorities, which are then discussed and (ideally) implemented by all G20 members.

The G20 Australian presidency issued a global development agenda, which was supported by the DWG. It highlighted two major outcomes for 2014 related to financial inclusion and remittances. We were happy to see an expressed desire to move beyond a focus on cost reduction for remittances, where there has been a great deal of progress, to maximizing the potential of remittances to increase financial inclusion.

During the meeting, our financial inclusion team brought three key points to the conversation: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

How can governments best regulate to advance financial inclusion? Effective regulation is often brought up when discussing essential components for expanding banking services. Like all industries, the world of financial services requires rules to ensure protection and fair practices. However, when it comes to advancing financial inclusion, the most effective way to handle regulation is not unanimous or even widely defined.

In recent years, more governments have taken steps to advance financial inclusion. Many have developed national inclusion strategies. A number have enacted regulation pertaining to new products and services, like mobile money. For government payment systems, such as social welfare benefits, some have switched over to electronic methods. Though on the whole, regulation struggles to keep pace with the increasingly complex services landscape, and progress is limited.

In the following video, global leaders discuss the role of regulation in financial inclusion, and how coordination within governments and between sectors can lead to more informed and enabling regulation and services environments.

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> Posted by Adriana Magdas, Specialist, CFI

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, the most famous, are the hot topic of the moment. In light of the shutdown of the most popular Bitcoin exchange in the world, Mt. Gox, and a loss of an estimated US$ 400 million worth of Bitcoins, it’s important to take another look at digital currencies, their pitfalls, and their relevance for financial inclusion. Hailed by many as the greatest monetary innovation of our time and by others as nothing but “libertarian exuberance,” cryptocurrencies show the opportunity that exists for financial transactions, especially international transactions, to move from cash to digital form. As someone working in financial inclusion, I have been wondering whether cryptocurrencies have any role to play in the critical path toward greater inclusion, which ultimately requires lower dependency on cash for low-income consumers.

Other cryptocurrencies abound—Dodgecoin, Litecoin, and Ripple are a few of the others—but Bitcoin, which launched in 2009, is the first decentralized mainstream P2P payment network and digital currency. Independent from hard, government-backed fiat currencies, Bitcoin is an internet-based, software dependent, inflation immune currency that can be purchased with cash and exchanged for services or goods with merchants who accept it. The market supply of Bitcoin is fixed at 21 million, meaning that once 21 million “coins” are in existence, the cash value will be fully determined by demand. In the last four years, the popularity of Bitcoin in developed economies has increased considerably, not necessarily because it’s an easier medium of exchange but because it is new, interesting, a source of revenue for Bitcoin miners and speculators, and because it decreases the costs retailers incur from accepting credit card payments. For example, Overstock.com is the first large online retailer to accept Bitcoins, in an effort to minimize the costs incurred from credit card transactions.

Does Bitcoin have any relevance for low and middle-income countries? As in developed economies, for P2P and P2C payments, its greatest benefit is in significantly decreasing the cost of sending remittances to friends and family. Bitcoin transactions are free, meaning remittance senders do not incur significant money transmitter fees.

But what are the challenges?

The challenges to Bitcoin in particular, and cryptocurrencies in general, are substantial. It will be a while before Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be able to substantially help advance financial inclusion in developing countries. In the short-term, Bitcoin might take a significant chunk out of the profits of money transmitters and will definitely underline the appetite for monetary and payments innovation.

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> Posted by Sucheta Dalal, Founding Trustee, Moneylife Foundation

World Consumer Rights Day is March 15. To celebrate, this week we’ll be sharing posts that explore the importance of client protection and initiatives that strengthen responsible practices in providing financial services. Given the tremendous growth of mobile phone-based financial services, it’s fitting that the theme of this year’s day is “fix our phone rights.”

India’s independent legal system and an activist judiciary are touted as the key to its vibrant democracy. However, those who have had to deal with India’s expensive and excruciatingly slow legal system know otherwise. Justice delayed is justice denied – this is especially true for the poor, the disempowered, and the middle class in India, who have to wait for decades for a judgment to be delivered. Add to this the fact that many laws are complex, the language obtuse and technical, new statutes are enacted without repealing old ones, and you get a picture of how the system really works.

In the past two decades after India embarked on an economic liberalization process, it also set up a slew of “independent regulators” to regulate capital markets, insurance, pensions, telecom, electricity distribution, etc., with full powers to receive complaints and act on them. All this means that citizens are constantly struggling for help in finding the right remedy or appropriate forum to resolve their grievances.

For instance, a person with a complaint against a bank can approach a banking ombudsman and get a fast and inexpensive resolution. But a consumer court, set up under a separate statute, would offer far better results if one were to complain about being missold an insurance policy or mutual fund. However, very few people know the difference. Ignorance about the laws governing information technology, social media, or privacy issues is even more endemic.

In response to a stream of queries and requests for support and counseling on legal issues, Moneylife Foundation set up a Legal Resource Centre (LRC). The LRC is not a legal aid centre in the sense that it does not draft lawsuits, file complaints, or argue cases for people. There are government-supported legal aid cells attached to Indian courts as is the norm in many countries.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Siddhartha Chowdri, Program Manager, Disability Inclusion, India, CFI

While attending the recent Techshare disability inclusion conference in New Delhi I was invited to attend a “High-Level Meeting on Inclusive Financial Service.” This meeting aimed at starting an intensive national dialogue on the use of technology in making banks in India more accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). This unique summit was organized by G3ICTthe Indian Banks’ Association (IBA)Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility division, and the Centre for Internet and Society in Mumbai.

Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Chairman of G3ICT, Mohan Tanksale, Chief Executive of IBA, Sam Taraporevala, Director of XRCVC

Through the course of the afternoon many dignitaries shared their views and strategies on financial inclusion for PWDs. Senior leaders of the IBA (Mr. Mohan Tanksale) and the Reserve Bank of India (Ms. Sadana Verma and Mr. KC Anand) discussed the advances in regulation that have made banking more accessible to the blind and were extremely passionate about making the case to all financial institutions in the country that there is a legitimate business case for using available technologies to become more accessible.

After hearing the perspective of the banks and regulators the discussion turned to the technology providers. Mr. Nagesh Nayak of NCR gave us all a great lesson on how not to be accessible. NCR had the mandate to develop talking ATMs to enable visually impaired persons to access their accounts. He showed us a video that let us understand how the first talking ATMs did not actually improve access. For example, the ATM would ask the blind user to choose an option but then not say the options out loud. Then Mr. P. Ramachandran who flew in from IBM’s research headquarters in Austin, Texas explained how IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility group is using technology to empower employees with various disabilities to make significant contributions to their business. If the likes of NCR and IBM can be so proactive in promoting accessibility and provide tools and case studies, then hopefully the financial service providers of the world will not be too far behind.

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> Posted by Center Staff

PCMA CEO Abeer Odeh and PMA Governor Jihad Al Wazir

Last week Palestinian government officials announced plans to create a national financial inclusion strategy, an initiative that would put it on a short list of two countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that have nationwide, government-led inclusion plans (Morocco being the other).

The Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Palestine Capital Markets Authority (PCMA), the country’s central bank and a national regulating body will co-lead the project along with support from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) and other public and private groups.

The policies and guidelines of the strategy will aim to facilitate greater access, improve awareness and financial education, and reinforce client protection. An area inviting particular attention is access to credit, which is low for both individuals and SMSEs. The strategy will build on inclusion principles endorsed by the G20, World Bank, AFI, and the OECD Principles on National Strategy for Financial Education.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI 

In South Africa, where fewer than 20 percent of people have medical insurance, the alternative product of hospital cash plans (HCPs) is becoming increasingly popular, but it remains to be seen where within the country’s shifting healthcare landscape HCPs will settle, and what HCP products will look like as they mature. There are currently 2.4 million people covered by HCPs in South Africa and this number is growing by 50,000 each month.

As their name might suggest, hospital cash plans don’t offer comprehensive healthcare, but instead offer cash payouts at the time of hospitalization. Payouts depend on the premiums customers pay, which means that not all medical treatment can be fully covered. However, with HCPs rising popularity and the poor state of South Africa’s health system (the country was ranked 175 out of 191 in a WHO assessment of country-level health system performance), this product area deserves thorough attention, and a few recent reports from Finmark Trust offer just that.

But first, a few basics on HCPs. Premiums paid for HCPs are determined by the individual’s age and desired level of coverage. Their cash payout at the time of hospitalization is determined by the level of coverage and the number of days spent in the hospital. In some cases the type of medical treatment received affects payout, too. Though as payout is most often determined just by days in the hospital, not the cost of care, insurers typically don’t monitor how the financial support is spent. This allows policyholders to use the money for other expenses that come up during illnesses, like getting to hospital, and to substitute for income lost due to missed work. HCPs are aimed mainly at users of public health services. Only the wealthiest 20 percent of South Africans use private services, and they are more likely to be the users of traditional medical insurance. There are currently between 30 and 40 insurers offering HCPs and about 100 offering traditional healthcare.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

The U.S. Congress has recently been involved in debate on immigration, a theme also explored in President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week. Such conversations have led me to wonder… what does financial inclusion mean for people who are living outside of their home country?

There has been a marked increase in countries that have released definitions of financial inclusion, national strategies for financial inclusion, and regulations that support financial inclusion. The focus of these efforts is in part determined by how countries define the target population for financial inclusion. Often, financial inclusion is not for everyone.

At the Center for Financial Inclusion, our definition specifies that financial services are “for all who can use them.” For us, age, disability, gender, or citizen status should not keep people from formal financial services.

In the implementation of financial inclusion policy, regulation, and strategy, however, there are legal and security-based concerns affecting why our definition of financial inclusion “for all who can use financial services” isn’t reflected in every definition of financial inclusion. The OECD and the EU, for example, are very clear that financial inclusion is for citizens only. Other countries around the world similarly adopt this definition. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Expanding financial inclusion to the 2.5 billion unbanked individuals around the world is essential, but why does it matter, and is it possible in the next six years?

In recent years, the inclusion movement has achieved critical support and rapid progress. Last year universal financial access by 2020 was endorsed by World Bank President Jim Kim. Technology-enabled business models are catalyzing outreach, building on infrastructure like the mobile phones now accessible to six of the world’s seven billion people.

In the following video, global financial inclusion leaders explore the questions of whether financial inclusion is possible by 2020, and why we should work towards that goal.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Thirty million Americans are currently being pursued by debt collectors. During 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 180,000 complaints about the practices of these companies – a 13 percent increase over 2000 levels and more FTC complaints than from any other industry. Troublesome practices seem to only be limited by the imagination, but some of the more reported-on ones are incessant calling at all hours and issuing unsubstantiated, misleading threats. Today the U.S. debt collection industry stands at over 4,500 companies and $12 billion.

To make matters worse, many of those being pursued don’t even have the debt in question. About one-quarter of the collection-related complaints the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received last year were from individuals who were being wrongly pursued.

Debt collection happens, with some variation, in one of three ways: lenders carry out the collection in-house; third-party companies are hired and paid to complete the collection; or third-party companies buy a lender’s debt and independently complete the collection. In the latter case, collection companies buy individual’s debts from lenders for as low as a few cents for each dollar of debt and in return they receive a spreadsheet with basic information like names, phone numbers, and debt amounts. Collectors pocket the difference between what they paid to the lenders and the total they collect. It’s not uncommon for this spreadsheet information, intentionally or not, to be inaccurate or faulty. And even when a person is wrongly pursued, the consequences can be serious.

A popular debt collections practice brought to public attention in recent years thanks to legal suits centers on collectors taking debtors to court without their awareness (giving new meaning to the phrase blind judgment). Collections agents fail to serve a debtor a notice of complaint, produce a false affidavit claiming the individual has been properly served, and then proceed with a court hearing. The defendant, of course, does not attend, and so most often the debt collector wins the case and a default judgment is issued. (More than 95 percent of credit card lawsuits end in a default judgment, an automatic win for the collector or lender.) Such rulings could include the freezing of bank accounts, garnishing of wages, and they are very likely to reduce credit scores.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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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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