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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 Center Staff

A new micro-pension platform targeting those working as domestic laborers, appropriately named Gift a Pension, launched in India last month. The platform is run by the Micro Pension Foundation (MPF) nonprofit and gives employers of domestic laborers a convenient way to support their workers in enrolling for the National Pension Scheme (NPS) Lite government product, a smaller version of the NPS offering. Across the country an estimated 40 million work for households in roles including maids, guards, cooks, and drivers. In the weeks since the program opened, over 1,000 domestic employers have registered themselves and gifted pensions to their workers. The platform offers more than its name suggests, as gifting workers five-year term life insurance is also available.

Here’s how the service works. First, MPF encourages employers ensure that their workers understand the structure and benefits of any accounts before enrollment happens. The Gift a Pension site includes a collection of educational tools and videos for employers to use to aid their workers’ familiarity with products and with the importance of managing finances for the long-term. Once this initial learning phase is complete, the employer registers themselves with the Gift a Pension site and enrolls their worker using information from the various documents that satisfy the necessary know-your-customer requirements. To open the account, the employer pays a one-time servicing fee (Rs 300) as well as the first contribution into the account. The worker then receives in the mail a guide to go along with their new account and their personal prepaid pension card. In a few weeks’ time the worker will also receive a government-issued Permanent Retirement Account Number (PRAN).

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> Posted by Kaj Malden, Project Manager, PlaNet Finance China

Huimin Microcredit client engaging in budgeting exercise

Poor rural women in China face challenges not dissimilar to poor rural women in other developing countries. Many are homemakers and child rearers, with much of their work tied to the home, offering little social or professional mobility. However, there are some dynamics in China that make women’s conditions somewhat different. The Communist Revolution of 1949 promulgated an ideology that favored gender equality and claimed women “hold up half the sky” (半边天). According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, gender inequality is more apparent in the developed economies of Japan and Italy than in China. Modern China’s One-Child Policy, however, leads to a cultural view that “values males and belittles females” (重男轻女). The fact that China’s gender ratio skews towards males may support this view and suggest that parents favor males. Additionally, China’s massive urbanization continues to create large flows of migrant workers, posing other challenges for women. Husbands often find work in neighboring provinces or eastern coastal cities, leaving their wives to manage the household’s finances and run the family business independently.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts highlighting initiatives to optimize smallholder finance data collection and usage, efforts to improve youth financial capability, and insights on how mobile money services can effectively reach women.

To better provide financing for the 450 million smallholder farmers around the world, there’s a big opportunity in developing shared knowledge bases and coordinated learning agendas for this topic area. A new post on the CGAP blog shares the work of Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the Initiative for Smallholder Finance to ascertain the state of the smallholder financing knowledge base and put in place a number of complementary tools so that those addressing this financing gap can work together, repurpose what others have already learned, and build off of the field’s scarce resources to drive it forward. The post highlights a smallholder impact literature wiki, an interactive map of smallholder finance tools, a framework for data collection that includes a shared learning agenda, and new briefings offering supply and demand side insights as well as indications of where data is lacking.

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

Students in a technical education program

With 1.2 billion people, youth between the ages of 15-24 represent approximately 18 percent of the global population, and 87 percent of youth live in developing countries. Yet only 44 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds have an account at a formal financial institution globally compared to 55 percent of adults.

Last week, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion on youth financial inclusion, hosted by Credit Suisse and organized by the Microfinance Club of New York. The presenters shared important examples of what has worked in providing financial education and services to youth. Joining me were:

  • Barbara Magnoni, President of EA Consultants and co-author of CGAP’s “Analyzing the Business Case for Youth Savings
  • Maria Perdomo, YouthStart, Programme Manager, UNCDF
  • Scott MacMillan, Communications Manager, BRAC USA
  • Simon Bailey, Head of Learning, Research, and Network, Aflatoun
  • Nathan Byrd, Head of Education Finance, Opportunity International

Recently, our Financial Inclusion 2020 team worked with Making Cents International to look at the barriers to and drivers of youth financial inclusion. We found that the primary reasons that youth cite for not having an account at a formal institution are a perceived lack of money, the high costs of services, and challenges in having proper identification. In addition, youth often feel that their financial assets or businesses are too small to work with a bank, especially in situations in which the costs of getting to a bank are high.

Despite these challenges, there are a few areas of opportunity. One is the business case. Since financial needs of young people grow in volume and sophistication over time there is a business case for serving them even as their financial needs are initially limited. Serving youth can help build a longer-term and loyal clientele if products are appropriate and financial capability is fostered. Another important area is financial education/capability. Establishing financial literacy early in life will help foster positive financial habits and lead to longer-term asset accumulation and higher credit scores. This needs to take place in a regulatory environment that supports financial inclusion and coordination among various players.

These three areas – the business case, financial capability, and the policy perspective – were the focus of much of the discussion at the event. I noticed that a few themes cut across the presentations:

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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign

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India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi created much fanfare and excitement upon the launch of a financial inclusion plan for the millions of unbanked Indians (currently estimated at 40 percent of the entire population). The Jan-Dhan Yojana (Scheme for People’s Wealth) will provide a free, zero-balance bank account and a debit card allowing for electronic payments, coupled with accident insurance and overdraft protection. Indian media went wild for the aggressive first day of the program wherein 15 million bank accounts were opened.

While all should cheer the intention of Prime Minister Modi to build a more inclusive financial system, there are some cautionary tales, both old and new, that the scheme should learn from. The tool of a basic savings account has been touted for close to a decade in India where, in 2005, the RBI promoted a ‘no-frills’ account scheme. While millions of new bank accounts where opened under this scheme, researchers found that many of the accounts were dormant, underutilized, and hence ineffective at ushering the formally excluded into the formal system. Even in districts dubbed 100 percent included, the reality on the ground was far less exemplary in terms of enrollment and usage of accounts.

Prime Minister Modi might also take heed of a much more recent cautionary tale added by researchers at IFMR, a business school in Chennai. Co-authors Amy Mowl and Camille Boudot wanted to understand whether there were hidden barriers to individuals interested in savings and investing using a basic savings account. That savings account, formerly called no-frills, and now called a BSBDA (Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account), are mandated by the Reserve Bank of India to be offered by all banks. Mowl and Boudot hired and trained a group of mystery shoppers to pose as low-income customers interested in opening a BSBDA at 42 branches of 27 large banks in metropolitan Chennai. The experiences of these mystery auditors was tracked, recorded, and analyzed by the researchers. The results were stark.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

In most places around the world the subject of pensions is a sore one. In 2012, for example, in looking at arguably the crème of private employers, Fortune 100 companies, only 30 offered their U.S. new hires pension plans, down from 47 in 2008. For public sector employees in the U.S. in the same year, the pension plans of 26 states were less than 70 percent funded. In lower and middle-income countries where financial security is weaker, the situation is even worse. In India, the pension system only covers roughly 12 percent of the population.

The severity of these figures is amplified when we look at demographic trends. Between 2010 and 2020, the population of older adults will almost double in middle-income countries. Worldwide over the decade, it will increase by 40 percent. By 2050, there will be roughly 1.5 billion older adults, 315 million of whom will be in India.

Aging presents unique challenges and opportunities to the financial inclusion industry. During a session at the Microcredit Summit in Merida, Mexico a few weeks ago, five panelists met to discuss this topic. John Hatch (FINCA), Pilar Contreras (HelpAge), Caroline van Dullemen (World Granny), Reynold Walter (REDCAMIF), and myself all acknowledged the demographic reality—as populations age, if countries have not helped their societies and economies to prepare, they will face a global train wreck in the form of older people without adequate means of support and support systems that are overwhelmed. Financial inclusion can and should play a unique role in helping both individuals and whole countries mitigate risks.

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> Posted by Lisa Kienzle, Director, Mobile Financial Services, Grameen Foundation

The following post was originally published on the ImpactX blog of the Huffington Post.

Women participating in paper prototyping for new mobile app in Uganda

Women are the backbone of the household in Africa — they manage the home, care for the children, are responsible for education and healthcare, and contribute to the household’s livelihood. Helping women helps the entire family. However, women continue to lag men in participating in the formal economy, including accessing financial services.

The Problem: The Poor — Especially Women — Are Excluded From Financial Services.

For the rural poor — especially women — accessing formal financial services is nearly impossible. Few have formal identification needed to open an account; others lack a stable job or collateral needed for a loan. Often bank branches are far from a rural village, making the trip to deposit or borrow funds too expensive and time-consuming.

Many of the rural poor have taken up an approach to support saving and borrowing by forming Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). Under this approach, 25-30 members of a community form a group. This group meets weekly and saves a fixed amount — at times, as little as 20 cents a week. The savings are lent out to members as loans. All money not lent out is stored by the group treasurer in a metal box secured with three locks and three keys, which are held by three separate key holders. It is, as some group members call it, the “Village Bank.”

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> Posted by Guy Stuart and Eric Noggle, Executive Director and Research Officer, Microfinance Opportunities

In our first post in this series, we described the need for an approach to financial education that was both effective and scalable, and we offered embedded education as a potential solution. Our second and third posts described how the embedded education approach works and showed its potential effectiveness by describing the improved money management behavior displayed by clients in Zambia after participating in our program. We believe that these findings also revealed the potential for a business case for delivering financial education using the embedded approach.

For a business case to exist, two things have to be true: financial service providers (FSPs) need to see a positive, bottom-line impact from an embedded program and a financing mechanism needs to exist that can compete with the current grant-based model for funding financial education.

Bottom-Line Impact

Financial education can positively impact financial service providers in a number of ways (aside from knowing that they’re empowering individuals to take control of their financial lives). Offering training could improve client retention by strengthening loyalty. It could reduce customer service requests by increasing familiarity with a banking process. But our market research suggests that the biggest potential impact is lowering write-off ratios and increasing savings balances.

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> Posted by Rafe Mazer, Financial Sector Specialist, Government & Policy, CGAP

It’s a great time to be working on consumer protection. Even while risks change or expand in scope as new products evolve and access increases, it seems that there are just as many talented researchers and new approaches to making consumer protection work emerging. Some of the most important breakthroughs are coming from consumer and behavioral research. This includes insights into what sales staff really do and why (see, for example, this infographic on a recent World Bank/CGAP/CONDUSEF audit study in Mexico), how consumers make financial decisions—not always for purely economic reasons, and what the context of low resources or scarcity means for financial behavior.

The next step is to take these research insights and turn them into improved consumer protection policies in emerging markets. CGAP’s recent publication, Applying Behavioral Insights in Consumer Protection Policy, describes a range of current and potential ways we can bridge the research and policy fields. But what about providers? What can we take from the recent behavioral insights emerging for the Client Protection Principles?

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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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