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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 Ignacio Mas, Independent Consultant
Too much of post-microcredit financial inclusion still operates as a numbers game. We declare victors and write up successes based on headline customer acquisition rates, without looking much at underlying usage patterns. We continue to quote customer uptake or account registration numbers when providers give us nothing else to go by. We declare customers active and ourselves satisfied when customers use the service once every 1-3 months – can you imagine the education, electricity, water and sanitation people doing that? We judge customer relevance by scrutinizing average per-customer transaction volumes and sizes, even though those are usually driven entirely by the top ten percent of the distribution. If we looked deeper, we would find that many of those who are deemed to be underbanked are actually irrelevantly banked.
Glossing over usage data is a symptom that we are an industry which thrives on hype, an almost inevitable consequence when you mix a commendable spirit of do-goodism, deep donor pockets, and insatiable social media platforms. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that we actually know very little about what drives customer usage and value of formal financial services, beyond the occasional loan and remote payment.
Especially in the savings space, we are lacking an overall perspective on how to tackle the problem of relevance. We feel we need data, so we engage researchers to run excruciatingly detailed financial diaries, quantitative surveys, and randomized control trials. We feel we need product ideas, so we hire consultants to tell us what is successful elsewhere, though alas that is generally based on those awkward headline customer acquisition numbers. We feel we need processes, so we engage branded designers to run innovative rapid prototyping exercises. But it feels difficult to make all this come together purposefully.
A more structured approach would be based on formulating some key questions which can help sharpen our focus and narrow the solution search space. Let me propose three such questions, again focused on savings: Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI
Jeroo Billimoria of Global Money Week, a worldwide child and youth financial empowerment movement, recently said, “Want to ensure poor children mature into poor adults? Make sure they spend all their leftover cash.” To me, that simple statement captures the obvious case for advancing financial inclusion for children and youth. Youth save at dismal rates and lack adequate access to formal financial services. Global Money Week, expected to span 112 countries, 485 organizations, and 2 million children, aims to combat this reality.
The weeklong movement, now in its third year, is led by Child & Youth Finance International (CYFI), a global network working towards the financial inclusion and economic empowerment of children and youth. Global Money Week’s participants range from central banks, to government ministers, schools, NGOs, the media, and children. Its activities include bank visits, educational events, expert discussions, online engagements, and the launching of new research and initiatives.
One of the new reports launched in coincidence with Global Money Week is Banking a New Generation: Developing Responsible Retail Banking Products for Children and Youth, a joint-publication from MasterCard and Child & Youth Finance International. The publication is designed to support financial institutions, NGOs, and governments in collaboratively developing financial products and services appropriate for children and youth. Among the publication’s content are guiding principles for appropriate child and youth products, the case for financial institutions investing in this client segment, and considerations for the product development process.
> Posted by David Porteous, Managing Director, Bankable Frontier Associates
In Beth Rhyne’s recent blog post (“Base-of-the-Pyramid Savings Among Accion Partners: Some News Is Bad and Some News Is Good”), she argues for the need to stratify deposits by size to understand what is happening inside a bank’s portfolio of depositors. We agree. We have just completed the four year GAFIS project, sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Associates and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through GAFIS, we worked with five large commercial banks around the world (shown in the map below) to promote the development of appropriate savings products directed at low income people.
These five banks, which typically rank as largest or second largest retail banks in their domestic markets, collectively report 77 million customers. They too suffer from high rates of dormancy, ranging from 20 to 90 percent in different account categories. Yet they were willing to embark on a peer journey of learning and support to seek to overcome the channel and product issues which had limited the success of their savings products. And they were willing at the end to disclose in the public report, available here, some indications of the underlying stratification of their deposit. The chart below, extracted from the GAFIS report, compared median with average balances in the account categories which GAFIS supported, underlining the message in Beth Rhyne’s blog about the need to stratify savings. Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, with input from Liza Guzman and Leonardo Tibaquira of Accion
Accion has made a concerted effort over the past few years to promote savings among its partners and affiliates around the world, and those organizations have racked up some impressive statistics. There are 2.9 million savers using the 17 financial institutions associated with Accion that have savings operations, and the total amount on deposit is nearly $4 billion (data as of September 2013). The average savings amount, at $1,376, is uncannily similar to the average loan, $1,460.
But behind these numbers lies a very different story that reflects deep-seated cultural differences in the approach to savings among Latin American and African microfinance institutions – and their customers.
Several of Accion’s Latin American partners are mature commercial banks or finance companies that started with a strong microcredit orientation and subsequently gained the approval to accept deposits. At this point, several have somewhat more savers than borrowers, and loan portfolios mainly funded by deposits. As would be expected, average loan sizes are several times the size of average savings.
On the surface, Accion’s four newer and smaller partners in Africa look similar, though the ratio of savers to borrowers is higher (5-10 times as many savers as borrowers), and average savings balances are a smaller fraction of average loan sizes. The loan portfolios of two of the four are fully savings-financed; the other two require some outside funding.
Looking more closely at the Latin American institutions, one might at first think that they have reached the elusive goal of offering a balanced set of savings and credit services to their base-of-the-pyramid clients. However, a large portion of the accounts included in the total above are dormant, with balances less than $1. In half the institutions, over 70 percent of the accounts are dormant. Dormancy is prevalent among savings accounts in banks everywhere, but in these institutions the level is higher because many of the accounts were created as loan disbursement and repayment accounts. They were not regarded by either provider or customer as saving vehicles. Despite the large number of accounts, most of the actual savings comes from a relatively small number of term deposits, including large deposits from institutions.
> Posted by Mary Hansen, Organizational Development and Training Associate, Accion
842 million people struggle through the hunger games yearly. The games begin as food and money run low sometime before harvest and last until the first ripe crops. This is better known as los meses flacos, the thin months, in Latin America. Or as I knew it in East Africa, wanjala in Swahili and nyengo yonjala in Chichewa (the hunger season). These recurring hunger games are not state sponsored and the participants do not fight each other to the death, but they do fight individuals, families, or communities to survive. Every day, 25,000 people around the world die from hunger-related causes, including 16,000 children. That’s one child every five seconds.
The regions deeply affected by hunger depend heavily on smallholder farming. Around 75 percent of the world’s poor are smallholder farmers. Half of the world’s undernourished people, including three-quarters of Africa’s malnourished children and the majority of those living in absolute poverty live on small farms.
Personally, I struggle with budgeting when paid twice a month. When I was in the Peace Corps in Malawi and was paid monthly, I struggled even more. Yet, smallholder farmers often receive payment only during harvest, or twice a year. I still do not fully understand how families survive with this income structure, even though I lived in a rural town in Malawi for two years. Yet, this is the reality for many of the 2.5 billion people that depend on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods.
> Posted by Véronique Faber, Executive Director, Microinsurance Network
Three months ago, Jeremy Leach from Bankable Frontier Associates rightly asked in this same forum: “Microinsurance: Can the Cinderella of Financial Inclusion Join the Global Ball?” This question rang a bell with many practitioners and advocates in this field. Microinsurance is often the last service listed when talking about financial inclusion tools. However, credit, savings, and insurance work more effectively in combination rather than in sequence. In stimulating and maintaining financial inclusion, it is crucial that those with a limited income have a safety net preventing them from falling into poverty when hit by a crisis, catastrophic or lifecycle related, and become more resilient against future risks.
Since Leach’s blog post, the sector has been granted three wishes (by its fairy godmother or perhaps as a result of good common sense). If these wishes are used well, insurance for low-income people will be an integral part of any global financial inclusion strategy from now on.
The first wish came in the form of visibility and awareness raising. The opening panel at the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum had representatives from MetLife and Swiss Re debating how financial inclusion factors like income growth, new technologies, and government prioritization play out in the context of insurance. For the rest of the conference, insurance was on every participant’s mind when thinking about the possibilities of what can be achieved in the next seven years. This is important because insurance is essential for sustainable development and financial inclusion.
> Posted by Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace & Associates
This week I received my self-addressed postcard from the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum reminding me of my personal commitment to help ensure the safety of consumers’ savings and rights as they join the financial system. My first reaction was how slow the post is, but on deeper reflection I recognized that the postcard arrived just at a time when I needed a reminder of my commitment.
In addition to the new connections made at the Global Forum, two comments stood out for me; one was rooted in the past and the other in the future.
Remembering the Past
When Michel Khalaf from MetLife described the company’s roots as an insurer for the working class and the legions of agents who went door-to-door collecting weekly premiums of $.05 or $.10 and dispensing financial advice, I instantly understood something important about my grandfather. Until then, I had just thought of him as a MetLife agent in the steel belt towns of the northeastern U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. He left school at age nine to help the family make ends meet when his own father prematurely passed away. He first worked shoulder-to-shoulder in the coal mines with many other immigrants. His math skills and ability to work across ethnic groups enabled him to leave the mines and become a top agent for MetLife. He knew firsthand how dangerous the mining work was and how a temporary or permanent injury could be a huge setback for these vulnerable families. Once the Great Depression hit and people could not access their deposits in banks, many of his clients turned to my grandfather for financial help. He had some liquidity and became a de facto deposit insurer, paying people what he could and in the process becoming a larger creditor of the illiquid banks.
Anticipating the Future
While Michel Khalaf’s comments helped me piece together my own family history, what stood out more was the collective prediction by attendees in London that the most important story in the next five years will be the presence of a “bank run” on mobile money.
> Posted by Center Staff
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but last week, the CFI Blog published its 1,000th blog post. We started this blog in September 2008 in conjunction with the Center’s launch, as a forum for discussion, analysis, and even debate on the many issues facing financial inclusion. A lot has changed since 2008. The past few years have seen a shift in focus toward wider financial inclusion, moving beyond microcredit to include services such as savings and insurance. Technology, through mobile banking, big data, and other developments has made greatly expanded access to financial services. Client protection has become more firmly embedded into the microfinance industry. And yet, the quality of services and effective regulation continue to be as important as ever before. Going through our archives, you can see these shifts before your eyes. As this blog goes on, in addition to being a platform for sharing the latest developments and insight, it has become a historical record of how the microfinance industry has developed and changed.
This blog couldn’t be successful without the input of our many guest bloggers over the years who have leant their insight and expertise. If you ask us, it’s this range of outside expertise that makes this blog successful. We thank all of you who have written for us over the years and all of you who have shared your thoughts by commenting on our posts (5,557 comments and counting!).
Feel free to browse through our posts throughout the years via the “Archives” drop-down menu on the left-hand side. Here’s to the next 1,000!…
All-time most-read blog posts:
5 Great Books About Microfinance and How the Poor Use Money (August 23, 2011) by Yvonne Chen
5 Countries Where Microfinance Works (February 18, 2011)
Nicaraguan Microfinance in Crisis (November 5, 2009) by Sergio Guzmán
Interest Rates 101: APR vs. EIR (June 8, 2010) by Courtney Piper
Microfinance vs. Financial Inclusion: What’s the Difference? (February 27, 2013) by Susy Cheston and Larry Reed
> Posted by Center Staff
This edition of Top Picks features posts highlighting findings from new research on the global mobile money industry and on remittances in Africa and Asia, as well as a post on how innovation can encourage savings at the base of the pyramid.
A new post on GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked Blog shares preliminary findings from the MMU 2013 Global Mobile Money Adoption Survey. The Adoption Survey, which offers insights on the development of mobile money services and how they’re enabling the expansion of financial inclusion, will be published at the 2014 GSMA Mobile World Congress, February 24-27 in Barcelona. These preliminary findings included a few industry milestones. A few weeks ago the global industry surpassed 200 mobile money service deployments to total 208 services spread across 83 developing countries. Mobile money services are become a mainstay among mobile network operators, rather than a differentiator. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, mobile money is available in 36 out of the 47 countries in the region.
In Africa and Asia, domestic remittances may far surpass international remittances in both frequency and magnitude, two recent joint-reports from the Gates Foundation and Gallup found. That’s the subject of a new post on the Financial Access Initiative Blog, which details the reports’ key results and provides a brief overview of domestic remittances, internal migration, and how they relate. The reports revealed that across the 11 surveyed countries, 14 percent of people had sent money to family or friends within the country within the previous 30 days, and that 32 percent of these respondents had been on the receiving end of such a money transfer. In contrast, one to two percent of people reported sending an international remittance, and about three percent reported receiving an international remittance, in the previous 30 days.