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> 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.
> Posted by Ignacio Mas, Independent Consultant
Remote payments usually are the beachhead for mobile money as it struggles to create a role for itself alongside cash in developing countries. It’s easier to create customer awareness, induce customer experimentation, and generate customer willingness to pay when you are addressing situations in which cash presents the biggest pain points – sending money home, paying bills at distant and busy utility offices, travelling with or delivering larger stashes of money.
But that’s a limited market. Those are not daily occurrences for most people. And in many markets, especially outside of Africa, the reality is that people already have decent domestic remittance or bill payment mechanisms – through networks of pawnshops in the Philippines, courier companies in Colombia, or Hawala in Afghanistan.
Now mobile money providers are itching to get into the merchant (i.e. in-store) payment space. That’s where you can drive daily as opposed to monthly usage, so that’s where the volume is.
Of payment volumes and value
Much of the discussion on mobile retail payments centers on pricing models (merchant fees, interchange, potential cannibalization of P2P pricing), usability issues (customer convenience, speeding up transactions at the store), and acquiring strategy (how to roll out devices at stores and at what cost). These issues arise because cash is a much stronger competitor here than in a remote setting: paying some cents and waiting some seconds for an SMS confirmation are an irrelevance when you are sending money halfway across the country, but can tax people’s sense of fairness and patience in a retail setting. The less value people and stores see in electronic payments the larger these issues will loom.
But treat these as hygiene factors. Imagine that you could buy half a kilo of rice at any corner store from your mobile wallet at no cost and as conveniently as you flash out a banknote. Still, the fundamental question remains: why would you take out of your pocket your mobile phone rather a banknote?
> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI
If you answered yes to the title question, then you are better off than approximately one quarter of American families, according to a Brookings study that examines the financial fragility of U.S. households. Beg, borrow, or sell, a quarter of U.S. families do not have access to two thousand dollars within a month! They could not tap savings, ask friends or family, take out a loan, hawk jewelry, or pick up more hours at work.
Without savings, American families are incredibly vulnerable to life shocks. A lost job, hospital bills, or even car repairs, can have severe consequences – even as severe as hunger or homelessness. Another recent study by Doorway to Dreams (D2D) of families with $20-60K in annual income found that 62 percent of households experienced at least one financial shock in the last 12 months and 51 percent of households lacked any emergency savings to help them cope.
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Americans just aren’t saving. Americans save an average of 4.4 percent of their disposable income, while Chinese households save between 25 to 50 percent of their total income, according to Forbes.
So what would encourage Americans to save more? That is a nut that D2D is trying to crack – and their answer involves video games and prizes. D2D looks for creative and scalable solutions to address America’s lack of savings. Their Financial Entertainment project is a fun, innovative way to learn about personal finances through game play. The financial literacy games range from “saving for retirement while running a vampire nightclub” to “managing farm resources to build savings and survive financial emergencies.” Think of Facebook’s FarmVille (which has 40 million likes) but as an opportunity to educate Americans about savings and managing finances. In terms of D2D’s prize-linked savings efforts, their Save to Win (STW) program, which enters participants into raffles for cash prizes each time they make a savings deposit of $25 or more, is being rolled out in credit unions nationally. A true example of behavioral economics in play.
> Posted by Center Staff
The total savings portfolio of the Philippine microfinance industry is greater than its total loan portfolio for the first time. News of the achievement came in an announcement last week from Amando M. Tetangco, Governor of the country’s central bank at the launch of the 11th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards. During the first quarter of this year, the total savings of the country’s microfinance clients reached P8.2 billion (US$ 189 million), while their total loans were P8 billion (US$ 184 million). This is a dramatic surge in savings compared to the end of 2012, when industry totals were P6.4 billion in savings, and P8.4 billion in loans. These numbers suggest that as clients take out and repay loans, they’re able to sustain savings levels.
In The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Microscope on Microfinance, the Philippines was ranked as the fourth best microfinance business environment in the world, and as the microfinance environment with the best regulatory framework and practices. Last month the government enacted new legislation allowing foreign entities to hold up to 60 percent equity in the country’s government-sponsored rural banks, with the aim to further promote economic development in rural areas. The opportunity for expanding microfinance outreach in the Philippines remains great. Out of the Philippines population of 95 million, 33 percent live below the poverty line, and only 27 percent have an account at a formal financial institution.
> Posted by Center Staff
This edition of Top Picks features three posts that each bring attention to a type of financial service: cash transfers both unconditional and conditional, mobile money, and gold savings and loans in India.
- In “The Life and Death of Cash”, a new post on the Financial Access Initiative Blog, Timothy Ogden discusses recent developments in the area of cash transfer programs. After offering an introductory overview on common perceptions of physical cash in the development and financial inclusion contexts, Ogden contends that the advent in recent years of conditional cash transfer programs as well as program evaluations have increased support for cash transfers on the whole. The post cites two recently published cash transfer studies, and includes a Q&A with Chris Blattman, who is an author on both.
- “I believe in the inevitability of mobile money, but I don’t believe we’re getting there very fast,” Ignacio Mas states in a recent CGAP Blog post. In this post on mobile money and why its successes are disappointingly slow and isolated, Ignacio tables the limitedly optimistic popular mobile money dialogue to examine barriers to industry growth, on both the demand and supply sides. Among the points made, Ignacio posits that mobile money programs don’t fit within telcos’ long-established decision models, that the services run counter to banks’ traditional attitudes and approaches to client touch-points, and that users largely do not see their mobiles as a store of value or as an expense management tool, but just as one payment instrument. Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
Global loan portfolio growth in developing countries slowed in 2011; total number of clients in developing countries shrank slightly in 2011 but increased in Africa and Latin America; and various initiatives aimed at ensuring socially responsible practices have received commitments on industry-wide standards and frameworks over the past few years. These are some of the takeaways from this year’s Microfinance Barometer, an annual report produced by Convergences 2015 that offers a global overview of microfinance activity. The report series shares recent industry figures and trends, and highlights best practices across stakeholder groups.
This year’s report explores microfinance activity in developing and developed countries, and examines mobile money, capacity building, responsible investing, client protection, and social performance management, among other pertinent topics. The report also features an article from Deutsche Bank’s Asad Mahmood on microfinance and ethics, a feature on Accion Texas Inc., which manages the largest microloan portfolio in the United States, and a call to endorse the Global Appeal for Responsible Microfinance. Other key findings include:
- Global loan portfolio in developing countries totaled $US 78 billion in 2011, with portfolio growth slowing to 15 percent compared to 25 percent in 2009
- Activity in developing countries remained concentrated in 2011, as the leading 100 institutions represented 80 percent of the total lending portfolio and 75 percent of borrowers
- Client outreach in developing countries totaled 94 million in 2011, reflecting a 3 percent decrease since 2009
- Still affected by the Andhra Pradesh crisis and subsequent shutdowns of activity, in 2011 client outreach decreased by 10 percent in South Asia and by 20 percent in India
- Client outreach increased by 15 percent in both Africa and Latin America in 2011
- Local funding continues to drive the developing-country sector through increasing deposits and borrowings
- In 2011, 54 percent of institutions in developing countries provided both credit and savings, while 26 percent offered insurance products, and 54 percent offered non-financial services Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by Joanna Ledgerwood, Senior Advisor, Access to Finance, Aga Khan Foundation
The following post was originally published in the Guardian Development Professionals Network DAI Partner Zone.
The microfinance industry has come under withering attack in recent years, pilloried among other things for its high interest rates and its coverage, which is often estimated to reach less than 10 percent of the population. But practitioners, the media, and the public should understand that microfinance is a broad term for a highly differentiated financial sector that is not without its successes. Each type of provider — from banks to savings groups — plays a particular role in providing the continuum of services typically needed to promote “financial inclusion” in underserved areas.
My recently published book, The New Microfinance Handbook: A Financial Market System Perspective, addresses the need to broaden microfinance’s reach to meet the diverse financial service needs of clients. For financial inclusion to increase, each type of institution must be deployed in the contexts in which it works best. Together, funders and governments must take a holistic, context-driven approach to improving financial services in poor areas — referred to as the market systems approach. While the commercialization of microfinance has had its successes, we need to consider the entire system, especially community-based providers, if we are to reach the rural poor with appropriate financial services.
The Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), an NGO set up and supported by the Aga Khan Foundation in Tajikistan, is a good example of a market systems approach where a variety of financial initiatives work collaboratively. Launched as a relief and humanitarian initiative, MSDSP transitioned to become a development organization, promoting good governance and local economic development. Recognizing that the legacy of distrust in the formal financial sector has been particularly damaging to people living in mountainous areas — already subject to isolation, marginalization, and deep poverty — MSDSP aims to address the lack of accessible financial services.
In the remote rural areas where MSDSP works, community-based savings groups (CBSGs) are at the heart of a successful effort to bring financial services to the poor, supported by a broad spectrum of financial and social institutions. Based on tested models in Africa and South Asia, CBSGs are simple savings and borrowing associations. Under the direction of elected leaders, groups of 15 to 25 members gather biweekly to manage their financial activities. After two months of training followed by approximately seven months of close supervision, CBSGs continue to operate, without external support, for many years. Members access loans and pay interest of about three percent per month, and all interest received contributes to increasing the loan fund which is periodically, usually annually, distributed back to members. No external capital is required, making CBSGs transparent and profitable for the members.
> Posted by Jenny C. Aker, Assistant Professor of Economics, Tufts University
Today’s post continues the debate from the Extreme Inclusion conference at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. The proposition, as you will recall: “Financial inclusion means formal inclusion.” Yesterday, we heard from the Pro side of the argument (represented by green high heels), and today we hear from the Con side (pink flip flops). The Con team is represented here by Jenny C. Aker on behalf of herself and teammates Ignacio Mas and Daryl Collins.
What we have heard from the opposing team is that financial inclusion – real financial inclusion – means “formal” financial inclusion. We heard that in order to get out of the poverty trap, poor individuals want – and need – financial services that build financial security, manage risks against shocks, and invest in new business opportunities. In other words, things that the informal sector can’t fully provide.
But is formal always better? Formal services are often laden with fees (how many of you know the APR on your credit card?), unfamiliar, or simply unsafe. The 1999 banking crisis in Uganda depleted smallholder savings. It was a formal system. The collapse of the Russian banking system defrauded depositors. This, too, was a formal system. And as the financial sector has become wider and deeper in many countries, the effects of such volatility — boom one day, bust the next — are felt by more people, including the poor.
Even without these formal sector collapses, the poor must often choose between high-priced formal financial services or none at all. We often criticize the moneylenders for being usurers. But what about Banco Compartamos, which has interest rates well above 70 percent and still doesn’t offer savings services? Is that fair? Or the compulsory two savings account system of the Grameen Bank, each with separate rules? Is that useful?