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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

There are no final victories when it comes to providing equal opportunities for groups that have suffered from historic discrimination and exclusion. This is true in the United States. This is true everywhere else in the world.  Attitudinal barriers that belittle and marginalize, originating in class, racial, or religious prejudice, may triumphantly come down in one generation only to be resurrected in the next – or even sooner if some shock to the body politic is great enough.

Thus, watchdog groups like the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Smart Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League can never call it quits and declare victory. Backsliding into bigotry is more likely the rule than the exception with our tribal species.

To bolster this glum supposition is this example of the ongoing difficulties facing another beleaguered minority: Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is new evidence about employment discrimination from researchers at Rutgers and Syracuse University.

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> Posted by Center Staff

2015 was a year full of great reads (and listens). As we enter 2016, we wanted to take a look back at last year and what we were most excited to explore.  Through our work writing the FI2020 Progress Report, which assesses global progress in five key areas of financial inclusion, we benefited from important research from many in the financial inclusion field.  As part of this effort, we were eager to update our FI2020 Resource Library with the most informative reports and research outputs.  We encourage you to check it out – and in the meantime to review the highlights listed below.  The organizations responsible for these reports cover a wide array of stakeholder types, from support organizations, to telecommunication companies, to financial service providers – proof that progress in financial inclusion is being driven by many.

What Happens to Microfinance Clients Who Default? (January)
The Smart Campaign
Author: Jami Solli
This report looks in-depth at the enabling environment, the practices of providers, and customer experiences in Peru, India, and Uganda, to understand what happens when microfinance clients default on their loans. We were especially interested in the paper’s findings that demonstrate that effective credit bureaus give financial service providers the confidence to treat customers who default more humanely.

Money Resolutions: A Sketchbook (January)
CGAP
Author: Ignacio Mas 
This working paper explores the underlying logic for how people make money resolutions, including how people organize their money and make decisions about financial goals and spending. The paper focuses on peoples’ approaches to making financial decisions – rather than evaluating the decisions themselves – identifying the inner conflicts they face in the process.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Transparency sounds simple – in business, government, relationships, and most areas of life. Take the business of offering financial products and services. As a provider, you inform prospective and current clients of everything they need to know about your product.  As a client, you use this information to make sound decisions about buying and using said product. Consequently, providers can claim full disclosure and hope to benefit from increased loyalty of clients. Clients have the information to make educated decisions and rest easy knowing exactly where that provider stands.

Similarly, in relationships, transparency (read: honesty) is always the best policy. The best practice is always to say everything that’s on your mind. After all, the truth will set you free… Except for maybe when your partner is already overwhelmed with information. Or when what you’re trying to share is incomprehensible. Or when your partner is trying to concentrate on something else. What I’m trying to get at is this: transparency may seem simple, but it’s not. Effective transparency provides information in a way that enables the person receiving the information to understand it and use it.

Inclusive finance providers need to hit the sweet spot – sharing the optimal amount of the most critical information with clients, in an understandable format, at appropriate times. To make matters more challenging, inclusive finance clients are often illiterate, poorly educated, or new to formal institutions.

The good news is that around the world, including in Mexico, the inclusive finance industry is hard at work to embed transparency effectively. In 2014, the Mexican government passed widespread financial reform that emboldened the role of the consumer protection agency, CONDUSEF, and made its rules mandatory for all credit institutions. CONDUSEF was enabled to issue and publicly publish recommendations to financial institutions. In the last year, CONDUSEF imposed important new regulations in areas of transparency and money laundering, and ended up revoking the operating permits of 1,449 non-regulated (SOFOM) institutions that did not meet the standards.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

India has received much fanfare for its financial inclusion efforts in recent years. A few weeks ago we declared it our Financial Inclusion Country of the Year for 2015 in recognition of the major steps it took, which resulted in achieving the greatest improvement in its Global Microscope score between 2014 and 2015. It recently granted new bank licenses that dramatically diversify and grow the country’s services landscape, widely applied new cost-saving technologies like biometric identification, and rolled-out historically ambitious public programs like PMJDY that dramatically reduce the portion of the population that is unbanked.

“Never waste a good crisis” said Royston Braganza, CEO of Grameen Capital India, at the Inclusive Finance Summit in Delhi last month, referring to the Andhra Pradesh crisis of 2010. The recently-released Responsible Finance India 2015 analyses the current state of practice on responsible finance and social performance management in India. In light of that report, Braganza questioned, “Have we learned from our mistakes?”

Responsible finance centers on client protection and market conduct, and has been extended in recent years to include many other good corporate citizenship issues such as employee management, governance, and social performance monitoring.

By way of context, here are a few numbers on the present-day BoP Indian finance landscape:

  • Across MFIs in India’s MFIN network, which represent roughly 90 percent of MFIs in the country, loan books grew by 64 percent in the last fiscal year, compared with 43 percent in the year prior and 4 percent in the year before that.
  • In total, MFI outreach in the country accounts for about 100 million clients.
  • Reportedly, through PMJDY 180 million new bank accounts have been opened over the past year, and adjacent schemes covering insurance, pensions, and credit have been implemented, as well.
  • For the first time in a decade, the RBI granted new bank licenses last year – to Bandhan Bank and IDFC. Bandhan now has 500 branches and over 2,000 service centers across 24 states. Sixty-five percent of IDFC’s first 23 branches are located in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Under the RBI’s newly created categories of payment banks and small finance banks, 11 and 10 providers, respectively, have received new licenses, further expanding the network of providers serving the poor.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Time Magazine has just named Angela Merkel Person of the Year. In this post I hereby make CFI’s own designation: India is CFI’s “Financial Inclusion Country of the Year.” In the recently released Global Microscope 2015, India was the star performer. It improved its benchmarking score by more than any country (10 points on our scale of 1-100), rising in the ranking to fourth place overall.

The Microscope measures the quality of the policy, regulation, and institutional environment for financial inclusion, scoring 55 countries on 12 indicators, and then ranking them. The 2015 Microscope Benchmarking Model takes the report deeper, and shows year-over-year changes for individual countries (see table). While India is not the top scoring country (that honor has been held by Peru, Colombia, and the Philippines for several years), it is the country that has shown the most dramatic positive change, particularly in five areas: regulatory and supervisory capacity for financial inclusion, prudential regulation, regulation and supervision of credit portfolios, regulation of electronic payments, and market conduct rules.

Global Microscope 2015 Scores for India

2015_microscope_india

For more information see the 2015 Microscope Benchmarking Model. 

What did India do that increased its score in 2015? Building on important groundwork laid in 2013 and 2014, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Prime Minister of India, and the financial sector worked together to implement important reforms.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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On Tuesday, the Smart Campaign recognized five Indian financial institutions with Smart Certification, acknowledging their high standards of client care: Arohan, Grameen Koota, Janalakshmi, Sonata, and Utkarsh.

The Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party evaluators. Smart Certification publicly recognizes institutions providing financial services to low-income clients with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. The Principles cover such critical practices as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, responsible pricing, and prevention of over-indebtedness. This is the third year in a row that the Campaign has recognized Smart-Certified Indian institutions at the annual Inclusive Finance India Summit in New Delhi.

Arohan Financial Services is a Kolkata-based MFI operating in five states and serving over 400,000 clients. Grameen Koota serves more than 673,000 rural clients through 222 branches located across the country. This is Grameen Koota’s recertification, as it was first Smart Certified two years ago, and through a recertification check-in, it has been able to extend the validity of its certificate for two years. Janalakshmi Financial Services is India’s largest urban microfinance organization, operating in 15 states through 229 branches, and has recently been awarded a Small Finance Bank licence by the RBI. Based in Lucknow, Sonata Finance has become one of the fastest-growing NBFC MFIs in northern India, with a network of 162 branches. Utkarsh Micro Finance serves over 170,000 clients through 92 branches in the northern states of India and has also recently been granted a Small Finance Bank license. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a global occasion to promote awareness and mobilize support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD). To mark the day, we wanted to share with you a new Accion video spotlighting the story of Reshma Babu. At five months old, Reshma contracted polio and lost the use of her legs, yet today, she lives independently. That’s partly due to her job at Accion partner Vindhya, where four out of five workers have some kind of disability. Vindhya is a business process outsourcing company that widely employs PWD to deliver high-quality and competitive services to companies spanning multiple sectors, including microfinance. Vindhya exemplifies how inclusion for PWD is a sustainable model for social enterprise at the base of the pyramid.

Along with partnering with Vindhya, here are some of the ways that Accion and CFI are working to achieve disability inclusion:
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> Posted by Micol Pistelli, Social Performance Director, MIX

Customer retention is a key objective for any business, and microfinance institutions (MFIs) are no exception. Whether you are a shareholder, board member, CEO, or head of operations at a microfinance institution, your strategy must rely on retaining most of your clients that still need financial services. But what happens when many of your clients stop using your services? How do you determine whether they left because they no longer need financial services or because they prefer a competitor? How do you know whether they were dissatisfied with your customer service?

Answering these questions can be difficult. Some organizations conduct exit surveys over the phone or in-person through their customer service departments. However, due to the expense and time required to conduct such research, many MFIs are only able to reach a small number of clients, which may not be representative of the whole. Additionally, the quality of the data collected can be lacking due to inaccuracies because clients may not feel comfortable being candid with representatives of the MFI they are leaving.

Of the thousand-plus institutions reporting consumer protection data to MIX, 65 percent of them have set-up complaint mechanisms that offer some form of redress for clients, such as hotlines, call centers, or customer service representatives. However these feedback tools are functional only when clients proactively use them and when MFIs manage to gather data and solve issues in a timely fashion. What often happens is that MFIs are left with questions about their clients’ satisfaction and can only guess at the root causes for their drop-out.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

To date, 44 financial institutions around the world have been certified as meeting the Smart Campaign’s standards for consumer protection. Those institutions, which adhere to the Campaign’s Client Protection Principles including transparency, fair and respectful treatment, responsible pricing, and prevention of over-indebtedness, collectively serve more than 22 million low-income clients.

Recently, the Campaign invited the heads of certified institutions to share their experiences with certification. In a series of video interviews, the CEOs discussed why they elected to engage in the process, what they learned, how and why it improved their business, how investors have reacted, and what it has meant for their customers.

We invite you to take a look at the video, above or here, to learn first-hand about their rationale for undergoing certification and what it has meant to their operations. And of course feel free to share it with your network.

For more information about the Campaign, please visit the website.

> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

In the seventh Client Protection Principle, the Smart Campaign lays out the way that financial services providers should handle complaints: 1) Effective client feedback mechanisms are in place; 2) Clients are aware of how to submit complaints and do so as needed; and, 3) Complaints are handled promptly and adequately.

Seems easy and straightforward enough. But making this process truly client friendly is truly a daunting challenge. On the “demand side,” poor customers may feel ill-equipped to pose questions to company representatives who come from a different class, caste, or ethnicity. The Smart Campaign’s Client Voice research found as much in both Asian and African markets. It may be psychologically next to impossible—even in the most client friendly institution.

And if the psychological issue is not an obstacle, the technical and procedural challenges may be opaque enough to lead to failure anyway.

Even educated and savvy consumers can get lost in the complex maze of call center options delivered by that hideously cheerful computer voice – you know the one. “Lower touch” often means “no touch.” And even if a well-meaning customer service representative finally answers the phone and tries to help, he or she may be just a cog in a far flung system – unable to get the needed answers.

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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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