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> Posted by Ariel Schwartz, Senior Editor, Co.Exist

The following post was originally published on Fast Company’s Co.Exist.


The challenge was simple, or so it seemed: Pay my bills and complete a handful of money-related errands before my work shift began at noon. It was harder than I ever could have imagined.

In reality, I wasn’t handling my own finances; I was participating in a simulation of what it’s like to be one of the underbanked—that is, to be one of the 7.7 percent of Americans with limited access to traditional banking services. The Financial Solutions Lab, a spin-off of the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), put on the simulation for a group of entrepreneurs, nonprofit employees, and banking executives so that they could come up with new product ideas for addressing the challenges of cash flow management.

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> Posted by Monica Brand Engel and Jackson Scher, Managing Director and Program Coordinator, Frontier Investments Group, Accion

Innovative payment solutions are proliferating globally. Enabled by the exponential expansion of mobile phones, social media, “big data”, and internet access, financial players throughout the world are inventing new ways to complete transactions. Disruptive innovations such as prepaid options, NFC-enabled payments, and cryptocurrencies are gaining significant adoption and are changing the payments space. These trends are especially pronounced in emerging markets where many new entrants have chosen to “leapfrog” traditional, resource-intensive systems and dive directly into the seamless and nimble world of digital financial services. Although these exciting innovations in digital payments have the potential to increase convenience for customers and dramatically reduce costs, some challenges remain. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced substantial increases throughout the country’s microfinance market: growth in the volume of loans dispersed to microentrepreneurs, in the number of microcredit institutions offering savings services, and in the return on equity of rural banks with microfinance operations. Concerning regulation and institutional support, the recently released 2014 Global Microscope found that the Philippines has the best environment in Asia for financial inclusion.

In 2014, loans extended to microentrepreneurs in the Philippines totaled P9.3 billion (US$209 million) as of June, according to figures reported by BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. at the recent Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards in Manila – a roughly 7 percent increase over last year’s figure. On savings, in early 2012 only 22 banks in the country offered micro-deposit accounts. Now, 69 of the Philippines’ 183 banks with microcredit operations take deposits, with a total of 1.7 million micro-deposit accounts. Beyond credit and savings, 86 of the country’s institutions offering microcredit also provide microinsurance and 26 provide electronic banking services.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI

“Cautious optimism” was the overriding sentiment towards the Indian financial inclusion investment space at the fall 2014 Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) meeting in Zurich. Four years after the Andhra Pradesh crisis, in financial year 2014 the regulated microfinance market in India saw its loan portfolio grow by 35 percent and client outreach increase by 4.7 million individuals, achieving a record 28 million clients. Although, as FIEC member Christian Etzensperger of responsAbility Investments AG noted, this is “catch-up growth” for India, where only 35 percent of the adult population has a bank account. On an institutional level, the remarkable growth of Bandhan Bank, India’s largest microfinance institution, illustrates the successful scaling up of MFIs. While Etzensperger noted the “dynamic revival of the microfinance sector…partly due to the inertia of the Indian banks”, he also alluded to the significant role played by the policies of the newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as well as those of the recently appointed Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Indian investor sentiment in general soared on the news of these leaders taking the helm, a trend that clearly resonates in the Indian financial inclusion equity community.

What have these leaders done to inspire confidence in the trajectory of microfinance?

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> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Research, PlaNet Finance China


Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is on the rise – as evident by the hundreds of articles on the subject that have sprung up just this year. However, P2P, generally defined as individuals bringing together small sums of money to lend to other individuals, is hardly a new concept. Moreover, this process of lending amongst communities of small businesses and friends has been moving online for a decade now. And while money is now most commonly transferred between strangers, interconnectivity online has allowed the process to feel almost as intimate as lending among friends and family.

The two earliest entrants into the P2P industry have gained steady followings since their beginnings in 2005: Zopa, a large commercial P2P platform in the U.K. boasts high returns and low interest rates for participants; the U.S. non-profit Kiva facilitates philanthropic P2P lending, wherein microentrepreneur clients of “field partners” or local financial institutions in developing countries are paired with those willing to lend at a zero percent return (i.e. indirect P2P). Through nearly a decade of innovations and new players emerging, P2P has slowly become a disruptive force. Total origination remains moderate with some $2.4 billion originated through P2P in the U.S. last year, but growth has recently skyrocketed.The U.S. market is estimated to swell to$32 billion by 2016. By 2025, the global figure could be as much as one trillion.*

Why such fast growth?

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

The Credit Reporting section of the FI2020 e-zine (click to read)

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Round-Up 2014 e-zine, found on the CFI website, takes a look at progress toward financial inclusion in the year following the FI2020 Global Forum. It was at the Global Forum that five Roadmaps to Financial Inclusion were presented after two years of being developed and debated by dozens of financial inclusion experts. Now, imagine the editorial challenge of collapsing a year’s worth of activity around each Roadmap into just two pages each.

While it’s a fun read, I admit to a little cognitive dissonance as I page through the Round-Up. The brief analyses of where we stand around each of the Roadmaps to Financial Inclusion can be summed up in the quote “we’re not as far along as we think we are.” While that quote was about the Technology Roadmap, it could just as easily be said of the other Roadmaps: Financial Capability, Addressing Customer Needs, Client Protection, and Credit Reporting.

Yet despite the clear-eyed look at the ongoing challenges, the e-zine also tells a story of intense and productive activity by a wide range of actors. Legacy financial service providers—the heavy hitters with big resources and even greater reach—are investing heavily in financial inclusion. It’s not just for corporate social responsibility any more; it’s part of a new business strategy inspired by the discovery of an untapped and (they hope) profitable new market. Sprinkled in and around those vignettes are stories of scrappy start-ups doing the social entrepreneurship thing. Some of those services may not make it past 2015, but some of them have a “why didn’t I think of that” inevitability about them. The diversity of actors and the energy are impressive.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

In addition to its other benefits, microfinance can be a vehicle for promoting environmentally sustainable development. Small-scale finance, when bundled with other services, can improve access to clean energy for people at the base of the pyramid, and can assist them to protect ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and adapt to climate change. And for the poor, climate change mitigation and adaptation is critical. Although poor people have contributed the least to climate change, according to the United Nations, they will suffer its effects in the biggest way. Though still a burgeoning area, a number of microfinance institutions are effectively pairing microfinance and environmental action, including Kompanion Financial Group in Kyrgyzstan, ESAF Microfinance in India, and XacBank in Mongolia. A few weeks ago at European Microfinance Week (EMW) these three institutions were acknowledged for their work in this area, with Kompanion winning the 5th European Microfinance and Environment Award, and ESAF and XacBank placing as runner-ups.

The Microfinance and Environment Award, launched in 2005, recognizes institutions committed to serving the poor while contributing to environmental sustainability. It’s jointly organized by the Development Cooperation Directorate, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), and the Inclusive Finance Network Luxembourg in collaboration with the European Investment Bank. Below is a snapshot of the environmental efforts of the three institutions, featuring the videos that were shown at EMW.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2015 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place April 6-11, 2015 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2015 HBS-Accion Program builds on nine successful years and over 550 participants – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. Financial service providers participating in the program will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of today’s financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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This is our second response to the provocative post two weeks ago from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.

“In other words, why is there such an inherent innovation deficit within the very commercial ventures that we think are going to drive financial inclusion forward? Do market players really need this very granular level of handholding to get what academics, NGOs, and donors so clearly believe in? …Or is the problem, rather, that there isn´t enough of a competitive push to drive them to want to innovate as a key source of market advantage?”

What follows is a response from Gerhard Coetzee, who leads the CGAP Customers at the Centre Team.

In considering the question posed by Ignacio Mas, I am reminded of the work of business strategist C.C. Markides. He did not see it as “the great competition and innovation deficit” question, but rather, the challenge of how large institutions make two business models exist in the same organization. In fact, the question is how to serve two distinct market segments in the same institution. He notes that the large industry players that develop new radical business models are exceptions rather than the rule. Most innovations and market changing models are introduced by newcomers to that industry.

Why don’t we see the large financial service providers (FSPs), who have the ability to change things at scale, jump into this area of the market and deliver solutions to low-income and poor customers even where regulation may enable them to engage? In essence the argument focuses on product centricity, incomplete business cases, an over-emphasis on the supplier view of cost to serve, short-termism of incentive structures, and competition for resources in large organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

The microfinance industry in sub-Saharan Africa, boasting roughly 6.6 million clients, is growing fast. This expansion of financial services to the base of the pyramid, bolstered by an increasingly diverse array of providers and products, is enabling many lower-income individuals, entrepreneurs, and households to access and use essential tools like loans and savings accounts for the first time. To ensure the stability and success of the institutions that provide services, however, strong institutional governance and risk management needs to be a core priority. A new CFI initiative, generously supported by The MasterCard Foundation, sets out to address this.

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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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