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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 Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

Tomorrow, people around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day. In honor of the day, and the tremendous impact that financial services can have for women, we’d like to highlight some of the top resources from the past year that focus on financial inclusion of women. Though there are many great resources out there, below are a few that have caught our attention.

1. Findex Notes: Women and Financial Inclusion

Drawing from the Global Findex Database, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created a briefing on the state of women’s access to and use of financial services globally. It’s a concise snapshot of financial inclusion data on women. It highlights gaps that persist for women, as compared to men, globally and across regions. It looks at variations in account ownership for savings and credit, as well as barriers to usage identified by women. And if you’re looking for more, I suggest exploring the Findex database or the CFI Data Explorer and conducting your own analyses!

2. Promoting Women’s Financial Inclusion: A Toolkit

DFID and GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development prepared a toolkit aimed at policymakers, donors, and NGOs who want to learn how to design and implement programs to enhance the financial inclusion of women. It provides insight into factors that contribute to financial exclusion of women and offers recommendations to address access barriers. In addition, the toolkit provides methods for client segmentation as well as several illustrative case studies. Rather than suggesting focusing on women exclusively, the toolkit also recommends understanding the distinct needs of men.

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> Posted by Jaclyn Berfond, Senior Associate, Network Engagement, Women’s World Banking

Women have long been the face of microfinance, a fact reflected by the mission and goals of the institutions that serve them. According to the Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX), most microfinance institutions (MFIs) claim to target women (74 percent) and just over half declare women’s empowerment or gender equality as an objective.

Big commitments are all well and good, but if we are going to espouse the importance of serving low-income women, we must be able to hold ourselves accountable. How do we do that?

For many years now, the microfinance industry has focused on financial performance, with sustainability and later profitability driving outreach. In the wake of crisis – often the consequence of rapid growth – the industry has re-focused on social performance, getting back to the basics of ensuring that financial institutions adhere to their mission of serving low-income clients. We strongly believe that there must be a balance between financial and social performance, and that in order to achieve either, the industry must take a good look at their clients – still predominantly women. By truly analyzing this client base, MFIs can both build the business case for serving women, and ensure that they are serving these women well. This is gender performance.

In 2011, Women’s World Banking launched the Gender Performance Initiative (GPI) to develop a framework that defines what it means to serve women and measures how effectively MFIs do so. We wanted to establish a set of indicators that would enable MFIs to consider not only how many women they serve, but how they can enhance their understanding of customers to tailor products, marketing strategies and delivery channels to meet women’s needs. The initiative also set out to demonstrate the benefits of financial inclusion for women and their households, as well as the benefits of gender diversity among staff, management, and board.

Developing the indicators. There is no easy place to start when it comes to measuring performance, and we wanted to be sure that the metrics we chose would truly tell us whether an institution was serving women well. First and foremost, we needed to start with the right questions, in the areas that matter most to women. Beyond outreach, we looked at product design and diversity, service quality, and client protection, as women have specific life-cycle needs and goals that must be considered. For example, women may need a convenient and confidential way to save for children’s education expenses, or an insurance product that offers cash benefits for hospitalization to cover lost income from time away from their business (and includes maternal health coverage). We also looked at the diversity of staff and management, because we believe that in order to be the best place for women customers, a microfinance institution should be a place that welcomes women employees and women leaders. Finally, we wanted to understand how serving women clients contributes to institutional financial sustainability, as well as outcomes for clients.

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group 

Global Forum Venue: The London Lancaster

Global Forum Venue: The Lancaster London

As I traveled to London to attend the FI2020 Global Forum, my mind was filled with many thoughts. First was excitement that I had been invited to attend when I was still very much a microfinance practitioner. I was still in the process of adjusting after 17 years living in Haiti struggling to build an institution that would be a model of a client-centric, double bottom line microfinance institution (MFI) committed first and foremost to reaching the very poorest people in Haiti and providing them a pathway to a better life. For me, this meant providing them with a full range of financial and social services. My commitment to these clients had been solidified through my years in Haiti but also by my service on the Smart Campaign Steering Committee and the Board of the Social Performance Task Force and more recently by my role as a practitioner advisor to Truelift.

But now that I was in the plane and on my way, I had taken on a new role: Manager of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, a collaborative effort of the CEOs of eight pioneering global microfinance networks – Accion, FINCA, Freedom From Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International, and Women’s World Banking – all dedicated to advocating for more responsible microfinance practices and to instituting the highest standards of performance within their own MFIs. These eight CEOs represent 250 MFIs in 70 countries, serving some 40 million families. Suddenly I had been boosted from deep concerns about the future of poverty in one tiny country of 9.5 million to a preoccupation with the future of MFIs worldwide.

The Forum was a beautiful reflection of the often chaotic financial services marketplace of today where traditional banks, telecoms, retail stores, donors, investors, policymakers, regulators, and MFIs often collide in seeking to capture new markets. In attendance were the CEOs of institutions like Citi and MasterCard, along with several former Governors of Central Banks, technology innovators like the CEO of bKash, executives of insurance companies like MetLife and Swiss Re, Managing Directors of investment companies like Wolfensohn Fund Management, experts in alternative data systems like Cignifi. There were times when I thought maybe I had actually entered the wrong conference! Who were all these people, and what did they have to do with the future of microfinance?

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> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum was a remarkable and historic convening. I was honored to have been invited to attend and co-facilitate an “ideas to action” roundtable about one of the five parts of the Roadmap to Financial Inclusion .

Immediately after the event I reached out to Elisabeth Rhyne to understand how I could help build on the groundwork laid at the conference. She suggested I write a blog post about my experience. My immediate reaction was that commenting on such a wide-ranging and successful effort was a bit daunting. But I felt it was worth a try.

Dissecting the Term “Financial Inclusion”

I will admit that I have warmed slowly to the language of financial inclusion and financial capability. Are these just new buzzwords for time-tested concepts? (And if so, why use them?) Let’s assume they are new concepts. If so, financial inclusion feels like more of a means than an end. For me, the end is the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of low-income women – so why not focus on those? If having a poor or even middle-class person simply open their first “no frills” bank account is considered a step towards financial inclusion, regardless of how useful or helpful that bank account is, is this banner a lackluster one to rally under? Further, it is not clear to me that the provision of quality financial services through informal financial institutions (however defined) is being properly valued in the financial inclusion agenda. Finally, does making “financial capability” something of a prerequisite for people accessing formal financial services effectively let financial institutions off the hook for meeting clients where they are and designing appropriate products for them?

While my apprehension about these concepts has not entirely dissipated, I emerged from the Global Forum feeling that this campaign for full financial inclusion, at least as defined by CFI, is evolving as a powerful rallying point for a diverse coalition of providers, regulators, technologists, researchers, and activists. The notion of full inclusion is essential. I now see financial capability as a concept that defines the end state when financial education (through whatever means) is done effectively. The Forum probably had a similar impact on many others – helping them travel from a place of confusion or even wariness towards strong alignment and shared purpose.

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Kate McKee, Senior Advisor at CGAP, reflects on key issues raised during the FI2020 Global Forum’s panel discussion on ‘Why Financial Inclusion is More Important Than We Ever Knew,’ ending with an exciting prediction market from the panelists. 

Kate McKee moderating the panel “Why Financial Inclusion is More Important Than We Ever Knew,” alongside panelist Bill Gajda

In this panel, which began with an emphasis on behavioral economics opened by Sendhil Mullainathan, co-author of the recently-published book Scarcity (reviewed on this blog by CFI’s Sonja Kelly here), who focused on how the reality of scarcity translates into a “bandwidth tax” on people who constantly live in poverty. Research by Sendhil and others has documented how the constant worry and distraction of living with too little – what Sendhil and his co-author Eldar Shafir refer to as “tunneling,” with its intense focus on making ends meet day-to-day – ultimately, affects poor people’s ability to make good decisions. Basically, this growing body of research shows that when people are in a situation of scarcity, they are not as smart, not as able to resist temptation, and are less likely to be able to make and stick to a plan, as compared to themselves in a time of less scarcity.

This scarcity framework and evidence has potentially powerful consequences for financial inclusion. The panel that followed focused on how scarcity, the bandwidth tax, and tunneling affect the relevance, uptake, and usage of financial services by lower-income people. Tine Wollebekk (Vice President of Telenor Financial Services and Board Chair of Tameer Microfinance Bank, the sponsor of Easypaisa in Pakistan) and Kamal Quadir (Managing Director of bKash in Bangladesh) reflected on the experience of these two fast-growing mobile money service deployments, including insights about customers’ underlying demands and how the mobile wallets and other services are designed to meet them, how to make the offerings intuitive and simple, and how to earn trust from customers new to formal finance. Bill Gajda (Global Head of Strategic Partnerships, Visa) rounded out the panel by bringing in findings from deep consumer research that Visa has supported in additional developing countries, as well as experience with different business models and customer interfaces including cards.

Entry products need to be ‘in the tunnel’

One of the key insights was that the entry product needs to meet a really immediate need. It needs to be ‘in the tunnel’ of what the customer is focused on to meet their day-to-day needs. Obviously mobile telephony is firmly in the tunnel virtually everywhere in the developing world. Person-to-person money transfer has also passed the “tunnel test” of rapid uptake in an increasing number of markets – Kamal noted that he felt the company had reached an important tipping point when “bKash” had become a verb commonly used across Bangladesh. Tine made the point of needing excellent execution and recruiting the right kind of agents that customers will trust, in order for customers not to have extraneous worries that would prevent them from really being able to make decisions.

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Innocent Ephraim, M-PESA Product Manager, Vodacom, discusses some of the main concerns shared on the FI2020 Global Forum’s panel ‘Building Infrastructure & Spurring Innovation’, along with an overview of the challenges faced in rolling-out M-PESA’s product success in Kenya to Tanzania and South Africa. 

Financial inclusion and technology innovation

The main concern of the forum panel was making sure that we bring in financial inclusion, and technology innovation is one of the key things for this. What I strongly believe in is the mobile money product itself. And mobile money products are being held up with a pillar, which is the agent distribution. Just like any other product that is mass distributed – Coca Cola and similar products – mobile money products need to be visible, available, and trusted. So once all of that is achieved, then innovation can chip in.

Listening to the customer

It’s important to listen to the customer because customers are the reason why we do this. We want to make sure that we don’t complicate their lives because the minute that we do that we already risk excluding them with our complicated innovation that we put in the mix. And we’ve got it wrong many times, we’ve learnt from our mistakes, and as a Product Manager, I know that it’s critical to listen to our customers.

Learning from mistakes

I’ll give you an example of a mistake we made with a product that we learnt from. We launched a life insurance product in Tanzania, and we expected millions to adopt it. We were actually shocked with the cultural behavior in Tanzania. Every customer that we communicated with to pick up the product kept saying: ‘You guys want me to die! Why do you want me to die?’ Here, we learnt that it’s not all about what we think is good for the customer. So we went back to the drawing board. Nevertheless, the product is used by hundreds of thousands in the country.

Now the team in Tanzania has done a study to see what type of insurance our customers need, and then reposition it. And one of the key findings from that study is that customers need a product they directly benefit from, health insurance was seen as ideal because then they feel they benefit out of it. They don’t want to buy an insurance cover that benefits somebody else – for example, the life insurance product where the customers felt it was just bad luck for them and that we just wanted them to pass away!

Kenya: the archetype of mobile payment

Kenya is a very good place to go and look at how mobile payments and technology has worked out. But you need to enter into different markets in different ways. If you look at Kenya, the population is dense and one agent would service hundreds of customers. When you go to Tanzania, where the population is much sparser, an agent would service fewer customers, and that makes it less attractive to an agent. Consequently, agents choose to invest in some other type of business instead of mobile money. (That’s only one of the differences between the two markets. A study has been done to highlight the differences of these two neighboring countries.) What we learnt in Tanzania is that we need to make sure that different products and services are integrated into the agent point-of-sale. So when you give an agent a tool to conduct mobile money services, allow them to do utility payment or airtime as well, so they actually aggregate from transactions from the same customer. That creates more incentive and profitability to the agent.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The FI2020 Global Forum in London gets underway this Sunday with a pre-Forum side meeting on financial inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs). This client-centric start feels like a fitting precursor for an event to expand financial inclusion.

Financial inclusion requires that financial services meet the unique needs of all clients, especially the needs of the most underserved and vulnerable client groups. Sessions throughout the Forum reflect this key tenet. In addition, there are side meetings on the Financial Capability Roadmap and the Consumer Protection Roadmap, focused on moving these roadmap principles and recommendations to action. These and the other three financial inclusion roadmaps were developed through a consultative process that collected and incorporated the perspectives of specific client groups.

Among Forum participants are representatives of various client segments – such as PWDs, women, the elderly, youth, rural populations, and migrants – to help raise awareness of their unique needs and assets. Here’s a collection of pertinent statistics for financial inclusion on these client segments:


  • 1.8 billion of the world’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24
  • 87 percent of youth are concentrated in the developing world
  • About half the world’s youth report being economically active
  • 38 percent of young adults have an account compared to over 54 percent of older adults

The Elderly:

  • In 1950, globally, 1 in 20 people were elderly. By 2050, it will be 1 in 5.
  • In 2000, only 6 percent of people in less developed countries were over 65 years old. By 2050, that number will grow to 20 percent.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Africa Specialist, the Smart Campaign

A year ago, Nigeria put forward an ambitious financial inclusion strategy. This National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) is an exciting development, and with this post I want to take a closer look at it and spotlight some areas to watch as implementation progresses in the years to come.

So, what is it all about? In October 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) promoted the program as a key driver for achieving their larger Vision 20: 2020 strategy, an ambitious initiative aiming to make Nigeria one of the world’s 20 largest economies by 2020.

The CBN is already one of 36 national institutions that have signed the AFI Maya Declaration, a set of commitments from emerging economies’ governments’ designed to increase access to and lower the costs of financial services, and its governor often makes the case that financial inclusion benefits economic growth. After all, despite being West Africa’s largest economy and holding an impressive mass of natural resources, Nigeria is also home to 100 million people living on less than US$1.25 a day. In the financial sector, only 30 percent of adults have an account at a formal financial institution. Public sector borrowing crowds out private borrowers and lending institutions have become increasingly risk averse, reflecting recent crises and adjustments to new regulatory reform. Credit markets remain underdeveloped with limited products, short-term horizons, and high borrowing costs. Making the financial landscape even harsher, Nigerians must contend with inadequate physical infrastructure, ineffective legal institutions, and everyday challenges like distant bank branches, missing identification documents, and high fees.

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> Posted by Lisa Kuhn Fraioli, Independent Consultant

When Meri was first interviewed by Freedom from Hunger for its impact stories research in 2008, she was a classic microfinance success story. This hard-working mother of five from Huancayo, Peru had a successful business buying grains in the local market, milling them, and processing them into a type of custard that she then sold in Lima at a good price. The loans that Meri received from her local microfinance organization allowed her to buy more grain, invest in new products, and transport them for sale in Lima. The loans had helped Meri grow her business beyond the subsistence level for the first time. She now had a profit that she invested in food, healthcare, and education for her children.

When interviewers returned to Meri in 2011, the story had turned into a tale of desperation and distress. Now, Meri says, “I try to sell underwear and socks, but it almost never goes well. We are hungry. Sometimes there isn’t enough food. It’s very rare that we buy meat, and what I prepare, I give to my daughters and hope that my husband brings something to eat.” She is no longer able to send all her children to school. What happened to Meri?

After the birth of her fifth child, Meri suffered an internal hemorrhage and was hospitalized. The doctor warned her that her condition was very delicate and that she could no longer make the eight-hour trip to Lima to sell her products. Unable to travel, she reluctantly shut her business down. Meri’s family’s sole source of income was now the few soles that her husband brought in as a shoeshine. Meri owes the hospital for her emergency treatment and used money from her business loan to help pay for it. Then she borrowed from a bank, the municipality, and two more microfinance organizations. Meri can’t find any new business that gives her stable income. Meanwhile, her debts weigh upon her heavily. She is still in pain, but she can’t afford the 15 dollars it would cost for an ultrasound. She says, “It seems that the stress is accumulating in my stomach. Every day it hurts me as if the anxiety were taking away my potential.” Meri, overdebted with no means to repay her loans, is now effectively excluded from the financial system as a poor credit risk. She is still struggling to get back to the economic position she was in 10 years ago. She needs to develop a new business, one less dependent on traveling, but she will have to do so without any help from microfinance.

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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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