> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo and Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Program Specialist and Communications Associate, CFI

In Iraq and Afghanistan, about 23 and 35 percent of people live below the poverty line. Both countries have microfinance industries, though they’re small and financial inclusion rates are low. In the effort to combat these low levels of inclusion, an unlikely financial service player, the U.S. military, is using the principles of microfinance to optimize fund dispersal by local ground commanders in order to strengthen communities in conflict areas.

Charkh, Afghanistan

We recently become aware of this military effort when contacted by a group of West Point cadets interested in learning more about microfinance. In the conversation we learned that U.S. military ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan each receive about five thousand dollars a month to allocate as they see fit toward development projects in the local communities where they are posted. The money can go towards public roads, schools, medical clinics – projects contributing to community rebuilding and reconstruction. These allotments from ground commanders are part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) developed in 2008. Currently, ground commanders don’t have specific guidance on how they should allocate these funds so they often rely on suggestions from village elders, who the cadets recognized are sometimes biased and self-interested in the projects they recommend.

The cadets are therefore working to develop a portfolio optimization template – based on the principles of microfinance – to guide ground commanders on how to allocate their CERP funds as microgrants to help raise the standard of living within local communities. The project objective is to enable ground commanders to allocate their funds as loans to small-businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals, facilitating income growth, economic development, and community strengthening. The template is modeled after microfinance practices because of similarities in distribution methods found between microcredit loans and the financial aid provided by ground commanders through CERP funds.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on Next Billion.

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum, in October 2013, was an opportunity for hundreds of leaders to come together and dedicate themselves to quality financial access for all, while at the same time proclaiming that global access is, in fact, within the realm of the possible. The Forum itself generated many action ideas, forged new relationships between actors and created a surge in momentum.

Since October, we at the Center for Financial Inclusion have been in a (very welcome) quiet phase, during which we are laying the groundwork for the next big push. Over the past few months we have been busy following up on some of the most fascinating insights that came out of the FI2020 process. I’d like to mention a few here – and describe how these insights can make a difference in the quest for global financial inclusion by 2020.

Aging and Financial Inclusion

One of the biggest “Aha!” insights for us came from our Mapping the Invisible Market work, which revealed the rapid growth of older population segments, especially among middle-income countries. In these countries, including much of Latin America and Asia, the over-65 age cohort will rise within a decade or two from about 5 percent of the population to about 15 percent, putting great stress on traditional systems for supporting later life.

We are sure that such changes will have big implications for financial inclusion, and so we decided to team up with HelpAge International, one of the premier global organizations dedicated to aging. When we contacted HelpAge, it had just released its “Global Age Watch Index, 2013,” a ranking of countries on the basis of quality of life for older people. HelpAge has done important analysis on income strategies actually used by people as they age, and it knows that these strategies are more diverse and creative than stereotypes might suggest. CFI and HelpAge will work together to dig deeper into the financial services needs related to aging and preparation for later life. We will also look at the financial barriers older clients face, whether these are physical limitations (related to acquired disabilities), policies (such as arbitrary age cut-offs), or susceptibility to fraud and abuse. We will focus this research in Latin America. We are convinced that the life-course lens on financial inclusion will reveal a wide range of opportunities to advance inclusion. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

On February 23, Rohini Pande opened classroom sessions of  “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” – a one-week program offered by Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education – by drawing a distinction between two models of change: the magic bullet and penicillin. The magic bullet is an unstoppable cure-all. It takes down whatever problem you set your sights on. Penicillin is the product of many cycles of experimentation, refinement, and the occasional stroke of luck. (Researchers found the best strand of the penicillin fungus on a moldy cantaloupe from an Illinois market.) Magic bullets solve problems in German folk tales, penicillin in the real world.

Pande spoke to a group of 45 participants – leaders of government ministries, MFIs, banks, and NGOs from 29 countries (click here for a breakdown). She said that the hope that microcredit could, by itself, lift very different poor populations out of poverty – a hope initially bolstered by quick spread and high repayment rates – appears to have included some magical thinking. Given microcredit’s disappointing performance according to metrics such as new business creation and development indicators, the challenge now is to put it through a penicillin-style process of trial, error, and re-trial – including testing its effects in combination with a broader range of products.

The penicillin metaphor allowed Pande to place early emphasis on the value of evidence-driven (re)design in policy, a theme that would be frequently revisited throughout the week. By citing the rising use of rigorous evaluations as a policy instrument, she turned the moral of the cautionary tale from a statement about microcredit specifically to a much more general maxim: “Don’t trust the quick and easy result.”

The other products that the “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” program promised to focus on, such as savings and insurance facilities and new payments mechanisms, must also be put through the same process of experimentation and evaluation, Pande said.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

We live in an age of cash flow unpredictability. Here at CFI we’ve championed work like Portfolios of the Poor, which focuses on those at the base of the pyramid. But what about those who aren’t poor? Who is paying attention to the wealthy? Are they fully included?

A new product is now addressing an oft-neglected gap in the market. The product is a microfinance loan for those at the top of the pyramid who need credit while they wait for their yearly bonus to be approved by their company’s board or while they wait for a deal to go through in order to receive their golden parachute.

“I’m waiting for my $80 million golden parachute,” says CEO Robert McMillion, CEO of Lime Werner Cable since January 1 of this year. “In the meantime, I find that I don’t have the $700 for the weekly allowance that I give my daughter and son.” McMillion stands to receive $80 million if the company’s purchase by Cobcast Cable goes through and he steps down as CEO.

“I really am in a pinch,” says McMillion. “My daughter’s prom is coming up, and without money in her checking account, how can she go shopping? Similarly, my son was hoping to buy a new sports car, and without the cash, he will have to finance it at high interest rates. If I can avoid him having to do that, I will.”

McMillion does have a great deal of stock and has saved for retirement—one might say that he doesn’t have a problem on his hands. But his stock isn’t liquid, and if he were to take out the retirement money before he actually retires, he would have to pay high taxes on it.

McMillion is not alone. U.S.-based CEOs used to be able to count on their golden parachutes and high year-end bonuses. Now, under the Dodd-Frank Act, CEOs have to wait for full board approval in order to receive the money, and even then the amounts are slightly lower than in the past. Golden parachutes have gone from $30.2 million in 2011 to $29.9 million today (we are not making this up), and executives are under increasing PR pressure to reject or only take a portion of their bonuses when companies don’t do well.

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> Posted by Laurence Dare and Stephanie Hanson, East Africa Policy Manager and Director of Policy and Outreach, One Acre Fund

Expanding access to finance isn’t enough. Clients need access to financial products that they will actually adopt. That’s why addressing customer needs, one of the pillars of the Financial Inclusion 2020 Roadmap to Inclusion, is so critical for making finance more inclusive. For smallholder farmers in rural Africa, where inclusion rates are 19 percent compared to the urban rate of 34 percent, the financial services provided don’t come close to meeting the demand. Asset-based financing and loan products with flexible repayment schedules can help close this gap.

Among other financial services, smallholders desperately need access to financing for basic inputs—improved seed and fertilizer—that could dramatically increase their agriculture productivity. Properly designed, this financing could make an important contribution to growth and poverty reduction in Africa.

Unfortunately, microfinance products created for Africa’s poor do not necessarily meet such needs. Most microfinance institutions are concentrated in urban and peri-urban areas and primarily offer cash loan products on strict repayment schedules. These products meet the needs of the urban and suburban poor, most of whom receive small but frequent income from businesses or jobs. Smallholder farmers have different challenges.

Unlike urban clients, smallholder farmers receive the majority of their income all at once after harvesting. As small jobs come in, such as day labor on a neighbor’s farm or a local construction project, farmers can earn some extra income, but this is incremental and unpredictable. A cash loan product on a strict repayment schedule does not meet these financing needs.

How should a loan product be structured to meet the needs of smallholder farmers? At One Acre Fund, we designed a product pairing asset-based financing and a flexible repayment schedule that is working for 180,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.

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> Posted by Alexandra Fiorillo, Principal, GRID Impact 

With more than 2.5 billion people around the world remaining un- or underbanked and major fluctuations in activity and usage among existing accounts, the financial inclusion industry still has work to do to increase the uptake and adoption of new products and services while also increasing the number of regularly active clients.

Many people understand the potential benefit of financial services and have the intention to use savings and loan products to improve their financial well-being. However, research shows that human beings do not always follow-through on their intentions. Frequently, we experience an intention-action gap due to psychological and external factors.

If we want to achieve full financial inclusion, we cannot simply offer more financial products and services to more people and hope they need, want, like, and use them. Instead, we should spend the necessary resources to ensure our products and services work for clients by doing two things:

1. Design products that meet the needs, desires, and preferences of our clients by collaborating with them on the design and delivery of these products.

2. Help our clients follow-through with the intentions and goals they have for their financial lives by focusing on taking action rather than just providing more information.

A new approach to product and service innovation, behavioral research and design, attempts to do just this. Drawing on insights from behavioral economics and principles from human-centered design, behavioral research and design attempts to uncover deep personal and contextual motivators and influencers to human behavior so we can better design products and services in a client-centered way. The goal of this method is not to focus on stated preferences and opinion or market research, but rather to develop deep empathy for human needs and desires while also making sense of observable behaviors – which may be contrary to people’s stated preferences. The tools often used in this approach involve in-depth interviews, behavioral and empathy mapping, customer journey maps, and other techniques focused on a small, indicative group of people. The multidisciplinary approach can help us better understand the motivations underlying people’s current behaviors and help us make more informed predictions about how people will behave when faced with new decisions in the future.

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> Posted by Annalisa Bianchessi, Microinsurance Network

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Although Africa has 17 percent of the world’s pastures and arable land, the value of premiums for agricultural insurance in Africa represents less than 0.7 percent of the world’s total. This remarkably low figure is deplorable when one considers that about 60 percent of the active population in Africa is working in the agricultural sector and that with the advent of climate change the risks in agricultural activities are becoming even more frequent and severe. The agriculture insurance sector in Africa is also unevenly distributed, with sector development in West Africa restricted to a handful of countries such as Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana. Should governments intervene to support the development of the agricultural insurance sector in Africa?

For smallholder farmers, agriculture insurance offsets risks associated with weather fluctuations. This risk reduction can make it more likely that a farmer will qualify for credit and thus invest in the tools and resources (e.g. seed, fertilizer, labor) needed prior to harvest that would potentially increase crop yields. Furthermore, it also provides farmers with the peace of mind required to invest savings into businesses and increases their confidence to engage in contracts with buyers and processors.

According to Ismaïla Diakité, President of COPROCUMA, a farmer cooperative in Mali, and spokesperson for a network of 500 cooperatives representing over 500,000 Malian farmers, “Microinsurance is an avenue for the people of Mali to develop our country.” Ismaïla recalls that a few years back, COPROCUMA had taken out a loan to sow 10,000 hectares of sesame seed. However due to bad weather the crop failed, and the cooperative and farmers ended up in debt. It was then that they realized the value of insurance. While very lucky (the lending institution cancelled their debt), the farmers embarked on an agriculture insurance scheme, which today is compulsory for all members of their cooperative. Ismaïla says, “Our main objective is to ensure the survival of our farmers, their life and their livelihood.” To this end, he believes that insurance is an essential part of the benefits that the cooperative needs to offer the farmers. When asked whether all farmers are happy with the compulsory insurance scheme he says, “A farmer cannot see the importance of microinsurance until he can see the bigger picture. In the sector I work in there will never be unanimous agreement on anything. However a few years into the insurance scheme, 80 percent of farmers in Mali are now convinced of the importance of agriculture microinsurance.” Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly and Veronica Trujillo, Fellow and Consultant, CFI and MIF/IDB

Where can you find up-to-date and comparable information on the state of microfinance and financial inclusion? Which are the most trusted sources? These issues were recently explored in a research effort designed to lay the groundwork for broadening the scope of the EIU Global Microscope on the Business Environment for Microfinance from an emphasis on microfinance to financial inclusion. As part of this process, Fusion Research conducted a detailed assessment on the relevance of the Microscope.

As sponsors of the Microscope, what we found through the study was a pleasant surprise. Seventy-nine percent of people surveyed (more than 500 microfinance sector stakeholders from different countries around the world, with a high proportion of participants coming from Latin America and the Caribbean) were at least aware of the Microscope, and most of these people have used or consulted it. Closely trailing the Microscope, 76 percent of people surveyed were aware of the MIX Country and MFI Benchmark Reports.

Market Analysis of Microfinance Resources

In terms of actual use of the tools, the MIX leads the way, almost tied with the Microscope. When we look at use of the tools by stakeholder type, we see a greater diversity in which tools different kinds of people use.

Investors are most and equally likely to use the EIU Country Reports and the Microscope. Their need to know the country microfinance context and level of market development to make better decisions is likely to explain such preference. Those who work for financial services entities seem to like the detail and competition data that the MIX provides. Their second most used source is the Microscope, revealing the importance for them of country regulatory and operative environment. Foundations appear to use the Microscope and MIX data in tandem. The Global Findex (The World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Index) is most used by regulators/policymakers and DFIs/foundations, while academics, think tanks, and those working in business or consulting are most likely to use the Global Microscope.

Respondents to the survey, on average, reported using between three and four resources in their work. In terms of usefulness, MIX reports and the Global Microscope on Microfinance were rated as very useful for more than 55 percent of the people interviewed.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

What do you do if you’re trying to effect significant change in consumer protection in the financial industry but you have limited time and resources? You build a system that harnesses an army of consumers to do it for you!

This is the brilliantly simple strategy employed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the United States government agency charged with protecting the users of financial services. The bureau’s consumer complaints system receives complaints from consumers and, after a process (described below), publishes all of the complaints in a public database. Much of this process is automated, and the beauty of the system lies in the fact that consumers do most of the heavy lifting, initially reporting their problem and then indicating whether it came to a satisfactory resolution at the end of the process.

To break things down a bit, here is a step-by-step picture of what happens to a complaint going through the CFPB system:

  1. The CFPB receives a complaint through its website, by email, phone, or fax.
  2. The CFPB reviews and routes the complaint.
  3. The company against whom the complaint is lodged has the opportunity to respond.
  4. The consumer has the opportunity to review the response.
  5. If the complaint is not resolved, the CFPB reviews and investigates.
  6. The CFPB publishes the complaint, response, and resolution in the database.

The bureau is quickly becoming a go-to source for disgruntled consumers, even though the bureau has hardly spent any resources on awareness-raising and education of the service. It probably helps that their website is unusually user-friendly, and their process of complaint resolution is centered firmly on the consumer. The consumer truly has the last word. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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