> Posted by Verónica Trujillo Tejada, Consultant, MIF/ Inter-American Development Bank

Building up a regulatory framework for the development of a microfinance market is a complex task. It requires taking into account a broad variety of topics as well as country specific needs and features. There are some internationally-applicable recommendations for the design of microfinance regulatory frameworks (CGAP 2012, ASBA 2010, and Basel 2010) but little is known about how different countries have implemented their guidelines or what the effects are of these rules in each market.

In the recently released paper “Microfinance Regulation and Market Development in Latin America,” published by the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, we analyze the relationship between microfinance regulatory frameworks in 17 Latin American countries and the corresponding markets’ levels of development.

One way to characterize microfinance regulations is as either general or specific rules. The general rules are devoted to regulating typical financial system issues, while the specific rules target microfinance products or institutions. Two other regulation classifications are protection rules and promotion rules. Protection rules have the goal of preserving financial system stability or protecting the financial consumer, and promotion rules aim to favor the development of microfinance services or institutions by softening the restrictiveness of the overall regulatory framework.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

A proactive step for client protection was recently taken in Laos when the country’s Microfinance Association (MFA) established an industry code of conduct focused on client protection. Laos’ code centers on the client protection principles and the accompanying Smart Certification standards, which designate how institutions can instill fair client treatment in their practices. The code was developed by the MFA following a Smart assessor training in late 2013, and was reviewed by the Campaign to ensure accurate reflection of the client protection principles and standards. In April, the code was presented at an MFA member meeting, where all members present committed to embedding it throughout their institutions. This new code fills an important gap, given that client protection regulation for financial services is not well developed in the country.

Established in 2007, the Microfinance Association and its members represent a growing share of the country’s industry. Members include MFIs, as well as donors, training institutes, and individual experts and advocates. The 32 MFIs that are members make up roughly 50 percent of Laos’ formal microfinance industry by number of clients.

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> Posted by Tanaya Kilara, Financial Sector Analyst, CGAP

Customer-centricity is about providing solutions based on a deep understanding of customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. This is a concept that is easy to agree with but difficult to implement. Financial service providers serving base of the pyramid (BOP) customers struggle with generating customer insights, but more importantly, with translating those insights into better products and services for BOP customers. In a recently released CGAP Brief, Beth Rhyne and I explore the relevance of customer-centricity for financial inclusion.

Our starting point is that BOP customers differ significantly from their wealthier counterparts. They have informal, irregular incomes, different spending and consumption patterns, different relationships with financial institutions, and need different consumer protection measures. Developing this understanding of customers and their differentiated needs is the first step in serving the BOP market with relevant financial services. Many financial service providers presume that this market can be served by the same products as those of higher income customers, or at best, that they can treat this entire market as a single segment. Providers need to recognize different needs and segments and therefore provide different financial solutions that cater to this market.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

On a trip to the antipodes you expect to find things a bit upside down. You look out on the underneath side of the universe and see mammals that lay eggs. On my recent trip there, I discovered that the microfinance world is a little upside down, too.

The biggest microfinance program in Australia, Good Shepherd Microfinance’s No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) is mind-bendingly different from most microfinance operations. In the first place, it charges no interest or fees – technically it’s a repayable grant. Secondly, it is explicitly designed to assist people to obtain consumer goods, such as a refrigerator, washing machine, or laptop, not to operate a business. And thirdly, far from addressing the informal sector, most of the borrowers are recipients of some form of public welfare support.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

A few weeks ago J.P. Morgan made a $30 million commitment to create the Financial Solutions Lab, a move representative of the growing recognition among all financial stakeholders of the importance of financial capability.

The Financial Solutions Lab, a five-year initiative, will be managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and it seeks to bring together experts in behavioral economics, design, technology, and nonprofit services in order to develop innovative and scalable financial products and services that strengthen client financial capability and well-being. Ideo.org and ideas42 are to serve as strategic partners on the initiative. By bringing these stakeholders together, the Lab aims to identify new ways in which customers can improve credit behavior, increase savings, and build assets.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

We are in full World Cup fervor in the Accion offices around the world, with jerseys making appearances at global staff meetings, water cooler conversations centering on surprise advancements (and eliminations), and a high incidence of lingering trips to the conference room screen to check scores in between meetings and deadlines. You could say things are getting a little heated as the group of teams still in the running gets smaller.

There have been a few attempts to use this global competition as an opportunity to better understand our world. The Wall Street Journal published a “World Cup of Everything Else,” where countries can be matched up on categories from the hottest weather to the biggest eaters of seafood, and Dean Karlan produced a set of predictions based on population, poverty level, and interest in soccer to assess which country would experience the greatest increase in happiness with a World Cup victory (spoiler: Nigeria would have had the most aggregate happiness if it had won the tournament).

But what if the World Cup were a competition based on financial inclusion indicators? If we were to create a bracket where the country with the highest level of financial inclusion advanced, the European countries would all advance, which in my opinion wouldn’t be very interesting.

What if, however, we use the World Cup system to see where the highest number of financially excluded people are? We crunched the numbers to show you, of the countries that made it to Brazil for the competition, who would “win” the title of “highest number of financially excluded people.” Basing winners on the countries with the largest number of people without a formal bank account, we noticed a few surprises.
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> Posted by Hema Bansal and Pallavi Sen, the Smart Campaign and MFIN


On June 16th the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN) was officially recognized as the Self Regulatory Organization (SRO) for non-bank financial company (NBFC) microfinance institutions in India. With this, MFIN not only became the first network to attain such recognition in India, but also in Asia and perhaps in the world.

An SRO is an organization that has been authorized by a statutory regulator or a government agency to exercise control and regulation on its behalf over certain aspects of an industry. Established in 2009, MFIN is an association of NBFC-MFIs acting as their primary representative body. As an SRO, MFIN will essentially support the RBI in ensuring compliance to regulatory prescriptions and the Industry Code of Conduct.

Subsequent to the Andhra Pradesh crisis, the RBI had instituted a subcommittee of the Central Board of the Reserve Bank under the chairmanship of Shri Y. H. Malegam to study issues and concerns in the microfinance sector in India. The committee submitted its report in January 2011, thereby providing concrete recommendations and guidelines for the creation and recognition of microfinance NBFCs in India. Except for setting in place an SRO, all the other recommendations of the committee were implemented by the RBI in 2012. These other guidelines included establishing a credit bureau, the Guidelines on Fair Practices Code for NBFCs, and additional guidelines on loan size, target clientele, interest rates, transparency, collection practices, and multiple lending. With MFIN recognized as an SRO, the RBI is now implementing the last remaining Malegam Committee recommendation.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research and Evaluation Specialist, Freedom from Hunger 

In part one of this review, we considered several themes that Roger Thurow raised in the book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change that might influence how we conduct research and design evaluations to measure changes in poverty. The book follows four Kenyan smallholder families for a year, chronicling how their lives were changing as a result of participating in One Acre Fund’s agriculture training and loan program.

Understanding the decisions these families made about how and where to allocate their very limited resources helps us as financial service practitioners and researchers to understand and appreciate certain realities.

Financial service providers can feel both disappointed and encouraged by this book. We find ourselves uncomfortable reading about Leonida, the Kenyan mother and smallholder farmer who makes a credit payment instead of feeding her family. But we also see opportunity. It’s a difficult trade-off for Leonida, but she sees her credit payment as her ticket to new investment in crops, which have already shown promise after a year of participating in One Acre Fund’s program.

In our earlier discussion, we looked at how we might think differently about evaluating programs. Let’s switch gears to what Thurow encourages us to think about in terms of program design. He highlights two key opportunities that stem from a more client-centered approach to program design.
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> Posted by Anna Koblanck, Communications Officer, International Finance Corporation

The Sakombi neighborhood in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is not an area where traditional banks spend their marketing money. The people who live and work here are street hawkers and day laborers, low-income people in the informal economy who are generally considered risky and expensive customers by most financial institutions.

Microfinance institution FINCA thinks differently. It conducts regular sales drives in Sakombi and in similar neighborhoods across Kinshasa, offering new customers the chance to open a bank account with just a one dollar deposit. These marketing drives build on a network of agents that FINCA is rolling out with the help of mobile and biometric technology.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Microcredit Summit Campaign released their 2014 State of the Campaign report, sharing insights and exemplary initiatives that support the global goal of resilience for all. Resilience outlines where the microfinance industry stands in its mission to end poverty, and how synergies with other services and sectors, like healthcare, mobile phones, and social relief payments, are key to achieving even greater impact.

Worldwide, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty. One in eight people go to bed hungry and one in six children under the age of five are underweight. Every few years between 10 and 30 percent of the poorest households around the world work their way out of poverty, while roughly the same number fall below the poverty line. Several of these statistics, all highlighted in Resilience, come from the 2013 Millennium Development Goals report. In that report, it’s noted that in terms of the MDG to eliminate poverty, the world is about five years ahead of schedule, though of course progress around the world hasn’t been uniform. In one of the regions that has lagged, Sub-Saharan Africa, so too does financial inclusion. About 85 percent of those in the region don’t have a formal savings account, compared to 77 percent of the world’s poor globally. Even fewer individuals have access to formal credit or insurance products.

Nevertheless, the growth numbers of the microfinance industry for the past decade and a half are encouraging. In 1997, global client outreach totaled 13 million. By 2010, it grew to 205 million. After a dip in 2011 resulting from a loss of 15.4 million clients in India, industry outreach rebounded in 2012.

Resilience breaks down these numbers by income level, revealing an important trend. According to the statistics, during the past decade, for the first time the gap between total client outreach and the total number of clients who are among their country’s lowest income group has widened. At first glance, the numbers may be interpreted as suggesting that MFIs have become more interested in serving wealthier clients. The reality, however, is that more MFIs are adopting accurate benchmarking tools for assessing poverty, such as the Progress out of Poverty Index. It turns out, many MFIs’ previous estimates of their outreach to the very poor have been inaccurate – overestimating how effectively they are serving this client segment.

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