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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Since launching microfinance activities in 1974, BRAC has grown to become one of the world’s largest financial services providers to the poor. BRAC’s microfinance operations, which include loans and savings, serve more than 5 million clients in eight countries. In 2012, BRAC started a financial education and client protection project that aims to help clients adopt financial behaviors that facilitate their well-being. Shameran Abed, Director of the BRAC Microfinance program, recently spoke with me to discuss BRAC’s work. Prior to joining BRAC, Abed served as an editorial writer at one of Bangladesh’s main English-language daily newspapers where he wrote primarily on politics. He also serves on the Board of Directors of bKash, a mobile financial services platform in Bangladesh.   

Eric: Can you talk about BRAC’s client protection work and what you learned from your project pilots in 2012 and 2013?

Shameran: We wanted to make sure that any clients coming into the BRAC microfinance program could be very well catered to. They should understand what our products are, what our terms are, what our rates are, and they should make an educated decision on whether they want to take our products. And if they do become our members then they should be treated well, treated with respect, and have access to information. I’m not saying that BRAC didn’t have all these things before two or three years ago, but we really wanted to double-down our efforts on these fronts. So that’s why we decided to do more work around client protection, client customer service, and financial education.

Eric: What do you think are the biggest risks facing microfinance clients?

Shameran: From a financial point of view, there are two or three risks that we’re particularly concerned about. One, of course, is something that’s been talked about a lot, the risk of overindebtedness. Bangladesh, although quite a mature microfinance market, is, in terms of overindebtedness, thankfully still quite low. But still I think overindebtedness is something that you always guard against because there is a lot of demand for credit and if microfinance institutions are not careful they can always have issues around overindebtedness of borrowers.

There are a lot of financial institutions nowadays that are kind of fly-by-night institutions that set up shop… Institutions that are typically unregulated. They come in, they offer products, they lure in clients, and then they disappear. I think around these issues the clients need more awareness, and these are some of the things our financial education components try to address.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

If you regularly follow financial inclusion news, you probably come across articles on the financial inclusion progress of particular countries all the time. Just today I read headlines on the extent of inclusion in Bangladesh as compared to other South Asian countries, on the growing mass of mobile money subscribers in Kenya, and on life insurance penetration in India. Last week we added to the conversation with a post on Nigeria’s financial inclusion strategy. Keeping track of all these national developments is a challenge, even for those of us who have the opportunity to focus much of our attention on financial inclusion.

Earlier this month AFI released the National Financial Inclusion Strategy Timeline, a document that chronicles the steps AFI member institutions have taken in recent years to develop and implement national financial inclusion strategies in their countries – a resource any of us financial inclusion media junkies can embrace. Created by AFI’s Financial Inclusion Strategy Peer Learning Group (FISPLG), the timeline is organized by region and lists national-level developments for 28 countries from 2007 to the present. Here’s the Sub-Saharan Africa region section.

In looking at the timeline, a few trends quickly come to the surface. Not surprisingly, there’s been an increase in inclusion activity among central banks and financial regulatory institutions in the past few years. Specifically in 2013, a number of countries have drafted or implemented national strategies, including the Philippines, Thailand, Belarus, Turkey, Nepal, and Tanzania. Another trend expressed in the timeline is the rise of branchless banking, with many countries developing guidelines for agent and mobile banking.

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Posted by Ignacio Mas and Premasis Mukherjee, Independent Consultant and Senior Analyst, MicroSave

We recently completed extensive field work on people’s money management practices in India and Bangladesh, funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our ostensible purpose was to develop simplified metaphors that express vividly how people think about money. You can judge for yourself how close we came to that by viewing (here) 10 different outputs. While our intent was to simplify, we ended up evolving a more nuanced view of how poor people think about money management (see here for a fuller treatment).

We echo Collins and Zollmann’s observation from their research in Kenya that poor people’s financial talk tends to relate much more to short term income security than to longer term goals or risks. Their main concern is that they want to have enough recurrent income to meet routine expenses. We unpack this into three interlinked concepts which, while by no means new, deserve more attention.

Shaping income to increase income security

Unlike organized sector employees, the mass market lives on a diet of irregular and often unpredictable income flows. From this, some larger routine expenses like school fees need to be met and emergencies need to be dealt with. Stuart Rutherford has placed lumping of money – the accumulation of balances into useful lump sums – as the key financial mechanism people use. What is interesting is that so often people use those lumps to buy a cow (or a rickshaw, or some merchandise for trading), whose main attribute is that it produces small daily income rather than being a good store of value. So they go from collecting a meager stream of small daily cash flows, to building a lump sum, and from there to creating more small daily cash flows. What pushes them on this cycle of sacrificing, lumping, and regenerating daily income – which we call income shaping – is the desire to change not only the size but also the timing and predictability of cash inflows. They see that as the key to providing for daily expenses, and building the routine of setting money aside regularly to build further useful lumps.

Income shaping is people’s preferred mechanism to achieve consumption smoothing: by building a regular income profile.

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>Posted by Center Staff

It has been an eventful week here in Washington DC, with historic Supreme Court rulings on health care and immigration and a long-awaited deal on student loans. But in the midst of their busy summer season, a number of U.S. Senators found time to support global microfinance.

On Wednesday, all of the female United States Senators joined together to pen a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, expressing their strong support for the Grameen Bank. These 17 women declared that the Grameen Bank has served as a model for innovation worldwide, positively affecting the communities in which it works and inspiring countless individuals to tackle the issue of poverty alleviation. The Senators expressed their worry that actions to impact the Bank’s operations would ultimately harm its 8.3 million members – 97 percent of whom are women. These members own 97 percent of the Bank’s shares, making the Grameen Bank one of the largest institutions in the world owned by rural women. Read the rest of this entry »

>  Posted by Center Staff

Elisabeth Rhyne recently contributed a blog to the Huffington Post that explores the state of the microfinance industry in Bangladesh. The piece begins:

Ask a casual observer to describe microfinance, and most likely he or she will mention Bangladesh and tiny group-guaranteed loans for women. But on a recent trip to Bangladesh, I learned that the Bangladeshi microfinance sector has moved on. Way on.

The model of microfinance in Bangladesh, as it originated at Grameen Bank, involved tiny loans to women with fixed terms and amounts, group liability, weekly meetings, forced payments into a group savings account, and a set of 16 social pledges chanted each week while standing at attention. The Grameen model spawned imitators around the world, involving a large share of microfinance clients in India, the Philippines and East Africa, among other places. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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