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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

M-Pesa, the mobile money service success story that began in Kenya in 2007 is continuing its march, this time into the surprising location of Romania, raising the questions, what will the product look like in this new European market and how will it fare. At the end of last month Vodafone, the operator behind the new service and one of Romania’s largest telcos, began operations using the country’s 300 Vodafone Romania stores, participating retail outlets, and authorized agents.

M-Pesa operates via SMS phone messaging and offers the ability to make deposits and send and receive payments to people and businesses – potentially an attractive prospect to the third of Romanians who don’t have access to formal banking services. Across the country there are about 7 million people who transact mainly in cash. The just-launched mobile service is estimated to be accessible to about 6 million people, and Vodafone plans to increase its in-country distribution points to a total of 2,000 by the end of the year. Vodafone has 8.3 million clients out of Romania’s 21.3 million population, the vast majority being active mobile phone users. The mobile money market in Romania is currently underdeveloped.

Of course, just because M-Pesa has achieved significant uptake elsewhere doesn’t mean that will happen here, too. Since the service first launched in Kenya, new M-Pesa outfits have been established in a number of other countries including Tanzania, Afghanistan, and South Africa. Within the past twelve months, the service also launched in Egypt, India, Lesotho, and Mozambique. Across these markets results have been mixed, with operators struggling to emulate the immense success achieved in Kenya.

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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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

The flagship mobile money service M-Pesa launched in India last month. The service, which started in Kenya in 2007 and has since expanded to eight countries and 17 million users, will be conducted in India by way of a partnership between Vodafone, India’s second largest mobile network operator, and ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. India’s unbanked population towers at roughly 700 million.

M-Pesa will roll-out in India in phases, beginning with a first effort in the eastern areas of the country. Across Kolkata, West Bengal, Bihar, and Jharkhand, this initial phase boasts a network of 8,300 agents. M-Pesa in India will include cash deposits and withdrawals, money transfers to any mobile device in the country, airtime top-ups, bill payment services, and the ability to make purchases at select stores. With an initial agent network in the thousands and an unbanked population making up the better part of a billion, the ambitions and scope of M-Pesa in India are indeed large. But before we start mentally converting chunks of India’s 700 million unbanked individuals to banked, let’s take a closer look at a few factors that will affect the service’s success.

Mobile Phone Penetration. India has the second largest mobile phone base in the world with over 900 million users. Though as the average Indian user has 2.2 SIM cards, the number of individual subscribers is actually about 319 million – a population penetration of about 25 percent, and rising quickly. However, subscriptions to M-Pesa are limited to clients of Vodafone. Although Vodafone is the second largest mobile network operator in India, it holds only 17 percent of the market. In comparison, Vodafone in Kenya services about 70 percent of the country’s mobile subscribers, and that market dominance is thought to be one of the major success factors, because it allows most cell phone users to connect with most other users.

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> Posted by Monique Cohen, Ph.D., Founding-President, Microfinance Opportunities

The following post was originally published on the Child and Youth Finance International Blog.

“I am not good at managing my money. I need some extra training so that I can know how to manage myself. Because you know money is like trouble. You get big money and it’s like big trouble, you know,” (A young man living in Nairobi, 2011).

Walk down any street in Nairobi, Dar es Salam, or Cairo, or in a small African town and it seems everyone, including teenagers, has a phone to their ear. Indeed, for those 18 and under, few have known a world without mobiles. Not surprisingly, school-age boys and girls (5-14), teens (14-18), and young people entering the labor force or tertiary education (over 18) are seen as a potential new market for the provision of financial services. While recent experimentation in this space has focused on savings, there is growing consensus that young people should be able to access a full range of financial services, with the priorities changing as they advance in their life cycle (see YouthSave, YouthStart, and Child and Youth Finance International). Not only are youth savings and youth financial education hot topics in the financial services space, but there is also a growing recognition that young people have money, and technology-based financial services offer a gateway for their financial inclusion. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Hannah Henderson, Principal Director, Communications, Accion

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

In the United States, online banking has become the norm for many, with over 63 percent of U.S. households now using online financial services.* I recall ING Direct putting branchless banking on my personal finance radar back in September 2000 with its do-it-yourself, low overhead, higher interest bearing online savings account. Just the other day, I read about a new online banking platform called Simple, which bills itself as a “worry-free alternative to traditional banking.” Simple is a purely transactional web-based platform that partners with The Bancorp Bank where customer funds are held.

The concept that banking could be simple, or better yet, worry-free, seemed a remote possibility not so long ago. In my own experience, I’ve found relative simplicity in online banking but my personal finances are far from worry-free. These days, I can easily move funds between my savings and checking accounts—even though they are with different banks. I can pay all of my bills online and keep an eye on my balance in real time. My mobile phone allows me to stay on top of my bills even when I am traveling. And my credit score only stands to gain as my auto-paid recurring bills no longer rely on my memory to be processed on time. What do I worry about? Cash flow, fees, and trying to get to the bank or ATM when I need to deposit or withdraw cash. I am fortunate to rarely worry about safety—but I live in a virtually crime-free neighborhood.

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Posted by Ignacio Mas, Independent Consultant

Google Trends is a public web facility which shows how often particular search terms are entered in Google relative to the total search volume, globally or for individual countries, and for defined time periods (after 2004). This gives us a good perspective into how people are approaching our industry. I looked up some of the most prominent financial inclusion terms, and found some very interesting things.

Industry rebranding. The first graph below shows that the search term “microfinance” has been much more popular than “microcredit” over the last eight years. (In each graph, all data points are scaled relative to the highest value on that graph – see methodological note at the end of this post.) “Microcredit” surged in late 2006 with the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus. Since then, searches on “microcredit” have been decreasing in relative terms and, by contrast, the new term “financial inclusion” has been gaining ground and is now comparable in its use as a search term to “microcredit.” Still, despite strong attempts from many quarters to rebrand around the financial inclusion label, it has not yet taken off.

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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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