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> Posted by Tyler Owens, CFI Staff


The current era of financial services for the poor is marked by the growth of high-tech delivery mechanisms, innovative start-ups, new socially responsible investing models, and more traditional banks growing their portfolios of base-of-the-pyramid clients. Different players in increasingly crowded markets often collide in trying to win over more clients. Just one recent example is the newly public Alibaba, which has issued more than $16 billion in small loans over the last three years through its SME loan company AliFinance. The result of all this can lead one to question the role that traditional MFIs will play in the years and decades ahead. What will be their unique value proposition and how will they earn and maintain market share and the loyalty of their clients?

There is evidence that microfinance industry practitioners and stakeholders are not prioritizing questions of relevance and long-term customer retention. All too often, thinking strategically about the place of an MFI in a rapidly changing financial services landscape takes a back seat to the daily crush of competition and loan book performance. The 2014 Microfinance Banana Skins report—which is built on surveys of industry practitioners and insiders—concluded that the most urgent risks the industry faces are those of day-to-day business operations, such as credit control, competition, and management quality. The report went on to say that “longer term risks associated with the survival and evolution of the industry such as technological change, product development and funding are considered to be less urgent – and are less well defined.” It concluded that paying scant attention to long-term risks in the industry—at a crucial point in its development—may be a serious risk in itself.

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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. 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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

What’s the percentage of MFI clients worldwide that are LGBT? How about the percentage of staff at MFIs? Broader yet, how inclusive is the financial services industry of queer and trans people?

As you’d probably guess, concrete answers to these questions aren’t available. And even raising the issue is controversial in many countries. Over the past year anti-gay legislation was enacted in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India. The notion of financial institutions working towards LGBT-inclusive operations is far off in many countries.

But here in the U.S. (and in other areas worldwide) change is happening, as demonstrated at the Out on the Street Summit last week in New York City. The event, part of the Out on the Street initiative, featured senior leadership from some of the largest financial services providers in the world, including Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, and Ajay Banga, President and CEO of MasterCard. Held on May 1, the event focused on business opportunities and leadership strategies for and within the LGBT community, as well as the financial services industry’s role in advancing LGBT equality.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Expanding financial inclusion to the 2.5 billion unbanked individuals around the world is essential, but why does it matter, and is it possible in the next six years?

In recent years, the inclusion movement has achieved critical support and rapid progress. Last year universal financial access by 2020 was endorsed by World Bank President Jim Kim. Technology-enabled business models are catalyzing outreach, building on infrastructure like the mobile phones now accessible to six of the world’s seven billion people.

In the following video, global financial inclusion leaders explore the questions of whether financial inclusion is possible by 2020, and why we should work towards that goal.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The following post was originally published on the CGAP Microfinance Gateway.

In follow up to the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum in October, Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor at the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), shares key takeaways from the event and what the ongoing impact of this gathering will be leading up to the year 2020.

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum was a new event in the industry. Why did CFI organize this event?

Our overall goal for the FI2020 Global Forum was to put forward a vision of full financial inclusion for all by 2020, bringing together the leaders from the private and public sectors who can make that vision a reality. Part of the premise was that these different stakeholders don’t often talk with each other, and that there was value in enabling people who ordinarily work on separate aspects of financial inclusion to hear from each other and become more aware of how their own work fits into the broader picture.

Full financial inclusion by the year 2020 is an audacious goal. Did participants agree it was an achievable one?

Very much so. Participants were very optimistic, especially in light of recent innovations in technology, product development, and regulation.

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Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Community Development and Microfinance, shares his views on the lead up to the FI2020 Global Forum, as well as reflecting upon the panel discussion ‘Global Trends & Emerging Markets’.

Please share with us Citi’s perspective on the lead up to this Global Forum

What led us to this point is a convergence of a number of organizations that have been working together originally on traditional microfinance. As that grew, some of the original microfinance institutions became banks, cooperatives, credit unions, and other players that were trying to work on some similar issues with the same communities. In other words, it was a bigger discussion.

We then found other players like mobile operators and the card companies becoming interested in financial inclusion, or becoming interested in businesses that will probably expand financial inclusion. They didn’t come at it with a goal of financial inclusion necessarily, but the work that they’re doing is leading towards that.

So, we realized we needed to convene a wider range of organizations than we had before. And that was the discussion that led us with Accion and CFI to come up with a goal for financial inclusion. With the goal of 2020, it’s hopefully far enough off for us to do something, but it’s not so far off that it seems a pipedream. With the belief that there can be exponential growth using new technology and a much wider range of institutions, it has become an ambitious target for financial inclusion.

Emerging markets and banks

I don’t think that many of the banks that are not already in emerging economy/developing countries are suddenly going to become active. We don’t see new banks or international banks in Dhaka or Chittagong or in Hanoi or Kinshasa. And it is an awareness among local banks too that there is probably another way other than the old model of the bricks and mortars branches to expand access. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Peru ranks as the developing country with the best environment for microfinance, followed by Bolivia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Kenya, in that order. Latin America and the Caribbean is ranked as the best region in the world for microfinance, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and lastly the Middle East and North Africa. Globally, the microfinance industry is improving, fueled largely by an increase in credit bureaus, improving client protection, and the spread of regulatory frameworks for mobile banking.

These are a few of the big takeaways from the Global Microscope on the Microfinance Business Environment 2013, which was launched yesterday in Guadalajara at the IDB’s 2013 Foromic conference. Now in its seventh year, the Global Microscope annual series examines the environment for microfinance – and increasingly financial inclusion – by considering the national regulatory environment and the corresponding institutional framework.

Originally developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit in collaboration with the Multilateral Investment Fund and CAF, this year’s study is also sponsored by Citi Microfinance and CFI. This year’s report scores 55 countries, and in general, the global picture is promising. Since last year, 30 countries improved their scores, 19 fell back, and the scores of six countries remained the same. The majority of improvements this year came from advancements in institutional frameworks. The scores for regulatory framework and practices mostly declined.

As a region, Latin America and the Caribbean countries claimed half the slots in the global top ten, with Peru maintaining its previous ranking as the top country in part through improvements in regulation for mobile banking. Unlike the rising score for Peru, Bolivia’s score fell, due to restrictive new legislation, although not far enough to dislodge Bolivia from its number 2 ranking.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, we’re excited to announce that Michael Corbat, CEO of Citi and Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard will attend and deliver remarks at the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum. Taking place in London on October 28-30, 2013, the Forum is a one-time event that will promote a global agenda for bringing about the financial inclusion of more than 2 billion people around the world, using the year 2020 as a focal point.

Other confirmed speakers to date include:

  • Shamshad Akhtar, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations
  • Matthew Bishop, U.S. Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief, The Economist
  • Cherie Blair, Founder, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
  • Elizabeth Buse, Global Executive, Solutions, Visa Inc.
  • Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics at Harvard
  • Duvvuri Subbarao, former Governor of Reserve Bank of India

Organized in partnership with Citi, Visa Inc., MasterCard, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Western Union Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and the Financial Times, the Global Forum is a unique opportunity to engage a broad range of players in financial inclusion through a collaborative environment. The Forum will build on the project’s two-year efforts and unveil recommendations from the Roadmap for Financial Inclusion that outlines the most important steps to advance financial inclusion in 2014 and beyond.

“We are thrilled and grateful to have the support of such a wide range of high-level participants at the Global Forum,” said Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director of CFI. “The breadth of involvement – from across the private and public sectors – demonstrates the broad support of Financial Inclusion 2020 and the fact that reaching full global financial inclusion will require the combined efforts of all stakeholders.”

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> Posted by Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, the Council on Foreign Relations

The following post was originally published on Democracy in Development, Coleman’s CFR blog.

Imagine life without a bank account. Completing a simple financial transaction can require traveling a distance, incurring expenses, and losing precious income. Savings are more difficult to track and certainly don’t earn interest. Theft or loss of the proverbial “cookie jar” is a constant worry. Indeed, studies show that informal savers lose as much as 25 percent of their hard-earned cash each year due to theft and loss. Yet for over 2.5 billion people globally, this inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive reality is the case.

There are many reasons to believe that the number of unbanked people will shrink significantly in years to come, with important positive implications for economic growth and poverty reduction. First, grassroots and country-level efforts, both nonprofit and for-profit, are already showing how “unbanked” doesn’t have to be the status quo—and these efforts are greatly facilitated by mobile phones. Kenya is well-known for the widespread use of its mobile money system M-Pesa, which allows people to pay for goods and services through cell phones instead of with cash. Started in 2007, M-Pesa has already been used by the vast majority of Kenya’s adults.

Second, major financial institutions are supporting efforts to give more of the world’s population access to bank accounts and standard financial tools. Last summer, I wrote about Visa’s purchase of the mobile payments system Fundamo and the collaboration between USAID and Citi to expand financial inclusion, a promising instance of big financial institutions bringing their resources to bear on closing the financial inclusion gap.

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> Posted by Jasmine Thomas, Program Officer for International Financial Capability & Asset Building, Citi Foundation

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

Lately, I’ve reflected upon the motto of a former clothing retailer that operated in the U.S.— “An educated consumer is our best customer.” In recent years, more NGOs, microfinance institutions, and financial service providers are beginning to embrace this notion. They are devoting more resources to building the financial skills of low-income microfinance clients and small savers, and increasing knowledge in the field about what helps them maintain positive financial behaviors.

Saving for the Big Day

So, does investing in the financial capability of clients really benefit both service providers and clients? Women’s World Banking and SEWA Bank in India believed that both investing in and ensuring that clients’ financial needs and goals were met would produce social and economic benefits for the institution and the clients. With our support, the organizations implemented Project Samruddhi to test this theory by embedding financial education within their core banking operations. To support clients’ efficacy, saathis, or bank agents, were taught how to embed short, concrete financial education messages in routine client banking interactions and services.

SEWA Bank and WWB also designed and launched a savings product that targeted clients’ specific financial goals, like paying for a daughter’s wedding. Each client established a savings plan, including the total amount needed as well as the frequency of deposits. A mobile phone app enabled clients with low literacy skills to visually see how their savings accumulated with each transaction. These regular graphic visuals of their progress fueled their motivation and sense of empowerment to continue saving to meet their goal. To measure client results, WWB assessed teller-client interactions, bank transactions, and client feedback.

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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.


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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