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> Posted by the Smart Campaign
Transparency sounds simple – in business, government, relationships, and most areas of life. Take the business of offering financial products and services. As a provider, you inform prospective and current clients of everything they need to know about your product. As a client, you use this information to make sound decisions about buying and using said product. Consequently, providers can claim full disclosure and hope to benefit from increased loyalty of clients. Clients have the information to make educated decisions and rest easy knowing exactly where that provider stands.
Similarly, in relationships, transparency (read: honesty) is always the best policy. The best practice is always to say everything that’s on your mind. After all, the truth will set you free… Except for maybe when your partner is already overwhelmed with information. Or when what you’re trying to share is incomprehensible. Or when your partner is trying to concentrate on something else. What I’m trying to get at is this: transparency may seem simple, but it’s not. Effective transparency provides information in a way that enables the person receiving the information to understand it and use it.
Inclusive finance providers need to hit the sweet spot – sharing the optimal amount of the most critical information with clients, in an understandable format, at appropriate times. To make matters more challenging, inclusive finance clients are often illiterate, poorly educated, or new to formal institutions.
The good news is that around the world, including in Mexico, the inclusive finance industry is hard at work to embed transparency effectively. In 2014, the Mexican government passed widespread financial reform that emboldened the role of the consumer protection agency, CONDUSEF, and made its rules mandatory for all credit institutions. CONDUSEF was enabled to issue and publicly publish recommendations to financial institutions. In the last year, CONDUSEF imposed important new regulations in areas of transparency and money laundering, and ended up revoking the operating permits of 1,449 non-regulated (SOFOM) institutions that did not meet the standards.
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
To date, 44 financial institutions around the world have been certified as meeting the Smart Campaign’s standards for consumer protection. Those institutions, which adhere to the Campaign’s Client Protection Principles including transparency, fair and respectful treatment, responsible pricing, and prevention of over-indebtedness, collectively serve more than 22 million low-income clients.
Recently, the Campaign invited the heads of certified institutions to share their experiences with certification. In a series of video interviews, the CEOs discussed why they elected to engage in the process, what they learned, how and why it improved their business, how investors have reacted, and what it has meant for their customers.
We invite you to take a look at the video, above or here, to learn first-hand about their rationale for undergoing certification and what it has meant to their operations. And of course feel free to share it with your network.
For more information about the Campaign, please visit the website.
> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative
In the seventh Client Protection Principle, the Smart Campaign lays out the way that financial services providers should handle complaints: 1) Effective client feedback mechanisms are in place; 2) Clients are aware of how to submit complaints and do so as needed; and, 3) Complaints are handled promptly and adequately.
Seems easy and straightforward enough. But making this process truly client friendly is truly a daunting challenge. On the “demand side,” poor customers may feel ill-equipped to pose questions to company representatives who come from a different class, caste, or ethnicity. The Smart Campaign’s Client Voice research found as much in both Asian and African markets. It may be psychologically next to impossible—even in the most client friendly institution.
And if the psychological issue is not an obstacle, the technical and procedural challenges may be opaque enough to lead to failure anyway.
Even educated and savvy consumers can get lost in the complex maze of call center options delivered by that hideously cheerful computer voice – you know the one. “Lower touch” often means “no touch.” And even if a well-meaning customer service representative finally answers the phone and tries to help, he or she may be just a cog in a far flung system – unable to get the needed answers.
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
Today we’re excited to announce that Alalay Sa Kaunlaran (ASKI) is the first financial institution in the Philippines to be certified by the Smart Campaign. Clients of financial services can face risks. They can get into too much debt, be taken advantage of, or sold the wrong services. Financial institutions can minimize harm to clients by implementing the Client Protection Principles, a common, global framework for client protection. By becoming Smart Certified, an institution demonstrates that it puts the principles into practice.
The non-profit institution earned its Smart Certification in late July following a mission conducted by Microfinanza Rating, and is being publicly recognized today in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Financial Inclusion Summit 2015, in Manila.
Established in 1987 in central Luzon to serve and empower the poor through microenterprise development, ASKI today serves more than 136,000 clients through 72 branches and 7,794 solidarity groups in 234 cities and towns.
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
What are microfinance clients’ thoughts on fair treatment from financial services providers? The Smart Campaign’s Client Voices project went to the source and asked clients what they think. Clients were consulted on what they believe constitutes good and bad treatment and their experiences with microfinance providers.
The Client Voices project, a qualitative and quantitative investigation, covers four country markets: Benin, Pakistan, Georgia, and Peru. Today we are releasing the results from Benin and Pakistan, and this post focuses on the results from Benin. Stay tuned for another post on Pakistan soon.
Over the past six years, the Smart Campaign has worked extensively with financial institutions, regulators, networks, rating agencies, and other financial inclusion industry actors to strengthen client protection policies and practices. But until now, we had not heard directly from clients. To embed the process in the local scene and ensure it would be actionable, in each country, the Campaign convened a group of researchers and market leaders to provide local insight and guide the research. In March 2014, the Campaign and its research partner Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) began investigative efforts, which included focus groups, in-depth interviews, photo association exercises, and surveys.
So, what did we find in Benin?
> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign
I rarely think about the cost of convenience. I often use my phone’s navigational system, seeking turn-by-turn directions, but I usually don’t consider the trail of data I’m leaving behind – and even if I do, I decide the benefit outweighs the cost. We live in an age where leaving myriad digital footprints is almost inescapable. Increasingly, we hear of big data analytic companies that “liberate data” or “democratize data” for the purpose of improving products and services or making them more widely available. There are true benefits to advancing our society’s data capabilities and unearthing new patterns and insights. (The phone that tracks my travel can give me advice on promising restaurants nearby.) But the costs can be high. Here in the U.S., the anonymity of “meta” data sets is continually being challenged. Fortunately, in this country consumer advocacy groups and institutions such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Bureau of Consumer Protection at FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working to address and remedy breaches of privacy and data rights.
In most of the world, similar institutions are nonexistent or under-developed. The fast uptake of technology has opened up large population segments to new possibilities, while leaving them vulnerable. Digital financial services users in developing countries are often choice-less and voiceless on how their data is used.
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
Momentum for Smart Campaign Certification is accelerating. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that there are now more than 20 million lower-income clients whose financial service provider has been certified as meeting the Campaign’s standards for consumer protection.
Since February 2015, the number of clients served by Smart-Certified financial institutions (FIs) has grown by 6 million, to a total of 21 million, with the certification of an additional 11 institutions. To date, 39 FIs, from 19 countries across Latin America to Africa and Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s best-known institutions dedicated to serving the poor.
As you might be familiar, the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party evaluators. Smart Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to microentrepreneurs with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. Customers of Smart-Certified organizations can be confident that their financial service provider has policies and processes in place to ensure that they are treated responsibly.
“Twenty million clients is an exciting milestone – recognition of the fact that there’s growing momentum in the industry for client protection,” said Isabelle Barrès, Smart Campaign director. “These organizations are not just paying lip service to the concept of fair treatment, but actually working hard to improve practices,” she added.
In April 2015, having listened carefully to evaluation results and industry feedback, we launched certification program revisions to streamline the process while maintaining high standards. These revisions included an appeals and complaints system and a process for renewing certification validity. At the end of 2015, the Campaign will introduce an accreditation system to license existing and new certifiers, and a version 2.0 of the certification standards. Certification 2.0 standards remove duplication and ambiguity, and deepen standards for savings, insurance, and digital financial services.
Even as the coverage of the certification program approaches critical mass, the broader Smart Campaign continues to advance. For the Campaign’s next phase we are excited about working on the following:
Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation
The Smart Campaign was born in the midst of extraordinary upheaval in the microfinance sector. Its launch in 2009 was sandwiched between the 2008 global financial crisis, repayment crises in several microfinance markets, and the 2010 debtor suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the turmoil served to amplify the campaign’s main point: that microfinance needs to focus on customer protection. In the succeeding years, it has labored to unite microfinance leaders and practitioners around this goal – most notably through its efforts to convince microfinance institutions (MFIs) to undergo the process of Smart Certification, in which independent evaluators verify that they are “doing everything [they] can to treat [their] clients well and protect them from harm.”
Over time, these efforts have started to gain traction. The campaign – which is steered by a group of prominent leaders in the industry and housed at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion – has certified 39 microfinance institutions. (Note: Accion is a NextBillion Content Partner.) Certified institutions include a number of leading MFIs in markets around the world, from Equitas in India to Kompanion in Kyrgyzstan. And the campaign calculates that certified MFIs now serve slightly more than 20 million clients. In a recent interview with NextBillion, its director, Isabelle Barrès, called the 20 million client mark “an exciting milestone, recognition of the fact that there is momentum growing in the industry for client protection – not just paying lip service to it, but actually working hard to improve practices.”
But achieving this momentum hasn’t been an easy task for the campaign – or for the industry whose practices it’s trying to improve. Barrès discusses the challenges it has faced – and the controversy it has sparked – in this two-part Q&A.
James Militzer: Do you have any data on which markets have the highest percentage of Smart Campaign-certified MFIs?
Isabelle Barrès: I think Kyrgyzstan probably is the one where we currently have the most right now – 60 percent of microfinance clients are served by organizations that have been certified. This shows that when there are some substantial efforts that are put towards improving client protection – whether it’s at the market level or at the regulatory level, or through market infrastructure, such as supporting a good credit bureau – it can make a difference for the entire industry.
Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group publish an operational framework for measuring impact in inclusive financial services investing
> Posted by Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group
A key aspect of investing for social impact is being able to effectively measure impact, which has always been challenging. Whilst there have been several well-informed attempts to create uniform standards to address this challenge (such as IRIS and GIIRS Ratings), these have largely been intended to compare impact investments across multiple industries. This can be a valuable exercise for multi-sector fund managers, but the approach invariably leads to a trade-off: using the same scale to measure impact across a number of diverse industries leads to a lowest common denominator analysis. These standards seek to measure impact across industry sectors, but they do not provide information about the nature of social change created within each industry. At the other end of the spectrum, several fund managers have developed bespoke systems to measure the impact of their own portfolios. These systems have been tailored for insurance at the base of the pyramid or poverty alleviation progress, and they do a good job of accomplishing those goals. Unfortunately though, they are often too specialized to allow for any comparison across impact managers.
Therefore, the most optimal approach to impact measurement is that which: (1) surfaces the specific nature of impact created in a sector, (2) remains broad enough to allow for some objective comparison across managers, (3) but does not seek to compare the incomparable. Such an approach only seems possible when impact measurement is focused on specific industries.
It is with this approach that Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group have chosen to operate. Apis and Accion are fund managers investing specifically in inclusive and innovative financial services for the un- and under-banked. Like other impact focused investors, we have a dedicated mission to provide social as well as financial return on investments, which requires the measurement of social impact in a real, quantifiable way.