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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

What financial inclusion stakeholders believe is most important in advancing client protection

Regulators take the lead in advancing client protection in financial services, we’ve heard.  Providers “merely comply.”

If you are of the view that providers can, and should, take a leading role in client protection, then the results of a recent survey conducted by the Aspen Institute are discouraging.  The survey, carried out on behalf of the Smart Campaign as part of its strategic planning, took a look at the three-legged stool of client protection—providers, regulators, and consumers—and asked which element was the most important.  Of the financial inclusion stakeholders who were interviewed, only 24 percent said that provider-led initiatives were the most important element in client protection.  By comparison, 39 percent thought regulation and governance were the most important, and 37 percent put their faith in consumer awareness and activism.

I disagree!  We believe action from the financial services providers themselves is a vital missing link.  But what is holding them back?  In a consultative process carried out by the Financial Inclusion 2020 project over the past year, here are the top six reasons we heard for providers not taking the lead in consumer protection. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Senior Associate, CFI

The Facebook page of JPay, a Florida-based company that provides a range of services to inmates in the U.S. prison system, is calling for visitation pictures – photos of families and their incarcerated loved ones. Happy images seem to echo the company’s statement that JPay is “the most trusted source for connecting incarcerated individuals with family and friends”. Money transfers are one primary element of the connection that JPay and others like it provide. JPay is one of the largest providers in the burgeoning field of financial services for the 2 million-plus inmates in the U.S. prison system. These providers are changing the way that families send money to their incarcerated loved ones and also the way in which inmates receive money upon their release. But has this change been good?

For those that might not know, money sent to inmates can be used in prison for things like making phone calls, sending emails, and buying food, toiletries, and winter clothes. To give you a sense, at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center in Washington State, phone calls begin at $3.13, and emails are 33 cents. When prisoners are released, money accumulated from work in prison or sent from family and friends can be transferred onto stores of value like debit cards.

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> Posted by María José Roa Garcia, Researcher, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA)

Reports on the financial stability of emerging countries indicate that non-traditional institutions advancing financial inclusion are increasingly important. The contemporary financial services landscape in many markets includes new financial inclusion instruments such as electronic and mobile phone-based banking. For these newer entrants and many credit-offering institutions, the governing regulatory frameworks are either non-existent or much looser than those for formally-constituted banking institutions.

Does this lack of oversight affect market stability?

In reviewing the recent studies on the possible links between financial stability and inclusion, although additional research and analysis is required, it is shown that greater access to and use of formal financial intermediaries might reduce financial instability. As for why, the studies point to six reasons:

  1. More diversified funding base of financial institutions
  2. More extensive and efficient savings intermediation
  3. Improved capacity of households to manage vulnerabilities and shocks
  4. A more stable base of retail deposits
  5. Restricting the presence of a large informal sector
  6. Facilitating the reduction of income inequality, thereby allowing for greater political and social stability

The principal definitions of financial stability support this notion. Institutions that carry out financial inclusion activities help develop effective intermediation of resources and diversify risk, which are essential elements in supporting sustainable markets.

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> Posted by Magauta Mphahlele, CEO, National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA)

Overall, 2014 was not a good year for South African consumers of credit. Evidence of this is based on statistics from the banking regulators as well as the casework compiled through the work of the National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA) with individuals and mineworkers employed by two of the largest mining companies in South Africa.

The South African economy has remained stagnant, contributing to strikes and retrenchments across the board, especially in the mining sector. For those consumers who were lucky not to be retrenched, factors, such as price inflation, a freeze on bonuses, reduced commissions, and personal circumstances like illness, divorce, and death in the family put pressure on their finances leading many to default on their debt repayments. Despite several regulatory initiatives and interventions, the results of the December 2014 National Credit Regulator (NCR) Credit Bureau Monitor showed that the number of credit active consumers was 22.84 million and of these, 10.6 million (46 percent) have impaired records.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

There was good news from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) yesterday: the announcement of a partnership with MasterCard Worldwide to build technical capacity so that AFI members are better equipped to regulate innovations in products and business models.

Since its birth seven years ago, we have admired AFI for so effectively galvanizing a powerful regulator community to set a high bar on financial inclusion. Part of AFI’s strategy has been a fierce commitment to ownership of the issue by the regulators themselves. The results have been measured not only in dramatically increased access among AFI member countries, but also in higher standards around the quality of those services, as evidenced by Maya Commitments around client protection and financial capability. AFI Working Groups have also been developed for peer learning on digital financial services, financial inclusion data, and other key issues.

Yet we are among many in the industry who have felt that AFI’s circling of the wagons meant that their policy solutions were not always smart about encouraging innovation and investment in financial inclusion. To its credit, AFI got the message, and in 2014, it launched a Public-Private Dialogue Platform (PPD) to incentivize policymakers and regulators to cooperate with the private sector. Yesterday’s announcement about the new relationship with MasterCard is a strong next step toward realizing the PPD’s promise.

This trajectory resonates with recent interviews on client protection that we have carried out at FI2020. Among the regulators we interviewed, what was striking was the path many have followed toward empowering the private sector to play an active role in customer protection. We heard about a number of good practices that build capacity and break down communication silos between the public and private sectors.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth blog.

Reaching full financial inclusion by 2020 will require supportive policies in every country around the globe. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Global Microscope on Financial Inclusion, 2014” assesses the policy environment for financial inclusion in 55 countries. The Microscope examines 12 policy dimensions essential for creating an inclusion-friendly regulatory and institutional framework. The rigorous model incorporates input from hundreds of policy makers and participants in the financial sector and a review of existing policies and implementation. The resulting rankings represent the best readily available source for judging the state of financial inclusion policy around the world.

What’s surprising about the 2014 Microscope results is their wide range. Out of a possible 100 points, the top scorer (Peru) received 87 while the lowest (Haiti) earned only 16. If full inclusion requires good policies, it is disappointing to learn that the median score across all countries was a mediocre 46.

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Gail Buyske, Advisory Committee, Microfinance Information Infrastructure Project

> Posted by Center Staff

Convening of Stakeholders

Several weeks ago we learned that MFT has suspended its operations. Moody’s has discontinued its Social Performance Assessment Program. The MIX is trying to increase revenue through its MixGold program. Should we care about these developments? What are they telling us about the state of microfinance’s information infrastructure?

The Center for Financial Inclusion undertook an analysis of these issues to follow up on Elisabeth Rhyne’s provocative blog of March 11, 2014, in which she argued that the microfinance industry needs an “infrastructure fix.” Today’s blog summaries the key issues, which will be discussed at a stakeholder discussion in DC on April 14, followed by one at a later date in Europe.

Let’s start by thinking about why we should care about microfinance’s information infrastructure. Information and its natural outcome, transparency, have been guiding principles of the microfinance industry practically since its inception. These are not just feel-good concepts: they played a fundamental role in the development of microfinance. Information and transparency were critical in microfinance’s early days in enabling donors and investors to identify promising MFIs that they could support. Readily available information enabled MFIs to benchmark their performance and set goals to improve their performance. And we can never forget that a commitment to transparency is a pact between MFIs and their clients.

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Smart Campaign> Posted by Center Staff

Big news from the Smart Campaign camp. Today, the Campaign, the global movement you’ve come to know for embedding a set of client protection principles into the fabric of the microfinance industry, is announcing enhancements to its Client Protection Certification Program designed to improve and accelerate the certification process.

The Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party raters. Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to low-income people whose standards of care uphold the seven Client Protection Principles. The certification process aids institutions in strengthening their practices, and becoming certified helps institutions demonstrate to industry stakeholders – including clients, investors, and other institutions – their commitment to responsibly serving their clients. The Client Protection Principles cover important areas such as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, privacy, and prevention of over-indebtedness.

The Certification changes will enable the program to better meet the growing global demand for certification among microfinance institutions, while ensuring that certified institutions demonstrate high standards and the program maintains strong governance and quality control. Several enhancements will take place immediately:

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> Posted by the Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM)

How has the microfinance industry leveraged regulation and supervision to safeguard client wellbeing? In priority areas like over-indebtedness, acceptable pricing, and transparency, what progress has been made to ensure that institutions are operating responsibly? And in cases where regulatory actions have been taken, how have they been implemented? A recent research project conducted by EY and the Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM) investigates these questions across 12 country markets and assesses the current state of client protection regulation in microfinance.

The growth of the inclusive finance sector has helped create significant opportunities for low-income people around the world. However, when not done correctly, access to financial products also has the potential to bring harm. Of the increasing importance of client protection and sound regulation, EY Senior Manager and one of the report’s authors, Justina Alders-Sheya remarked: “The sector is growing and to do so responsibly, it is necessary that supervisory authorities perform their role.”

Drawing on questionnaires completed by local stakeholders, the study examined whether laws and regulations on client protection have been implemented in any way in the 12 studied countries: Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Russia, Tanzania, and Uganda. The study also examined the regulatory and supervisory landscape for client protection in each country. It investigated who is creating the regulations, how they’re being enforced, and the role of industry players like microfinance associations and credit bureaus.

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There is a need to enhance consumer awareness and confidence in doing electronic transactions

> Posted by Smita Aggarwal, Senior Program Director, the Centre for Advanced Financial Research and Learning (CAFRAL)

The following post was originally published on Livemint.

On a recent visit to Sydney, Australia I needed some cash and I inserted my Indian debit card in an automated teller machine (ATM). Immediately after I put in my transaction request for cash withdrawal, I got a prompt that there would be a $3 charge for that transaction and I had to confirm with a “yes” before the transaction would be processed further. I withdrew my card and left. The e-payments code by Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the unified regulator responsible for market conduct, requires all service providers to provide certain mandatory information, including fees and charges, to users before or at the time users first perform transactions.

The experience in Australia shows that the display of charges just before the transaction is done has altered consumer behavior, apart from significantly reducing complaints. Increasing the usage of electronic transactions through ATMs, cards, internet, and mobile phones is a critical step towards digitizing our economy. However, there is a need to significantly enhance consumer awareness and confidence in doing electronic transactions and there could be lessons we can learn from what Australia has done.

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