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This is our first in a series of responses to the provocative post last week from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.
“There are three things none of these digital players want to deal with – and never will. They do not want to get a banking license that embroils them in onerous regulation. They do not want to conduct primary identity checks on their customers (Know Your Customer, or KYC), which require physical customer contact. And they do not want to touch their customers’ cash.”
What follows is a response from Tahira Dosani and Vikas Raj of Accion’s Venture Lab, which invests in new fintech start-ups.
While it is true that much of the current innovation in digital financial services has been focused on higher-end consumer segments and less on financial inclusion, in our view this has not been a result only of digital players’ intentions. In fact, mainstream digital financial service companies’ difficulties in serving the financially excluded arise primarily from three key factors – cost, connectivity, and capability. Simply put, these customers are more expensive to acquire, harder to access, and require targeted products, pricing, and distribution. Customers that are banked, connected, and well-understood are the low-hanging fruit today, and that is why they are targeted by large players.
> Posted by Kaj Malden, Project Manager, PlaNet Finance China
Poor rural women in China face challenges not dissimilar to poor rural women in other developing countries. Many are homemakers and child rearers, with much of their work tied to the home, offering little social or professional mobility. However, there are some dynamics in China that make women’s conditions somewhat different. The Communist Revolution of 1949 promulgated an ideology that favored gender equality and claimed women “hold up half the sky” (半边天). According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, gender inequality is more apparent in the developed economies of Japan and Italy than in China. Modern China’s One-Child Policy, however, leads to a cultural view that “values males and belittles females” (重男轻女). The fact that China’s gender ratio skews towards males may support this view and suggest that parents favor males. Additionally, China’s massive urbanization continues to create large flows of migrant workers, posing other challenges for women. Husbands often find work in neighboring provinces or eastern coastal cities, leaving their wives to manage the household’s finances and run the family business independently.
> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI
With 1.2 billion people, youth between the ages of 15-24 represent approximately 18 percent of the global population, and 87 percent of youth live in developing countries. Yet only 44 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds have an account at a formal financial institution globally compared to 55 percent of adults.
Last week, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion on youth financial inclusion, hosted by Credit Suisse and organized by the Microfinance Club of New York. The presenters shared important examples of what has worked in providing financial education and services to youth. Joining me were:
- Barbara Magnoni, President of EA Consultants and co-author of CGAP’s “Analyzing the Business Case for Youth Savings“
- Maria Perdomo, YouthStart, Programme Manager, UNCDF
- Scott MacMillan, Communications Manager, BRAC USA
- Simon Bailey, Head of Learning, Research, and Network, Aflatoun
- Nathan Byrd, Head of Education Finance, Opportunity International
Recently, our Financial Inclusion 2020 team worked with Making Cents International to look at the barriers to and drivers of youth financial inclusion. We found that the primary reasons that youth cite for not having an account at a formal institution are a perceived lack of money, the high costs of services, and challenges in having proper identification. In addition, youth often feel that their financial assets or businesses are too small to work with a bank, especially in situations in which the costs of getting to a bank are high.
Despite these challenges, there are a few areas of opportunity. One is the business case. Since financial needs of young people grow in volume and sophistication over time there is a business case for serving them even as their financial needs are initially limited. Serving youth can help build a longer-term and loyal clientele if products are appropriate and financial capability is fostered. Another important area is financial education/capability. Establishing financial literacy early in life will help foster positive financial habits and lead to longer-term asset accumulation and higher credit scores. This needs to take place in a regulatory environment that supports financial inclusion and coordination among various players.
These three areas – the business case, financial capability, and the policy perspective – were the focus of much of the discussion at the event. I noticed that a few themes cut across the presentations:
> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign
Close to Washington, D.C.’s antipode in Perth, Australia I attended the Fifth Annual Responsible Finance Forum, which this year focused on responsible digital finance. The organizers assembled an impressive mix of representatives from all three legs of the responsible finance stool – industry, regulators, and consumers. A number of familiar risk areas were examined during the two great days of presentations, debate, and discussion, and three prominent themes emerged for me: the centrality of the service agent, the increasing importance of financial education, and considering responsible finance at the ecosystem level.
The first day of the forum focused on the identification of risks to consumers from digital financial services (DFS) and the second day was framed around how to mitigate and minimize those risks. An online “Global Pulse Survey” that CGAP conducted as well as some demand-side research conducted by MicroSave and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) brought both the practitioner and consumer perspectives on DFS risks to the forefront. The MicroSave and BFA research canvassed nearly 700 DFS users and 50 non-users through focus groups in Colombia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Uganda. While respondents of the survey and focus groups identified a wide variety of harms or worries, some common items emerged, listed in the table below. Though preliminary, this data is extremely important in helping us frame the areas where stakeholders could focus to mitigate against client harm and risk. These risks fall squarely into the framework of the Smart Campaign’s seven Client Protection Principles, furthering our belief that a principles framework can carry forward into digital financial services.
> Posted by Guy Stuart and Eric Noggle, Executive Director and Research Officer, Microfinance Opportunities
Last week’s post discussed how we implemented an embedded education program with VisionFund and Zoona in Zambia that leveraged touch points in an effort to improve clients’ financial capabilities. While we hope this blog series has begun to convince you that embedded education can help solve the financial capability gap, one important issue remains: where is the evidence of success? Does this approach really improve outcomes for clients and businesses?
Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) aimed to add to the knowledge base of “what works” in financial education with our evaluation of the Consumer Education for Branchless Banking (CEBB) project in Zambia. The evaluation applied a mixed-methods approach with multiple data sets. We analyzed information from in-depth interviews, focus groups, knowledge surveys, and transaction data from VisionFund and Zoona’s management information systems.
The data tell a compelling story. Qualitative interviews indicated that both clients and branch staff thought the education program was having a positive impact on how clients were interacting with the branchless banking service and on their overall financial capabilities.
> Posted by Guy Stuart, Ph.D., Executive Director, Microfinance Opportunities
The past few decades have seen an impressive expansion of financial services to the world’s under- and unbanked populations. This expansion has not been without its challenges, including low-income customers of many financial service providers (FSPs) falling into considerable over-indebtedness¹ or signing up for services they do not use.² MFO’s own research³ and the research of others suggest that the limited financial capability of FSP customers is one of the factors behind these challenges. Hundreds of millions of people are gaining access to formal financial services with no education in basic money management principles and ways to maximize the usefulness of the new services to which they have access.4
Extending financial education (FE) to consumers is vital in empowering them to make informed decisions about the financial services they use and how they use them, including avoiding over-indebtedness and signing up for accounts they never use. But reaching the massive number of clients in need of FE in a way that is accessible and practical is a tall order. The Monitor Group report suggests it could cost from $7 billion to $10 billion using traditional, classroom-based approaches to provide education just to those who already have access now —a sum that is 10 to 15 percent of the total current asset base of microfinance institutions worldwide. If access to finance were extended to include the world’s 2.7 billion unbanked, the cost of building financial capability would rise further by a factor of at least three.
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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly and Ruben Marquez, CFI and Bancomer
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Shakespeare
While Juliet’s musings on the essence of her Romeo might be poetic, she is quite wrong. Words determine a great deal about how we think about things—and one word change could change hundreds of thousands of people’s use of financial products.
In Mexico, if you were to ask those at the base of the pyramid whether they save, they would likely tell you no. CFI’s Country Profiles show the Global Findex Data in the figure at right.
When asked whether they had saved any money in the past year, roughly 14 percent of people in the bottom 40 percent of the economy in Mexico answered yes. This same group of people in all upper middle income economies (of which Mexico was a part at the time of the survey) were about twice as likely to say yes to this question.
Does this mean that the poor in Mexico just don’t prioritize savings? Probably not.
In Mexico, there is a difference between the word for “saving” (ahorrar) and the word for “keeping” (guardar). When you ask people at the base of the pyramid whether they “keep” money for the future, they are much more likely to answer yes.
The Findex survey (the source of the above data) may have inadvertently run into this problem in Mexico. The difference between two words could explain the low incidence of saving reported at the base of the pyramid compared to countries with a similar income level.
When we take this language difference into account, there are implications for institutional knowledge, financial education, and product marketing.
On this front, Bancomer in Mexico has found that there is a reorientation to be done within the bank itself—while Bancomer is listening to clients, for listening to be effective it must be listening for the right language. Within the bank, integrating the vernacular of low-income clients has led to new views on this income segment. Past market research has included the question of whether potential clients are saving—with dismal results. With the recognition that this population is saving, but just calling it something else, there is a different perception of the kinds of products that customers might be interested in.
> Posted by Kim Wilson, Fellow, Center for Emerging Market Enterprises and the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University
A few months ago, the instructor of a user design workshop challenged the class to redraft the Healthcare.gov website, the official site of the Affordable Care Act.
In a flash, my 23-year old classmate and team member, Sam, deftly sketched out a new landing page and a few forms. We had time left over to chat. It was Sam’s chance to question the very existence of the site itself.
Sam complained that the Affordable Care Act seemed neither affordable nor about care. As a healthy freelancer he would be soon forced to purchase an expensive financial product – health insurance. And a quick search informed him that if he did not comply he could plan on spending $695 to opt out. Sam turned to me and said, “I don’t know where to begin.”
Projected to cost $1.36 trillion dollars by 2023, the Affordable Care Act is one of the biggest financial inclusion experiments in the world. It requires that every resident of the U.S. participate in a financial scheme to purchase health insurance.
In making the product fully inclusive, U.S. President Barack Obama and proponents of the bill could have followed the advice of many of the financial education skeptics I call “inclusionists”: The inclusionists dismiss high touch financial education as a key part of financial inclusion. The arguments against high touch education run thus.
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