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> 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.

Percent of People Who Report Saving in the Past Year

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.

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> 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 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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> Posted by Luis Fernando Sanabria, Gerente General, Fundación Paraguaya

Imagine a school in a developing country where… Students get a high-quality, practical education while learning to run competitive small-scale enterprises. Students learn by doing, earning, and saving. Students graduate with the entrepreneurial and life skills they need to make a decent living and overcome poverty. And school enterprises generate the resources needed to ensure their school’s long-term financial sustainability.

This school is not a dream. It is called the San Francisco Agricultural School, and it is located in the town of Cerrito, Paraguay.

In 2003, the San Francisco Agricultural School adopted a unique approach to education: it set its sights on becoming a financially self-sufficient agricultural school. This model, developed by Fundación Paraguaya, gives low-income students primarily from rural areas the opportunity to get a high-quality, relevant secondary education while learning practical technical and business skills. To achieve these goals, financially self-sufficient schools teach students to operate real businesses, with the goal of generating enough income for schools to become financially self-sustaining.

Schools following the financially self-sufficient school model use a “learning by doing, selling, and earning” methodology, through which students get hands-on experience running their school’s microenterprises, marketing the goods and services produced, and saving in student cooperatives. Students spend half their time in the classroom and half in practical activities in school enterprises, learning not only how to produce efficiently but also how to package, sell, and market their products to meet demand. The schools are generally managed by principals with business backgrounds who coach subject teachers in entrepreneurship and business management.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

For many of us in the U.S., it’s largely happenstance that we cross paths with the topics of microfinance and financial inclusion in a meaningful way. Personally, I remember first hearing about microfinance from friends during college, but it was always in passing, never to the extent or specificity needed for it to make a lasting impression on me. I wish this wasn’t the case! I wish my college self, and all students for that matter, had more exposure to these areas.

To help students and the U.S. academic community engage with microfinance and financial inclusion, Citi Microfinance and Kiva have teamed up to launch Kiva U. The mission of Kiva U, built around three core initiatives, is to create a community for our future inclusion leaders and to support the expansion of full financial inclusion. There’s a big opportunity in the combination of modern communications technology and academia’s inherently social environment, though few interactive financial inclusion platforms for students and educators exist. Kiva U aims to gain popularity as such a platform.

The three core initiatives of Kiva U are expand campus-based microfinance clubs, develop classroom-based microfinance and financial inclusion curriculum for all learning levels, and foster leadership among students interested in social enterprise, international development, and financial inclusion.

There are currently Kiva clubs at 67 colleges and 60 high schools in the United States. Providing online and offline engagement tools, Kiva U plans to leverage this foundation and connect with additional students and educators throughout the country’s academic community.

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> Posted by Sarah Hugo, Project Manager, Developing Markets Associates (DMA)

The Financial Inclusion 2020 project 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.”

For unbanked citizens in developing countries, the collection of remittances sent by friends and family overseas is sometimes their only interaction with the formal financial sector. Yet remittances are too often overlooked when considering approaches for increasing financial inclusion. For Armenia, a country that receives 16 percent of its GDP from remittances, only 2.5 percent of people use an account to receive them.

In a recent workshop we conducted with middle managers from five banks in Armenia, staff admitted they were initially skeptical about the implementation of a financial education program aimed at remittance recipients. Even though the pilot was to be fully funded through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Early Transition Country Multi-Donor Fund, staff remained unconvinced about the potential impact and effectiveness of financial education and how it would be received by customers. These opinions were primarily due to expressed beliefs: that people would not be receptive to the program’s unplanned financial consultations, that their bank already did a good job at offering financial products to remittance recipients, and that most remittance recipients only have money to cover their basic needs and therefore have no need for financial products.

Halfway through the pilot, the results of the financial consultations have been impressive, and bank management and staff admit that their preconceptions were misplaced. The results indicate that there is indeed value in providing financial education and in targeting remittance recipients.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Today, people around the world are celebrating World Population Day, a day that seeks to bring attention to the importance of population issues in the context of development. The focus of this year’s event is adolescent pregnancy, with the aim to catalyze progress in securing a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

There are currently roughly 600 million girls globally ages 10 to 19, 500 million of whom live in developing countries. Each year, 16 million teenage girls give birth, and an additional 3.2 million undergo unsafe abortions. Even though 90 percent of these teenagers giving birth are married, they still experience conditions contributing to challenging pregnancies: inadequate education, sexual coercion, violence, rights violations (including child- and forced-marriages), and gender inequality. In addition to lesser hardships that can come from unplanned or uninformed pregnancies, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 around the world.

The United Nations is calling for commitments from countries, communities, and individuals to support the provision of quality education for girls from primary school through adolescence, including age-appropriate, comprehensive education on sexuality and health. It’s been found that when a girl is educated, she is more likely to marry later, have children later, have healthier children, and earn a higher income. The UN also emphasizes the necessity for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. Other areas that demand examination are the legal systems surrounding marriage (including minimum marriage ages) and women’s rights.

As we have posted about previously (see here, here, and here), the low level of financial inclusion among youth is a missed opportunity to contribute to their well-being. Starting youth out with financial services can be a good investment. A New America Foundation study suggests that instilling a habit of saving among youth sets them on a course for a lifetime of financial capability. According to Youth Economic Opportunities, girls who are less financially dependent are at lower risk for negative effects of early pregnancy and child bearing. In a recent World Bank paper on gender equality and development, it was found that lack of agency (that is, a person’s capability to advance goals she values) is a key factor driving poor reproductive health outcomes among women generally. For example, women in Bangladesh who had more decision-making power were more likely to access prenatal services and skilled birthing accommodations.

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> Posted by Nate Gonzalez and Alina Kogan, Investment Officers, Accion Venture Lab

The Financial Inclusion 2020 project 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.”

Over the past year at Accion Venture Lab, a new program that invests in financial inclusion start-ups, we were initially surprised to see a rapid proliferation of online personal financial management (PFM) tools and rate comparison start-ups popping up across Latin America, particularly in Colombia and Brazil. These companies aim to present consumers with a consolidated view of their finances across various financial products (e.g., bank and investment accounts, loans, insurance products, credit cards), educate consumers on financial literacy, provide budgeting tools, and often, make money (through qualified leads to banks) by suggesting better products for consumers based on pricing and needs assessments. On the surface, this trend must seem premature, considering internet usage across the continent remains under 50 percent and online banking rates are even lower. But if you dig into the changing income distribution data across Latin America coupled with existing financial sector market dynamics, this trend toward increased financial education on available products and services begins to make a bit more sense. The rapidly evolving income shifts across the region highlight the importance of democratizing data as a means to further financial inclusion.

Latin America has experienced significant change over the past several years, which has resulted in millions of people moving into the ranks of the middle class. Between 2003 and 2009, Latin America’s middle class expanded by 50 percent, from 103 million to 152 million, accounting for roughly 30 percent of the total population in 2010. In Brazil alone, over half of Brazil’s 190+ million people are considered middle class, and a majority of them rose to middle class status in just the past five years. CFI just released a new report, Growing Income, Growing Inclusion: How Rising Incomes at the Base of the Pyramid Will Shape Financial Inclusion, which details changing income patterns across emerging economies and the subsequent implications for financial inclusion focused initiatives globally. In addition to the growth of the middle class, the report highlights that almost 40 percent of the current population in Latin America are considered part of the “vulnerable class,” defined as pre-middle class persons with incomes from $4-10 per day. This group has experienced similar high growth rates over the last five years. The CFI report predicts that this “rising tide” trend will continue.

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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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Andre Rison is one of the athletes that speaks about money management in ESPN’s “Broke.”

We talk a lot on this blog about financial inclusion as it relates to specific population segments. But one group we never expected to cover is professional athletes. That is, until now…

ESPN recently aired a documentary aptly titled Broke. The film investigates why professional athletes in the United States – namely football and basketball players – have such a hard time managing their money. “By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress; within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players are broke,” the film begins.

Now, if you’ve been exposed to professional sports in the United States, you’ve probably noticed that the celebrity culture surrounding top athletes includes extreme purchasing. Lots of clothes, jewelry, cars, houses. But there’s more to athletes’ financial mismanagement than big buying.

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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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