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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

There are no final victories when it comes to providing equal opportunities for groups that have suffered from historic discrimination and exclusion. This is true in the United States. This is true everywhere else in the world.  Attitudinal barriers that belittle and marginalize, originating in class, racial, or religious prejudice, may triumphantly come down in one generation only to be resurrected in the next – or even sooner if some shock to the body politic is great enough.

Thus, watchdog groups like the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Smart Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League can never call it quits and declare victory. Backsliding into bigotry is more likely the rule than the exception with our tribal species.

To bolster this glum supposition is this example of the ongoing difficulties facing another beleaguered minority: Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is new evidence about employment discrimination from researchers at Rutgers and Syracuse University.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

India has received much fanfare for its financial inclusion efforts in recent years. A few weeks ago we declared it our Financial Inclusion Country of the Year for 2015 in recognition of the major steps it took, which resulted in achieving the greatest improvement in its Global Microscope score between 2014 and 2015. It recently granted new bank licenses that dramatically diversify and grow the country’s services landscape, widely applied new cost-saving technologies like biometric identification, and rolled-out historically ambitious public programs like PMJDY that dramatically reduce the portion of the population that is unbanked.

“Never waste a good crisis” said Royston Braganza, CEO of Grameen Capital India, at the Inclusive Finance Summit in Delhi last month, referring to the Andhra Pradesh crisis of 2010. The recently-released Responsible Finance India 2015 analyses the current state of practice on responsible finance and social performance management in India. In light of that report, Braganza questioned, “Have we learned from our mistakes?”

Responsible finance centers on client protection and market conduct, and has been extended in recent years to include many other good corporate citizenship issues such as employee management, governance, and social performance monitoring.

By way of context, here are a few numbers on the present-day BoP Indian finance landscape:

  • Across MFIs in India’s MFIN network, which represent roughly 90 percent of MFIs in the country, loan books grew by 64 percent in the last fiscal year, compared with 43 percent in the year prior and 4 percent in the year before that.
  • In total, MFI outreach in the country accounts for about 100 million clients.
  • Reportedly, through PMJDY 180 million new bank accounts have been opened over the past year, and adjacent schemes covering insurance, pensions, and credit have been implemented, as well.
  • For the first time in a decade, the RBI granted new bank licenses last year – to Bandhan Bank and IDFC. Bandhan now has 500 branches and over 2,000 service centers across 24 states. Sixty-five percent of IDFC’s first 23 branches are located in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Under the RBI’s newly created categories of payment banks and small finance banks, 11 and 10 providers, respectively, have received new licenses, further expanding the network of providers serving the poor.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Time Magazine has just named Angela Merkel Person of the Year. In this post I hereby make CFI’s own designation: India is CFI’s “Financial Inclusion Country of the Year.” In the recently released Global Microscope 2015, India was the star performer. It improved its benchmarking score by more than any country (10 points on our scale of 1-100), rising in the ranking to fourth place overall.

The Microscope measures the quality of the policy, regulation, and institutional environment for financial inclusion, scoring 55 countries on 12 indicators, and then ranking them. The 2015 Microscope Benchmarking Model takes the report deeper, and shows year-over-year changes for individual countries (see table). While India is not the top scoring country (that honor has been held by Peru, Colombia, and the Philippines for several years), it is the country that has shown the most dramatic positive change, particularly in five areas: regulatory and supervisory capacity for financial inclusion, prudential regulation, regulation and supervision of credit portfolios, regulation of electronic payments, and market conduct rules.

Global Microscope 2015 Scores for India

2015_microscope_india

For more information see the 2015 Microscope Benchmarking Model. 

What did India do that increased its score in 2015? Building on important groundwork laid in 2013 and 2014, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Prime Minister of India, and the financial sector worked together to implement important reforms.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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On Tuesday, the Smart Campaign recognized five Indian financial institutions with Smart Certification, acknowledging their high standards of client care: Arohan, Grameen Koota, Janalakshmi, Sonata, and Utkarsh.

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 institutions providing financial services to low-income clients with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. The Principles cover such critical practices as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, responsible pricing, and prevention of over-indebtedness. This is the third year in a row that the Campaign has recognized Smart-Certified Indian institutions at the annual Inclusive Finance India Summit in New Delhi.

Arohan Financial Services is a Kolkata-based MFI operating in five states and serving over 400,000 clients. Grameen Koota serves more than 673,000 rural clients through 222 branches located across the country. This is Grameen Koota’s recertification, as it was first Smart Certified two years ago, and through a recertification check-in, it has been able to extend the validity of its certificate for two years. Janalakshmi Financial Services is India’s largest urban microfinance organization, operating in 15 states through 229 branches, and has recently been awarded a Small Finance Bank licence by the RBI. Based in Lucknow, Sonata Finance has become one of the fastest-growing NBFC MFIs in northern India, with a network of 162 branches. Utkarsh Micro Finance serves over 170,000 clients through 92 branches in the northern states of India and has also recently been granted a Small Finance Bank license. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

I want to let you in on a secret: the best part of the Global Microscope 2015 is a hidden gem. It’s called the Microscope Benchmarking Model (admittedly it might benefit from a better name), and it provides a user-friendly deep-dive into each country and indicator. With this tool, you can go beyond the report, with insights on questions that we may have neglected to cover in the narrative. And you can slice and dice the data to your heart’s content.

For example, where is the best place to be an insurance provider if you want to work with low-income populations? It’s India, actually, with Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and the Philippines following. With two quick steps, the tool produced this map for me (click to enlarge):

microscope

The countries colored in red—including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Paraguay, and Tajikistan—are the worst places to be an insurance provider working with low-income populations.

So why is India the best?

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 5.08.53 PMToday, on the release of the Global Microscope 2015, we are celebrating some good news: the environment for financial inclusion is improving worldwide. Most of the 55 countries surveyed by the publication increased their scores, which measure the enabling environment for financial inclusion. In addition to an overall increase, we noticed a few particular exciting success stories as certain countries have made significant improvements to their policy and regulatory environments. It’s clear that 2015 was a year of progress, and we expect that the benefits of improved policy, regulation, and infrastructure will have an impact on the lives of clients for years to come.

For the second year in a row, the Global Microscope features an expanded scope that focuses on the overall environment for financial inclusion. The Center for Financial Inclusion has played a critical role in this shift, improving on the methodology and expanding the number of countries that the publication assesses. 

Three countries—Peru, Colombia, and the Philippines—continue to set the standard for the environment for financial inclusion, topping the list for the second year in a row. There were some surprises in the top 10, however. India’s score increased by 10 points between 2014 and 2015, thanks to some very dramatic changes in the past year which pulled it into the fourth position, such as the new licenses for payment banks and small finance banks. Other countries in the top 10 that improved their scores include Pakistan, Tanzania, and Ghana. Ghana saw the most dramatic rise among this group, with a seven-point jump. Four distinct regions—Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa—are represented in the top 10 countries.

 

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> Posted by Micol Pistelli, Social Performance Director, MIX

Customer retention is a key objective for any business, and microfinance institutions (MFIs) are no exception. Whether you are a shareholder, board member, CEO, or head of operations at a microfinance institution, your strategy must rely on retaining most of your clients that still need financial services. But what happens when many of your clients stop using your services? How do you determine whether they left because they no longer need financial services or because they prefer a competitor? How do you know whether they were dissatisfied with your customer service?

Answering these questions can be difficult. Some organizations conduct exit surveys over the phone or in-person through their customer service departments. However, due to the expense and time required to conduct such research, many MFIs are only able to reach a small number of clients, which may not be representative of the whole. Additionally, the quality of the data collected can be lacking due to inaccuracies because clients may not feel comfortable being candid with representatives of the MFI they are leaving.

Of the thousand-plus institutions reporting consumer protection data to MIX, 65 percent of them have set-up complaint mechanisms that offer some form of redress for clients, such as hotlines, call centers, or customer service representatives. However these feedback tools are functional only when clients proactively use them and when MFIs manage to gather data and solve issues in a timely fashion. What often happens is that MFIs are left with questions about their clients’ satisfaction and can only guess at the root causes for their drop-out.

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> Posted by Ben Mandell, International Programs Manager, Water.orgAccess to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation are true necessities for healthy families. Yet, access rates for water and sanitation remain stubbornly low in most low-income countries. The negative health implications can be dire and include diarrheal disease which can result in premature mortality and childhood malnutrition and stunting.  From an economic perspective, “The health consequences of poor sanitation are substantial and contribute to over US$50 billion in GDP loss annually,” according to a new India focused learning note jointly developed by Water.org and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).

In the learning note, Water.org and WSP, both active globally in working to expand access to water and sanitation, collaborate to share their research and findings on how household lending can help drive improved water and sanitation uptake as well as provide economic and social benefits to local financial organizations.

Water.org, through its WaterCredit program, provides capacity-building grants and technical assistance to create, pilot, and scale water and sanitation financing. Currently, WaterCredit provides funding to microfinance providers and NGOs to support the creation of programs and these partners then leverage funding from banks and capital markets to disburse loans to people in need. Accordingly, “Water.org has provided US$11.3 million in subsidies to financial institutions and NGO partners worldwide, which in turn have disbursed over US$120 million in loans reaching 2.4 million people.”

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

Of the 700 million new accounts that the Global Findex reports were opened from 2011 to 2014:

  • Banks and other financial institutions accounted for 550 million;
  • Mobile network operators accounted for 100-240 million, depending on your source and methodology;
  • Microfinance institutions accounted for 50 million.

These numbers are rough and involve some overlap—but they point to the continued importance of commercial banks in financial inclusion. Put another way, of the 3.2 billion accounts reported in the 2014 Findex, 3.1 billion were accounts with a financial institution.

That’s why I was so interested in hearing what the commercial bankers had to say at an Institute of International Finance (IIF) roundtable held in Lima on October 9 alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) / World Bank meetings. The strategies they discussed for reaching the BoP were not new to those immersed in the financial inclusion world, but it was heartening to hear their commitment to putting those strategies into operation. Here are a few of the points from the discussion:

Use data to understand customers. Now more than ever, there is a wealth of available data to help us better understand customers at the base of the pyramid. These new customer insights are opening up new practices – from on-boarding, to cross-selling, to risk management. Data analytics can also enable cost reductions on credit and insurance. For example, ecommerce platforms for small manufacturers can facilitate credit offers and then arrange for automatic repayment from the ecommerce activity itself. This innovative use of data allows financing at half the cost.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Accion MfB staff explaining the PLWD product to clients

Last month, Accion Microfinance Bank (MfB) in Nigeria launched the People Living With Disabilities (PLWD) product to provide loans to a marginalized group that has largely been left out of the financial system – people with disabilities (PWD). To mark the occasion, some of the first clients of these loans including a member of the albino community and visually impaired clients attended an opening ceremony, which also included officials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The PLWD launch was the result of close collaboration across organizations and continents. CFI’s Joshua Goldstein and Bunmi Lawson, Managing Director/CEO of Accion Microfinance Bank, met with officials from the Central Bank of Nigeria to garner their support. In addition, CFI’s PWD team in India, including CFI partner v-shesh, advised Accion Microfinance Bank.

At the launch, Bunmi Lawson stated that, “Many people living with disabilities are financially excluded. We are pleased to be able to give them the opportunity to improve their means of livelihood to give them a brighter future.”

I asked Emeka Uzowulu, Head of Business and Product Development at Accion Microfinance Bank in Nigeria to share how this product came about and what their future plans are for reaching PWD.

1. Congratulations on the launch of the PLWD product! Can you give a brief background on how this product came about? What was the history of developing this outreach to persons with disabilities and what was key to getting it off the ground?

At Accion Microfinance Bank, our mission is to economically empower micro-entrepreneurs and low income earners by providing financial services in a sustainable, ethical, and profitable manner. We realize that a sizable number of this group are living with one form of disability or another which limits or frustrates their efforts to be productive, as well as that of their families. In consideration of these challenges, we are committed to identifying and partnering with them in making their futures brighter by providing access to loans, savings, and insurance at a very minimal cost.

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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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