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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In the client protection section of the FI2020 Roadmap to Financial Inclusion, a specific recommendation was made for financial providers to embrace consumer protection as part of their professional identity, and applying a “financial consumer bill of rights” was identified as a key action point.

Looking into the state of this industry area for our upcoming FI2020 Progress Report on Financial Inclusion, I came to realize that the subject of consumers’ bills of rights is not as straightforward as it seems. Although the recommendation from the roadmap was aimed specifically at providers, the truth is that this is an area where a diversity of players is getting involved. I found a range of approaches: codes of conduct, codes of ethics, charters of rights, and bills of rights, coming from a wide spread of stakeholders, from MFIs to global associations to governments. At the heart of each of these initiatives was the same objective: for service providers to operate ethically and responsibly.

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The most exciting trends and startups in inclusive finance this year

> Posted by Vikas Raj, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

There has been a lot of buzz in the financial technology (FinTech) space over the last several months, with a high-profile IPO, several more apparently on the way, and more and more venture funding flowing into FinTech startups. Bold ideas for financial services innovation are getting more visibility – just this month, Australian Wealth Index (AWI) listed the 50 Best FinTech Innovators, and CFI’s Elisabeth Rhyne conveniently categorized the list so it’s easy to see at a glance where the innovations are.

At Venture Lab, we found the AWI list interesting but also felt it missed something significant: namely, that one of the biggest opportunities for FinTech is figuring out new solutions to include the billions of lower-income people who are today excluded from formal financial services. And it’s not charity that compels us to reach these customers – it’s good business. These customers represent a big market. In fact, they’re such a significant part of any emerging market’s customer base that any global providers with dreams of international expansion must cater to them if they want to succeed.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Amidst all the excitement about disruptive fintech innovators it helps to sort out what innovations are actually at play. Australia Wealth Investors, together with KPMG-Australia and Australia’s Financial Services Council, have created a list of the top 50 fintech innovators for 2014, based on a combination of ability to raise capital and subjective judgment about the degree of innovation or disruption the company represents.

I clicked on all 50 (so you don’t have to) to get a sense of where the action really is. Here’s my quick and dirty categorization. It may help to read this to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, starting with:

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

If you are in a wheelchair in Guatemala, lots of nice people will be willing to carry you up the stairs… But that’s not the point. A recent conversation with Alan Tenenbaum, a disability inclusion advocate based in Guatemala, offered me that perspective. Tenenbaum, who became a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury in his late twenties, focuses his work on the Latin American country. Those looking to advance disability inclusion in Guatemala, like in most countries, have their work cut out for them. Countrywide, according to Team Around the Child, less than two percent of Guatemalan adults with disabilities have work, most children with disabilities do not attend school, and only a small percentage of those in need of wheelchairs have one. To date, according to a recent paper from Trickle Up, most efforts to advance disability inclusion in Guatemala have been limited to urban areas – even though 50 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas, where economic opportunities are harder to come by.

I sat down with Tenenbaum to get a sense for progress made and challenges still present in Guatemala for persons with disabilities (PwDs). Since his injury, Tenenbaum wrote a book sharing his story, En la Silla de Morfeo (On Morpheus’ Chair), started and led a foundation, Sigue Avanzando, and has regularly given speeches for schools, universities, news outlets, and private companies. At the heart of these efforts is what he identifies as the biggest barrier to disability inclusion: public awareness.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced substantial increases throughout the country’s microfinance market: growth in the volume of loans dispersed to microentrepreneurs, in the number of microcredit institutions offering savings services, and in the return on equity of rural banks with microfinance operations. Concerning regulation and institutional support, the recently released 2014 Global Microscope found that the Philippines has the best environment in Asia for financial inclusion.

In 2014, loans extended to microentrepreneurs in the Philippines totaled P9.3 billion (US$209 million) as of June, according to figures reported by BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. at the recent Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards in Manila – a roughly 7 percent increase over last year’s figure. On savings, in early 2012 only 22 banks in the country offered micro-deposit accounts. Now, 69 of the Philippines’ 183 banks with microcredit operations take deposits, with a total of 1.7 million micro-deposit accounts. Beyond credit and savings, 86 of the country’s institutions offering microcredit also provide microinsurance and 26 provide electronic banking services.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI

“Cautious optimism” was the overriding sentiment towards the Indian financial inclusion investment space at the fall 2014 Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) meeting in Zurich. Four years after the Andhra Pradesh crisis, in financial year 2014 the regulated microfinance market in India saw its loan portfolio grow by 35 percent and client outreach increase by 4.7 million individuals, achieving a record 28 million clients. Although, as FIEC member Christian Etzensperger of responsAbility Investments AG noted, this is “catch-up growth” for India, where only 35 percent of the adult population has a bank account. On an institutional level, the remarkable growth of Bandhan Bank, India’s largest microfinance institution, illustrates the successful scaling up of MFIs. While Etzensperger noted the “dynamic revival of the microfinance sector…partly due to the inertia of the Indian banks”, he also alluded to the significant role played by the policies of the newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as well as those of the recently appointed Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Indian investor sentiment in general soared on the news of these leaders taking the helm, a trend that clearly resonates in the Indian financial inclusion equity community.

What have these leaders done to inspire confidence in the trajectory of microfinance?

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

In addition to its other benefits, microfinance can be a vehicle for promoting environmentally sustainable development. Small-scale finance, when bundled with other services, can improve access to clean energy for people at the base of the pyramid, and can assist them to protect ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and adapt to climate change. And for the poor, climate change mitigation and adaptation is critical. Although poor people have contributed the least to climate change, according to the United Nations, they will suffer its effects in the biggest way. Though still a burgeoning area, a number of microfinance institutions are effectively pairing microfinance and environmental action, including Kompanion Financial Group in Kyrgyzstan, ESAF Microfinance in India, and XacBank in Mongolia. A few weeks ago at European Microfinance Week (EMW) these three institutions were acknowledged for their work in this area, with Kompanion winning the 5th European Microfinance and Environment Award, and ESAF and XacBank placing as runner-ups.

The Microfinance and Environment Award, launched in 2005, recognizes institutions committed to serving the poor while contributing to environmental sustainability. It’s jointly organized by the Development Cooperation Directorate, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), and the Inclusive Finance Network Luxembourg in collaboration with the European Investment Bank. Below is a snapshot of the environmental efforts of the three institutions, featuring the videos that were shown at EMW.

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> Posted by Lindsey Tiers, Communications and Operations, the Smart Campaign

As successful business leaders know, regular evaluation is vital to ensure that improvements are made and growth continues. Here at the Smart Campaign, it is time to reflect on our impact and evaluate the Campaign’s global activities so that we continue to achieve the objective of embedding client protection into the fabric of the microfinance industry. For this reason, we are reaching out to all industry stakeholders for feedback via a short survey.

Launched in September of 2009, the Smart Campaign is already five years old. With over 4,200 endorsers—1,400 of which are financial institutions working to improve client protection practices—it’s clear the message is spreading, and support for keeping the industry on track is strong. Client Protection Certification, launched in January 2013, has already seen 24 financial institutions meet the requirements of adequate client protection. Across these institutions, over 8.7 million clients have access to quality services and treatment. In addition, dozens of other MFIs are in the pipeline working to become certified. With nearly 100 tools available in English, plus translations in Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic, the Smart Campaign website has become a valuable resource for any institution looking to improve client protection practices. The Client Protection Principles have even been incorporated into legislation and regulations for financial service providers in some countries – such as the Industry Code of Conduct in India.

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> Posted by Stuart Rutherford and Paul Vander Meer

ROSCAs, or rotating savings and credit associations¹, have enjoyed good press lately in the United States. The New York Times just ran a story about ROSCA users in some states earning themselves formal credit scores; Kim Wilson at Tufts University tells of a New York banker who awarded an immigrant family a mortgage after reviewing their success in making ROSCA payments²; and the U.S. Financial Diaries research project notes that ROSCAs can be the “preferred” financial tool even for people using formal banks. eMoneyPool, based in Arizona, offers Americans the chance to join simplified online ROSCAs. There are online ROSCAs in India, too, and researchers from Ithaca College note that in India “ROSCAs remain strong despite greater financial inclusion.” Similar studies find the same in other developing countries and in this post we introduce the ROSCAs of Chulin, some of the best-structured ROSCAs on the planet.

The renewed interest in ROSCAs is welcome. They are arguably the world’s most elegant, most efficient, and most reliable informal financial device, capable, at their best, of transforming the economies of whole communities, as we show in this blog. After years of relative neglect from proponents of “financial inclusion,” why are they now getting the attention they deserve?

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in taking a close look at financial inclusion efforts around the world, it’s that context matters. That’s why we are excited to be part of the team releasing the Global Microscope 2014: The Enabling Environment for Financial Inclusion. The Microscope is carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with sponsorship and guidance from the Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB, CAF, and Citi. The Microscope evaluates the environment for financial inclusion in 55 different countries and provides powerful signals to policymakers in each country on their progress. Which countries topped the list and which have the most room to grow?

We’ll tell you, but first, it’s important to know what the results mean. Each country inspected in the Microscope is assessed on 12 indicators that consider best practices in national regulatory environments and institutional support for providers serving clients at the base of the pyramid. Indicators range from government support for financial inclusion, to supervision of microfinance and other financial products, the status of credit reporting, regulations governing mobile banking and, last but not least, consumer protection.

This year is an important one in the publication’s eight year history because the focus shifted from microfinance to the environment for financial inclusion, a process that involved adapting the framework to account for today’s diversity of providers and products. What we were surprised by, however, was just how little a difference this made in the rankings. We charted last year’s results on the microfinance environment against this year’s results on the financial inclusion environment and we found a very high correlation between the two (see figure below). Environments that are enabling for microfinance are often environments that are enabling for financial inclusion. Six countries from last year’s top 10 were in this year’s top ten. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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