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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Understanding the cash flows and money management practices of the poor is a requirement for effectively designing financial services. Complex income scenarios and impossibly-thin budgets make finances for many poor people complex. It takes time and resources to capture such information in a meaningful way. Insight into these practices was sought in the ambitious Kenya Financial Diaries project, which included biweekly interviews with 300 lower-income households in Kenya over the course of one year. Results from the project were released earlier this week.

The Kenya Financial Diaries, a joint research project by Bankable Frontier Associates and Digital Divide Data, comprehensively tracked the transactions of households across Kenya using a customized, “intelligent” questionnaire. The questionnaire was tailored to each household’s composition, income sources, and financial devices used. As new information became available, the questionnaire adapted accordingly. Along with the quantitative records on their financial lives, researchers interviewed household members on their perceptions, stories, and life events affecting their finances.

The results?

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Posted by Ignacio Mas, Independent Consultant

I guess it happens in all human endeavors; we sometimes get carried away wishing things were the way we think they ought to be. Let me provide three cautionary observations relating to financial inclusion: about how we measure it, how we talk about it, and how we assess it. The point is not to dampen enthusiasm about the possibilities, but to reflect on our progress in a more realistic way.

Industry Showcases and the Numbers Game

Through numerous industry conferences and blogs, certain players get put up as shining examples for the industry to follow. M-Shwari is perhaps the latest one, I guess because it delivers large customer numbers to an industry that is still largely focused on coverage rather than usage, and it represents the kind of telco-bank partnership that many have been fantasizing about.

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> Posted by Anne Gachoka, Research Supervisor, Digital Divide Data

Thanks to mobile and agent channels, formal financial services in Kenya now reach millions of previously unbanked customers with new and innovative products. Just look at M-Shwari, the new banking product offered to M-Pesa customers enabling them to move beyond money transfer and epay to small, short-term loans with eligibility based on data about their savings, mobile usage, and debt repayment history. Globally, this is all very exciting and represents an important breakthrough in providing financial services to the poor.

But, after studying the interactions between the poor and the financial sector through the Kenya Financial Diaries, a joint-research initiative between Digital Divide Data and Bankable Frontier Associates, I have come to the conclusion that banking will fail to deliver on the promise of improving the lives of the poor unless providers do more to improve pricing transparency and communication on terms and conditions. The Diaries study tracked the cash flows of 300 Kenyan households over the period of one year.

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

It’s a big couple of weeks for Africa here in Washington, D.C. On Monday, President Obama hosted a town hall meeting to welcome this year’s class of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Launched in 2010 by Obama, YALI supports young African leaders as they spur economic growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. These Fellows spend six weeks at one of 20 U.S. universities and colleges undergoing leadership training and mentoring in business and entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and public administration. Next week, the State Department will host the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit with heads of state from 50 African countries to advance the U.S. Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and discuss security and democratic development.

Nearly one-third of all Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent are below 35. YALI is tapping into the drive and energy of Africa’s youth to effect change. Many Fellows in the YALI network are focused on improving access to financial services, whether it’s encouraging a savings culture in Zimbabwe, establishing microfinance programs for women and youth in Kenya, or creating a microfinance program to help start medical supply stores in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

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

Mobile money services have spread like wildfire, making people less cash-reliant and able to easily carry out transactions like bill payments and money transfers. GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked program identified 14 mobile money sprinters – leaders of some of the fastest growing mobile deployments in the world. Among these, three case studies from mobile money services in Pakistan, Somaliland, and Zimbabwe have been published. The case studies highlight the reasons why these particular schemes have achieved significant customer bases and transactions volumes since their deployments.

Easypaisa (Pakistan). After only 11 months, Easypaisa registered 5 million transactions and by the end of 2012 it had 100 million transactions with a volume of $US 1.4 billion. Easypaisa was created in late 2009 by the MNO Telenor Pakistan and Tameer Bank, after Telenor acquired a 51 percent stake in Tameer. Telenor acknowledged that launching a mobile wallet product wouldn’t be the ideal way to set up Easypaisa since they only had a 22 percent market share and so the product wouldn’t encompass 40 million non-Telenor customers. Furthermore, regulations in the country called for very comprehensive Know-Your-Customer (KYC) procedures, creating the additional obstacles of increased registration cost and time.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Fifteen years ago in the microfinance space you may have been able to get away with understanding very little about your clients. Without much competition, MFIs could probably still make a decent profit by offering one product to all their clients using only one delivery channel. Thankfully, those days are gone.

The base of the pyramid is no longer a hidden or forgotten market segment. In fact, according to the recently-released 2014 Microfinance Banana Skins report, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. Overindebtedness once again tops the charts as the biggest perceived risk, perhaps indicating that many clients are now able to gain access to multiple services providers. In some areas, an excess of providers may now be crowding the market.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research and Evaluation Specialist, Freedom from Hunger 

In part one of this review, we considered several themes that Roger Thurow raised in the book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change that might influence how we conduct research and design evaluations to measure changes in poverty. The book follows four Kenyan smallholder families for a year, chronicling how their lives were changing as a result of participating in One Acre Fund’s agriculture training and loan program.

Understanding the decisions these families made about how and where to allocate their very limited resources helps us as financial service practitioners and researchers to understand and appreciate certain realities.

Financial service providers can feel both disappointed and encouraged by this book. We find ourselves uncomfortable reading about Leonida, the Kenyan mother and smallholder farmer who makes a credit payment instead of feeding her family. But we also see opportunity. It’s a difficult trade-off for Leonida, but she sees her credit payment as her ticket to new investment in crops, which have already shown promise after a year of participating in One Acre Fund’s program.

In our earlier discussion, we looked at how we might think differently about evaluating programs. Let’s switch gears to what Thurow encourages us to think about in terms of program design. He highlights two key opportunities that stem from a more client-centered approach to program design.
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> Posted by Jamie M. Zimmerman, Senior Associate, Bankable Frontier Associates 

There is abundant enthusiasm for the promise of shifting social benefit payments from “cash transfers” to “e-payments for the poor.” E-payments are heralded as having great potential for advancing the effectiveness of social transfers via increased efficiency, more transparency, reduced leakage, and faster payments to recipients than antiquated cash-based options. Perhaps most significantly, electronic social transfers to the poor offer a gateway to financial inclusion for the poor. Indeed, as cash transfer social protection (G2P) and aid (D2P) programs proliferate globally, digitizing those transfers may offer the missing link to the bottom billion, the world’s poorest, most vulnerable, and most excluded populations.

However, while theory and some evidence strongly suggest that e-payments are a high leverage tool to reach the poor, new research recently released by CGAP, on behalf of the Better Than Cash Alliance, on the experiences of electronic G2P programs in low-infrastructure and low-income settings reveals that e-payments can also pose a series of risks to recipients. These risks include: loss due to agent or staff misconduct; lack of transparency and disclosure of terms and fees; lack of adequate or effective avenues for recourse and redress, and; data privacy and protection challenges.

For example, a core component of the new research – detailed in case studies written on programs in Haiti, Kenya, the Philippines, and Uganda and summarized in the CGAP Focus Note Electronic G2P Payments: Evidence from Four Lower-Income Countries – explored the recipient experience in interacting with electronic payments platforms to receive their cash transfers. It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of recipients had no prior experience with digital financial services, and, in some cases, formal financial services at all. Here are some common quotes from recipient focus groups and interviews:
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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

M-Pesa, the mobile money service success story that began in Kenya in 2007 is continuing its march, this time into the surprising location of Romania, raising the questions, what will the product look like in this new European market and how will it fare. At the end of last month Vodafone, the operator behind the new service and one of Romania’s largest telcos, began operations using the country’s 300 Vodafone Romania stores, participating retail outlets, and authorized agents.

M-Pesa operates via SMS phone messaging and offers the ability to make deposits and send and receive payments to people and businesses – potentially an attractive prospect to the third of Romanians who don’t have access to formal banking services. Across the country there are about 7 million people who transact mainly in cash. The just-launched mobile service is estimated to be accessible to about 6 million people, and Vodafone plans to increase its in-country distribution points to a total of 2,000 by the end of the year. Vodafone has 8.3 million clients out of Romania’s 21.3 million population, the vast majority being active mobile phone users. The mobile money market in Romania is currently underdeveloped.

Of course, just because M-Pesa has achieved significant uptake elsewhere doesn’t mean that will happen here, too. Since the service first launched in Kenya, new M-Pesa outfits have been established in a number of other countries including Tanzania, Afghanistan, and South Africa. Within the past twelve months, the service also launched in Egypt, India, Lesotho, and Mozambique. Across these markets results have been mixed, with operators struggling to emulate the immense success achieved in Kenya.

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> Posted by Allison Ehrich Bernstein, Executive Communications Specialist, Accion

Quick: Pretend you’re a telecommunications operator in Africa. Which country would you choose for the launch of a new mobile money network?

Since the runaway success of Kenya’s M-Pesa system, banks and mobile service companies have been looking for the next big opportunity to bring cell phone-based financial services to a whole new client base. While we haven’t yet seen anything on the scale of M-Pesa, numerous companies (e.g. Easypasia in Pakistan, bKash in Bangladesh) have been chipping away at its number-one position.

So, what’s your pick?

You might say a fairly stable country that already has a reasonably strong banking sector, like Ghana. Or a high-population nation like Nigeria, or perhaps a place like Zimbabwe, where the financial system could use a jolt. And those wouldn’t be bad ideas.

Established African mobile-service providers Zain Group and MTN are taking a very different approach, however: they’re setting up mobile money networks in the world’s newest country, South Sudan.

Even if it weren’t a nation less than three years old, South Sudan might not strike the average observer as the next “it” spot for mobile money. Banking penetration in-country is negligible; there’s currently neither the central infrastructure nor leadership for it. And mobile penetration was somewhere around 13-15 percent in 2012, according to an International Finance Corporation study and other sources.

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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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