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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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> Posted by Nate Gonzalez, Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

Last week this blog shared the news that Equity Bank applied for a mobile teleco operating license in Kenya, a development suggesting the bank’s interest in entering the country’s M-Pesa dominated mobile money market. In rapid succession, this weekend Kenya’s two largest telcos, Safaricom (who operates M-Pesa) and Airtel, announced that they are jointly buying-out yuMobile, the third-biggest telco in Kenya, and the most likely player to have partnered with Equity to enable it to enter the country’s telco-led mobile finance space.

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> Posted by Richard Koven, Consultant, MicroInsurance Centre

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.

Both client value and a business case are needed for microinsurance to be sustainable. In an ideal world, the two ultimately reinforce one another. Value is recognized by clients, leading to greater satisfaction with and demand for insurance, while demand leads to reasonable profits for insurers, enhancing their ability to provide value to clients in the medium and long-term.

In an effort to better understand how profitability and client value complement one another and how they conflict, the MicroInsurance Centre’s Microinsurance Learning and Knowledge (MILK) project conducted extensive research on health microinsurance in Kenya.

Understanding client value and the business case

To understand client value, MILK conducted two “Client Math” studies. These quantitative assessments seek to understand the value of insurance compared to other risk management tools by exploring the differences in how insured and uninsured households cope with financial shocks. We looked at hospitalization insurance products offered by two private insurers: the Afya Yetu Initiative, an NGO that oversees and implements 30 Community-Based Health Insurance schemes, and the commercial insurer British-American Insurance Company Kenya (Britam). We surveyed low-income people (insured and uninsured), asking them about the direct, indirect, and opportunity costs they incurred in connection with a high-cost hospitalization as well as the strategies they used to finance those costs.

Overview of products studied

We found that while both products provided value for clients, the Afya Yetu product offered more generous coverage. Post-claim, Afya Yetu policyholders paid only a quarter of the total costs of hospitalization of their uninsured counterparts. By contrast, Britam’s clients paid 80 percent as much as their uninsured counterparts. In both cases, insured respondents were able to finance their costs more independently than uninsured respondents by reducing spending in the short-term rather than taking out loans. The Afya Yetu product is simpler and was thus better understood by respondents than Britam’s more complex product, which offers eight different levels of coverage. Afya Yetu uses a relatively “high touch” enrollment process that leverages existing relationships with agents from within the communities of the target populations, thereby educating clients and building trust. Britam’s clients, by contrast, struggled to understand their coverage; of the insured respondents in our study, 60 percent reported paying more than they expected to pay for their hospitalization.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Equity Bank, Kenya’s largest bank by customer base, has applied for a license to operate a mobile telco business, a move that strongly suggests intent to enter the mobile money space. If realized, the bank and its 8 million customers could significantly disrupt M-Pesa’s current domination of the country’s market and help drive competition and innovation.

Given the type of license being sought, Equity Bank would not build a new telecommunications network, but would instead partner with one of the country’s prominent telcos and deploy services using this partner’s infrastructure.

Safaricom’s M-Pesa currently has a commanding hold on mobile money in Kenya with 21 million subscribers, covering roughly 75 percent of the country’s adult population. If Equity Bank’s customers were to subscribe to the in-house mobile money service in question, it would be positioned as the second largest in the country.

We look forward to the decision on Equity’s license and the action to follow.

Image credit: GSMA

> Posted by Adam Brown, International Development Discourse Group (IDDG) Member

The following post was originally published on the IDDG Blog.

Since 2008, the Afghan mobile phone provider, Roshan, has worked to bring mobile money services to Afghanistan. With the support of USAID, all four of Afghanistan’s major mobile phone providers are currently developing mobile money capabilities. The highly successful rollout of Kenya’s mobile money and banking service, M-Pesa, has spurred a flurry of similar startup efforts – over 72 in 42 countries. Many countries, however, have failed to experience the kind of success that M-Pesa achieved, and Afghanistan is no exception.

While the mobile money program in Afghanistan is in its nascent stages, the factors that helped M-Pesa to succeed are generally lacking. The most important of these are, 1) a dominant mobile carrier; 2) an economy that depends on long distance money transfers; and 3) customer trust in the system. The Afghan mobile phone market is too divided to create the kind of widespread network required to attain the critical mass necessary for a sustainable customer base. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Afghans generally do not rely on remittances, limiting the utility that could draw future users. To fix that, mobile money providers should include banking mechanisms early in their programs instead of tacked on only once a money transfer system is in place. However, trust in banks, especially since the Kabul Bank scandal, may be too low for Afghans to put their money into another bank-like mechanism. While mobile money is not destined to fail in Afghanistan, proponents of mobile banking and USAID should adjust their expectations for success, or at least be ready to address the above issues.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

If you regularly follow financial inclusion news, you probably come across articles on the financial inclusion progress of particular countries all the time. Just today I read headlines on the extent of inclusion in Bangladesh as compared to other South Asian countries, on the growing mass of mobile money subscribers in Kenya, and on life insurance penetration in India. Last week we added to the conversation with a post on Nigeria’s financial inclusion strategy. Keeping track of all these national developments is a challenge, even for those of us who have the opportunity to focus much of our attention on financial inclusion.

Earlier this month AFI released the National Financial Inclusion Strategy Timeline, a document that chronicles the steps AFI member institutions have taken in recent years to develop and implement national financial inclusion strategies in their countries – a resource any of us financial inclusion media junkies can embrace. Created by AFI’s Financial Inclusion Strategy Peer Learning Group (FISPLG), the timeline is organized by region and lists national-level developments for 28 countries from 2007 to the present. Here’s the Sub-Saharan Africa region section.

In looking at the timeline, a few trends quickly come to the surface. Not surprisingly, there’s been an increase in inclusion activity among central banks and financial regulatory institutions in the past few years. Specifically in 2013, a number of countries have drafted or implemented national strategies, including the Philippines, Thailand, Belarus, Turkey, Nepal, and Tanzania. Another trend expressed in the timeline is the rise of branchless banking, with many countries developing guidelines for agent and mobile banking.

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> Posted by Center Staff

It’s hard to replicate the learning value that comes from a good infographic. One such gem we were glad to recently come across is The Kenyan Journey to Digital Financial Inclusion from GSMA. Released shortly after GSMA’s 2013 Mobile Asia Expo, the infographic chronicles the development of mobile money in its flagship country of Kenya. Through the infographic you can trace how policy decisions and product innovations worked together to connect three quarters of the Kenyan people to electronic payments and other products. It shows clearly how one innovation paves the way for more, leading to a burst of innovations in the past two years.

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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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