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> Posted by Rafe Mazer, Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP

CGAP recently launched a Mystery Shopping Technical Guide, based on our experiences sending lower-income consumers to seek financial products in markets as diverse as Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.

The method of training actual consumers to conduct mystery shopping has proven helpful to understand the challenges they face in achieving financial access and receiving quality product advice. In several markets we found that sales staff often restrict information on fees and charges and do not provide consumers with the lowest cost product option that matches their needs. For example, in Mexico and Peru we saw sales staff who neglected to offer low-fee savings products available at their institution, while in Ghana sales staff never mentioned the APR of a loan, as they are required by law to do. In Malaysia, insurance sales staff did not use the mandatory Customer Fact Find Form which helps assess customers’ needs and product suitability.

These findings are not surprising to those who study client protection and financial advice, and studies in markets such as the U.S. and India have found similar issues with sales staff. All of this raises a fairly important question of “Can we fix financial advice from frontline bank staff?” Or is the incentive to mis-sell too great and monitoring a sufficient number of individual sales practices too burdensome? This is a discussion I have had with regulators. How do you use policy to drive behavior change in a market? The short answer is that it’s not easy; the long answer is that behaviorally-informed policies, product regulation, and market monitoring tools can help.

But what about the committed leadership of organizations that have signed on to the Smart Campaign (which include providers we have visited during these mystery shopping exercises)? If mystery shopping shows that sales staff do not always keep the customer’s best interests in mind, can we fix this with provider or industry-level changes in sales practices or perhaps through sales staff training? I would like to take advantage of this forum to hear from providers who have implemented policies to fix sales staff misconduct so we can start to document good practices for monitoring sales staff behavior. To help kick things off, here are a few ideas from my side, based on our mystery shopping work:

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> Posted by Carol Caruso, Senior Vice President, Channels & Technology, Accion

Providing micro financial services is often a costly endeavor. As practiced in most places today, it involves many manual processes which limit the potential for scaling up and expose vulnerability to poor service, errors, and fraud. Furthermore, as telco operators and fintech companies bring services to customers through new distribution mechanisms, microfinance banks (MFBs) need to explore innovative ways to competitively deliver their services. Hence, it is promising to see a rise in the use of tablets, smartphones, and other devices housing applications that digitize field operations. Digital field applications (DFAs) offer MFBs a way to take advantage of technology to solve some of these challenges. Globally MFBs have deployed DFAs in a wide variety of ways. For example, loan officers equipped with DFAs can process loan applications and answer client inquiries in the field, eliminating paper forms, digitizing data, and saving time and money for organizations and their clients. Bringing financial services out to clients can achieve a much-needed personal touch and can even increase the richness of the client interaction. For example, client education and consumer protection awareness can be more effective when digital messages are delivered by a field staff member. DFAs can also improve credit operations. When assessing loan applications and risks, field officers can operate more efficiently if digitally equipped.

In order for MFBs to successfully leverage these tools, both for their and their clients’ benefit, they must understand their business case, and incorporate best practices for implementation that have been derived from lessons learned by others. There is no shortage of pilots that have been halted due to challenges arising from lack of experience and understanding – despite hardware availability or subsidies.

With this in mind, Accion’s Channels & Technology group have published a case study aiming to provide some clarity on the impact of DFA use by examining the business case, implementation process, and effects for three MFBs: Ujjivan Financial Services in India, Musoni Kenya, and Opportunity Bank Serbia (OBS). Our case study presents a consolidated review of the findings from the three MFBs, with an accompanying Excel-based business case toolkit, available for MFBs to examine the potential impact a DFA might have on their business. Individual cases presenting the findings from each institution are also available – here, here, and here.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This week the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and MasterCard forged a new partnership to develop inclusive financial systems to support small-scale farmers and lower-income families. The team’s first effort focuses on the Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya, a settlement home to roughly 170,000 refugees who have fled wars and violence in neighboring countries.

The partnership seeks to harness the duo’s respective strengths: FAO in fighting hunger and malnutrition among the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach, and MasterCard in expanding financial inclusion through digital services. Their initiatives will center on, among other elements, providing credit and cash to households in economically-marginalized communities for the purchase of basic needs and farming inputs.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Vice President, Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

“Over a sixth of the world’s population has directly experienced armed conflict, torture, terrorism, sexual and gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing or genocide,” states the website of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF). I recently attended the 8th Annual PCAF Pan-African Psychotrauma Conference in Nairobi, a multidisciplinary event that focuses on psychological trauma in Africa’s war-affected societies. PCAF operates mental health clinics in Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda and conducts trainings for mental health professionals. At the conference, I was surrounded by global leaders from health care, academia, and a litany of organizations working in the mental health space.

At first blush, my participation at such an event might seem odd as my work focuses on disability inclusion for microfinance. But, I’d argue that’s more of a reflection of how society, and our industry, views mental disabilities – with reductive biases – rather than how they fit within microfinance.

I had the privilege of presenting a keynote to the attendees. I discussed whether it’s possible for trauma patients who have gone through a successful course of treatment that includes counseling, medication, and livelihood trainings to become clients of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and build small-sized enterprises. Immediately below is an abridged version of my speech, with the complete text linked at the end.

Can MFIs help victims of trauma find hope and dignity through self-employment?

As a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor myself from the U.S., who received treatment, I believe with all my heart that in a just society poor people with mental health challenges should get the help they need so they can flourish as human beings. Unfortunately, in the international development world I come from, this great cause is barely on the radar—in spite of the fact that reaching the most destitute is at the urgent core of all international development work. Indeed, I share your outrage at the paucity of funding and support for community mental health from governments and foundations.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

The Helix Institute of Digital Finance recently launched the Kenya Country Report 2014 as part of their Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) project. The ANA project is aimed at increasing global understanding of how to build and manage sustainable digital financial services (DFS) networks by conducting large-scale research among DFS agents and issuing training to providers and other stakeholders. In this two-part interview, Dorieke Kuijpers, Research Project Manager at the Helix Institute and co-author of the report, provides insight into the ANA project and the Kenya Country Report. The following is part two. Part one can be found here.

One of the big findings of the survey is that banks’ agents now account for 15 percent of the agent banking market in Kenya – a threefold increase over last year. What are some of the other key developments in the market?

We have identified a number of market developments by comparing the Kenya 2014 survey findings with those of the Kenya 2013 survey. Mobile network operators (MNOs) have led the success in the digital financial services industry in Kenya and historically have been considered better in marketing and distribution than banks, which is not surprising given that many MNOs in East Africa have more clients than banks do. Nearly a decade of development later, we see this changing: banks are now making large investments in the DFS business and they are approaching it in a very different way.

An interesting finding is that although we observe a significant increase in the market presence of bank agents, the products and services they offer are in many ways additive as opposed to competing with those of MNO agents. While MNO agents are still conducting a higher number of transactions (almost twice as many as bank agents), bank agents are offering a greater and more sophisticated array of services, including bill payments, savings, and credits. Also, the median amount transacted among bank agents is roughly 50 percent higher, which means their revenue is now similar to that of MNO agents. This is reflected in the fact that out of the 32 percent of agents that report wanting to open a new till for another provider, the overwhelming majority of agents would like to join a bank’s network, with Equity Bank being the most popular option.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

The Helix Institute of Digital Finance recently launched the Kenya Country Report 2014 as part of their Agent Network Accelerator (ANA) project. The ANA project is aimed at increasing global understanding of how to build and manage sustainable digital financial services (DFS) networks by conducting large-scale research among DFS agents and issuing training to providers and other stakeholders. In this two-part interview, Dorieke Kuijpers, Research Project Manager at the Helix Institute and co-author of the report, provides insight into the ANA project and the Kenya Country Report. Part two will be published next week.

The new Kenya report focuses on the operational determinants of success in agent network management. By way of background, can you give an overview of these components and tell us about the scope of this survey?

The country report is based on 2,128 mobile money agent interviews carried out in 2014 across Kenya. For the survey, we partnered with Research Solutions Africa (RSA), a research firm that has vast experience working in several African countries. After undergoing an intensive training by MicroSave’s lead researchers, the team of enumerators recruited by RSA conducted the several-thousand interviews with mobile money agents spread throughout the country. The findings of the survey resulted in the Kenya 2014 Country Report as well as five (confidential) reports that present providers with an overview of provider-specific findings.

The questionnaire that we used focuses on five operational determinants of success in agent network management, or pillars, as we call them. Both our country reports and our provider reports are based on these pillars. The first pillar, agent and agency demographics, helps us develop an agent profile at the country level and covers indicators such as the age of an agency and the proportion of dedicated and exclusive agents. Core agency operations is the crux of the research as this pillar looks at the health of an agency—e.g. the products and services offered, the number of daily transactions, the types of transactions conducted, and the average value of transactions. Liquidity management looks at an agent’s liquidity practices and needs and how these affect their daily transaction levels. The pillar quality of provider support analyzes the extent to which service providers support their agents in terms of trainings and refresher trainings, monitoring visits, and availability of call centers. Lastly, business model viability assesses the financial strength of an agent.

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> Posted by Prateek Shrivastava, Global Director, Channels & Technology, Accion

The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act in 2007. The Act included provisions for the creation of the CBN to ensure monetary stability, issuing and maintaining legal tender, and promoting the implementation of best practices including the use of electronic payment systems in all banks across Nigeria.

In the same year, the CBN developed the Financial System Strategy 2020 wherein the need for electronic financial services (amongst many other reforms) to make Nigeria a competitive economy was identified. Since 2008, the CBN has been extremely active in developing and implementing guidelines and frameworks to support the digitization of financial services (for example, all banks and microfinance banks need to have core banking systems, and the use of ATMs is governed) including mobile money and agent banking. The Guidelines on Mobile Money Services in Nigeria were approved and published in June 2009. Most recently, the CBN has also released a licensing framework for “super agents” that banks and other regulated financial services providers can use to bring services to the markets and streets in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s mobile money market hosts about two dozen licensed mobile money operators (MMOs) that include banks and others, which, in spite of their array, have proven inadequate in terms of country coverage and active adoption.

In the recent words of Dipo Fatokun, Director of the Banking and Payment System Department of the CBN, “Expectations of mobile money [in Nigeria] have not fully been met.” Annual mobile money transactions in the country in 2014 exceeded N5 billion (US$25 million), while in Kenya and Tanzania total annual transactions in 2013 were US$22 billion and US$18 billion.

A report from EFINA published in 2014, a full five years after the CBN guidelines for mobile money were put in place, shows that only 800,000 Nigerian adults currently use mobile money, representing less than one percent of the adult population. Today, even arguably the most successful entity, Pagatech Nigeria with its innovative use of technology and strong management team, is advertised sporadically on the streets of Lagos and even less further afield. Awareness is low and therefore adoption is low.

In my opinion, this lack of progress can be attributed to two key issues:
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> Posted by Center Staff

Impact investing in East Africa has grown strongly over the past five years with over $9.3 billion disbursed, more than 1,000 deals, and roughly 150 investors managing about 200 active investment vehicles. These are among the findings outlined in a new report from the Global Impact Investing Network and Open Capital Advisors, which provides a state of the market analysis for impact investing in the East Africa region. The report examines the supply of global impact investment capital, the demand for investment resources, challenges and recommendations, and the country-level markets. What was found?

Here are a few of the report’s key messages:

  • Kenya dominates impact investing in the region, accounting for more than half of its deployed impact capital and having more than three-times the in-country fund staff of any other country.
  • Uganda ranks a distant second in capital received at 13 percent of that of the region, receiving support from its favorable business and regulatory environments.
  • Despite its GDP being 50 percent bigger than Uganda’s, Tanzania claims about 12 percent of the region’s impact capital, owing its stature in part to its low population density, weak transportation infrastructure, and relatively unpredictable government interjections.

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PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. Part one can be found here; the following is part two.

While the jury may be out on M-Shwari (see here), the verdict is in on M-Pesa. M-Pesa offers real value to an estimated 14 million disenfranchised and financially excluded Kenyans. Indeed, for many lower-income Kenyans, M-Pesa is not only a payments service, but also a form of insurance. Think of it like an online strategy game. You donate units to members of your group in the belief that they will reciprocate when you request. This same norm operates in Kenya with M-Pesa users, who send spare shillings to friends and family every opportunity they get with the operating belief that if there is ever a need (say their tire pops and they need to pay for a repair) they can send out a request for funds to members of their group and have confidence that their needs will be met. This is a great contribution for a product that former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph called “a gadget” to make phone service stickier.

Another unintended contribution stemming from M-Pesa is the gradual building of a non-financial payment transactions database at Safaricom. Practice and research from around the world proves that this data is highly predictive of consumer and small business credit risk. The collection and use of this data could be an extremely useful tool to drive meaningful financial inclusion in Kenya. Safaricom Financial Services fully realizes this, and like so many other mobile network operators around the world, moved to limit access to this data to themselves and their bank partners.

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PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. The following is part one.

Recently, a number of players have flaunted an impressive array of promising digital technologies to expand credit access, advertising nothing less than a full on revolution in financial inclusion. While the promise of many of these solutions is inarguable, in most cases they are limited to lower-value, higher-interest consumption loans at best, or, at worst, are at risk of being useless as they suffer from the classic error of putting the cart before the horse. The principle limitation on these solutions is a lack of access to sufficient quantities of regularly reported, high-quality, predictive data upon which to base credit decisions and develop credit products.

Consider the case of Safaricom, which revolutionized the payment systems market in Kenya with its M-Pesa offering. The rapid uptake of M-Pesa by lower-income Kenyans was proof positive of the value of digital financial services and spawned a wave of investment into hundreds of copycat service providers around the world.

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