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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2015 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place April 6-11, 2015 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2015 HBS-Accion Program builds on nine successful years and over 550 participants – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. Financial service providers participating in the program will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of today’s financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

New data shows the Cambodian microfinance market disbursed $1.79 billion in loans over the first three quarters of 2014, amounting to a 51 percent increase over last year’s Q1-3 figures. The data comes from the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) and includes loans issued by 45 of the country’s MFIs. Last year’s total for the same period was $1.18 billion from 39 institutions. In a country where fewer than 20 percent of the adult population has access to formal financial services, such expansion in activity might be exciting, but is it sustainable for borrowers and institutions?

Some individuals who are unfazed by the rapid growth point to the recent economic strengthening enjoyed by the country. Cambodia’s GDP increased annually on average 7.7 percent between 1994 and 2013, and it’s expected to maintain a nearly equivalent trajectory in the years to come. On distributing this wealth, the country achieved its Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty in 2009. Agriculture in Cambodia is big, constituting about 35 percent of the country’s GDP. About 90 percent of those who are poor or who are vulnerable to slipping into poverty live in rural areas. More small and medium sized entrepreneurs making investments in farming efforts, or other income-generating activities, aligns with an expanding economy.

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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 Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

In my breakout group at CFI’s workshop last week in Bogota, everyone talked at once. With eight voices coming at me, my brain’s very basic ability to understand Spanish shut down. The workshop participants were bursting with ideas they urgently wanted to express. But, as my colleague Sonja Kelly pointed out, a situation where everyone is speaking and no one is listening is an apt metaphor for the problem the workshop sought to address.

The workshop focused on the challenges in integrating insights from behavioral economics into the operations of financial institutions. Two organizations that leverage behavioral economics for product design, ideas42 and Innovations for Poverty Action, presented the research perspective. Closely connected with academics at Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Princeton, both organizations start from the research finding that a number of cognitive and emotional biases cause people to make decisions that depart from rationality, and that these biases can significantly affect the use of financial services. Ideas42 focuses on identifying features in product design and delivery that, while not overruling choice, nudge people in a desirable direction – features such as commitment savings accounts or reminder messages to encourage savings. IPA promotes the same kinds of nudges, but focuses on the testing of these innovations through randomized controlled trials.

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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 Center Staff

The microfinance industry in sub-Saharan Africa, boasting roughly 6.6 million clients, is growing fast. This expansion of financial services to the base of the pyramid, bolstered by an increasingly diverse array of providers and products, is enabling many lower-income individuals, entrepreneurs, and households to access and use essential tools like loans and savings accounts for the first time. To ensure the stability and success of the institutions that provide services, however, strong institutional governance and risk management needs to be a core priority. A new CFI initiative, generously supported by The MasterCard Foundation, sets out to address this.

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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 »

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

The day after the closing of the Microcredit Summit in Merida, Mexico, conference participants were also invited to join in a day-long discussion about integrating health with microfinance. Half of the day was spent discussing a set of health indicators that are currently being tested in India, Peru, and the Philippines as part of Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s Health and Microfinance Alliance. Alliance data from several participating institutions was presented, with the goal of the discussion to identify the most appropriate combination of indicators to track changes in client well-being over time and identify aspects of health that can be effectively addressed by financial service providers (FSPs).

The goal of these pilots is to provide the financial services industry with a set of standardized, comparable, relevant, and reliable health indicators that they can add to the existing poverty measurements they are using to assess the impacts of their services for clients. To be most effective, these indicators must also resonate for health sector actors to promote real, active collaboration and appreciation for our respective competencies in improving health outcomes.

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> Posted by Center Staff

A new micro-pension platform targeting those working as domestic laborers, appropriately named Gift a Pension, launched in India last month. The platform is run by the Micro Pension Foundation (MPF) nonprofit and gives employers of domestic laborers a convenient way to support their workers in enrolling for the National Pension Scheme (NPS) Lite government product, a smaller version of the NPS offering. Across the country an estimated 40 million work for households in roles including maids, guards, cooks, and drivers. In the weeks since the program opened, over 1,000 domestic employers have registered themselves and gifted pensions to their workers. The platform offers more than its name suggests, as gifting workers five-year term life insurance is also available.

Here’s how the service works. First, MPF encourages employers ensure that their workers understand the structure and benefits of any accounts before enrollment happens. The Gift a Pension site includes a collection of educational tools and videos for employers to use to aid their workers’ familiarity with products and with the importance of managing finances for the long-term. Once this initial learning phase is complete, the employer registers themselves with the Gift a Pension site and enrolls their worker using information from the various documents that satisfy the necessary know-your-customer requirements. To open the account, the employer pays a one-time servicing fee (Rs 300) as well as the first contribution into the account. The worker then receives in the mail a guide to go along with their new account and their personal prepaid pension card. In a few weeks’ time the worker will also receive a government-issued Permanent Retirement Account Number (PRAN).

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> Posted by Kaj Malden, Project Manager, PlaNet Finance China

Huimin Microcredit client engaging in budgeting exercise

Poor rural women in China face challenges not dissimilar to poor rural women in other developing countries. Many are homemakers and child rearers, with much of their work tied to the home, offering little social or professional mobility. However, there are some dynamics in China that make women’s conditions somewhat different. The Communist Revolution of 1949 promulgated an ideology that favored gender equality and claimed women “hold up half the sky” (半边天). According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, gender inequality is more apparent in the developed economies of Japan and Italy than in China. Modern China’s One-Child Policy, however, leads to a cultural view that “values males and belittles females” (重男轻女). The fact that China’s gender ratio skews towards males may support this view and suggest that parents favor males. Additionally, China’s massive urbanization continues to create large flows of migrant workers, posing other challenges for women. Husbands often find work in neighboring provinces or eastern coastal cities, leaving their wives to manage the household’s finances and run the family business independently.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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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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