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

One theme we come across repeatedly at CFI is the discrepancy between financial services access and usage. A central tenet of our vision of financial inclusion is that access isn’t enough; financial services need to meet client needs and actually be used. One example is mobile banking. As is now well known, millions are now accessing financial services for the first time with mobile payment platforms through telcos. As our By the Numbers report found, however, the proportion of financial services accounts that are mobile is much smaller for the world in general – East Africa is the outlier.

I just returned from an exciting two-week assignment through Accion’s Ambassador program with Akiba Commercial Bank in Tanzania. I met with Akiba staff, visited branch offices, and talked with clients. (You can read about my experiences, including a trip to Zanzibar and terrifying/awesome motorcycle taxi trips on the Ambassador blog.) Since I was in the region with the world’s highest adoption of mobile banking, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about how Akiba’s mobile banking experience has worked out, both from staff and client perspectives. Has adoption and usage met expectations? What kind of feedback was Akiba hearing from clients? What challenges was Akiba facing with their mobile platform?

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> Posted by Center Staff

In the first quarter (Q1) of 2015, smartphones comprised 47 percent of Africa’s market sales, while the market share of feature phones decreased by about 20 percent. Those are some of the big findings from the International Data Corporation’s “Q1 2015 Mobile Phone Tracker” released earlier this week. Examining both Africa and the Middle East, the report uncovered that between the two regions, compared to last year, smartphone sales increased by 66 percent during the first quarter of this year, totaling 36 million units. Nigeria and South Africa were the biggest smartphone markets on the continent, responsible for roughly 14 and 12 percent of sales respectively. By 2019, it’s projected that feature phone sales will dwindle to only 27 percent of the market in Africa and the Middle East.

The prevalence of inexpensive smartphones, aided in part through partnerships between mobile network operators and handset manufacturers, has helped fuel recent growth. Smartphones are being designed and introduced specifically for the African market. Harnessing supply chain efficiencies and accepting lower profit margins, handset makers are offering units in some cases as inexpensively as for US$30. According to market research firm GfK, globally, compared to the previous quarter, during Q1 of 2015 low-end smartphones saw a market share increase from 52 to 56 percent. Total smartphone sales increased by 8 percent to US$96 billion, while units sold increased by 7 percent to about 310 million. Most of this growth came from Africa, the Middle East, and emerging Asia-Pacific markets. Android is dominating in Africa. Eighty-nine percent of smartphones shipped in Africa during Q1 of 2015 were powered by Android – with about 45 percent of these priced below US$100.

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Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

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 and two can be found here and here; the following is part three.

Misperceptions abound about how to impact credit information sharing in emerging markets. Let me weigh in on this debate and set the record straight.

  • Technology is not the problem. There are abundant and affordable platforms to enable robust information sharing in even the most extreme environments.
  • Scoring models are not the problem. FICO, SAS, Dunn and Bradstreet, and a host of multi-national credit bureaus and lenders have plenty of smart mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians, and others with lots of letters behind their surnames to ensure innovation in this space. The breakthrough that will move markets won’t be found here.
  • End-user capacity and incentives are not the problem. Many pro-poor lenders are already using automated underwriting solutions and can quickly assimilate new data or new scoring models.

So if investing in the technology, risk modeling, and end-user trenches aren’t going to galvanize things, let alone revolutionize them, in which trenches will the revolution begin? The answer lies further upstream, in the consumer and commercial credit ecosystems.

The answer is data access.

This is a deceptively simple response and raises a number of related questions. Which data is both predictive of credit worthiness and covers broad segments of the unbanked and underserved populations? Who owns it? Can traditional credit bureaus access this data? Why haven’t they so far? Are other parties needed to provide lenders access to this data? How can data subjects (people) access and “port” their data from mobile payment systems the same way they can carry their credit report information?

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

We are looking for four research fellows to explore some of the most relevant and exciting questions facing the financial inclusion community. Interested?

Before answering, some background. A few months ago we articulated some ambitious unanswered questions that we think will propel financial inclusion forward, and offered the space for you to contribute questions, too (many thanks to those of you who made suggestions!). Since the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is committed to figuring out what is working in financial inclusion and worth replicating, we have made it a priority to partner this year with researchers to explore some of these questions in greater detail.

And that’s where you come in.

We are looking for researchers who are interested in becoming fellows for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s brand new Fellows Program. The Fellows Program will empower independent researchers to systematically analyze some of the most important and critical challenges facing the industry. This year, we are selecting four fellows to explore the following topics:

  • What are the conditions for “on-ramps” to lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access and the Better Than Cash Alliance’s pursuit of G2P payments, both of which focus on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to greater inclusion, through either active account usage or access to additional products. What cases demonstrate successful on-ramps and what factors or strategies enabled deeper inclusion to take place? Research could examine one or several examples.

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

The following post was originally published on the Accion Ambassadors blog.

At some point during our walk down the dusty, uneven road packed with minibuses and motorcycles inches away from hitting me, unfamiliar music and sounds blasting from unseen speakers, people selling everything from plastic toys to Adidas shorts to cell phones to furniture, and a profusion of life and color all around, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I was hoping to see in Tanzania.”

My fellow Accion Ambassador Javier and I were walking with a staff member from Akiba’s headquarters office and Dominik, the assistant branch manager at Akiba’s Temeke branch. Akiba is a commercial microfinance institution based in Dar es Salaam with branches throughout Tanzania. The four of us were off to visit clients down the street from the branch office. Before our walk, Dominik shared some background on Akiba’s work and their clients.

While every Akiba client has a deposit account, not every client has a loan. So for example, the Temeke branch serves over 4,000 clients – 2,100 have a loan while around 2,000 only have deposit accounts. However, “savings is a big problem,” Dominik tells us. “People are not saving regularly.” This is partially because Akiba has only recently promoted savings as part of their client outreach and education. The Temeke branch’s clients are all in the neighborhood and are food vendors, manage their own clothing or cell phone shops, or own other small businesses. The branch’s clients tend to be at Akiba’s “medium” level, with loans ranging from 20 million to 50 million shillings (about US$10,000 to US$25,000 – a much higher amount than I was expecting to be normal). Group solidarity loans are also popular and are smaller loans ranging from 200,000 to 5 million shillings (US$100 to US$2,500).

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program recently released the report ‘Mobile Financial Services in Latin America & the Caribbean,’ spotlighting the region’s booming mobile money activity. I talked with the report’s authors, Mireya Almazán and Jennifer Frydrych, to learn more about the project. The first half of our conversation, published last week, is available here. The second half of our conversation follows.

An enabling regulatory environment, as identified in the report, is one where the regulator has taken a functional and proportional approach that allows banks and non-bank providers to compete, as well as establish different types of partnerships for the provision of mobile money services. What does this means in practical terms, and how has or hasn’t Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) met these conditions?

An open and level playing field that allows banks, mobile operators, and third parties to offer e-money is critical for mobile money to succeed. Anecdotal evidence, commercial lessons, and international regulatory principles all speak in favor of opening the market to providers with different value propositions and business models. Best practices are well established at both the regulatory and commercial level to guarantee the soundness of mobile money schemes, as well as the integrity and stability of the financial system.

As of April 2015, six of 19 (32 percent) mobile money markets in LAC have an enabling environment for mobile money, up from only two in 2012 (Nicaragua and Peru). These six include Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay also has enabling regulation for mobile money and in fact issued the nation’s first e-money license to Redpago in April 2015; however, as Redpago has not formally launched, Uruguay is not categorized as a “mobile money market” in this report’s analysis.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program recently released the report ‘Mobile Financial Services in Latin America & the Caribbean’, spotlighting the region’s booming mobile money activity. I talked with the report’s authors, Mireya Almazán and Jennifer Frydrych, to learn more about the project. The first half of our conversation follows. The second half of the conversation will be published in the coming days.

One of the headline messages of the new report is that the mobile money market in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the fastest growing of any region in terms of account ownership. How do the numbers look?

Collectively, the 37 mobile money services in the region account for roughly 15 million registered mobile money accounts and 6.2 million accounts that have been active within the past 90-days. Notably, LAC witnessed a 50 percent growth rate in the number of new registered mobile money accounts between December 2013 and 2014, making LAC the world’s fastest growing region in new accounts. LAC’s users are more active than the global average active customer rate (42 percent of all accounts are active, compared to 35 percent globally). Most encouragingly, there are now five deployments in LAC with over a million registered customers. Each of these deployments counts at least half a million 90-day active customers, and together they cover an extremely diverse set of markets.

The three markets that stand out in the region are Paraguay, Honduras, and El Salvador. These three markets all feature in the top 15 globally for mobile money account penetration (number of active mobile money accounts divided by total adult population).

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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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> Posted by Center Staff

Hot off the press! We published the third issue of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our new weekly online magazine on the big news in financial inclusion. What’s been happening in the world of banking the unbanked?

Among its stories, the new issue of the FI2020 News Feed spotlights the following:

  • The State Bank of Pakistan ordered all commercial banks in the country to create a new account category, Asaan Account, which targets the base of the pyramid by simplifying account opening requirements
  • Mybank, a new online bank in China, was launched by Ant Financial, utilizing transaction records on Alibaba to extend credit to individuals and small businesses
  • In Tanzania, agent and mobile phone-based banking continues to grow steadily in both the volume and value of transactions

For more details on these and other stories, read the third issue here, and make sure to subscribe by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

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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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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