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> Posted by Center Staff

What are the most important questions that need to be researched in the financial inclusion arena?

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will soon launch a fellows program to support research and thought leadership in financial inclusion – and we are calling on you to help! The purpose of this program will be to encourage independent researchers and analysts to examine some of the most important challenges in the financial inclusion arena. We plan to select a few priority research topics for fellows to examine.

Here’s where you come in. Below is a list of research topics that members of our Financial Inclusion 2020 team believe need answering. We’re checking in with you – our blog audience – to find out which topics you think are the most important to investigate. Please consider this list a starting point. Give us thumbs up or down on the topics listed, and propose topics of your own. Once we select the top priority questions, we will issue a call for proposals. Meanwhile, we offer this list to provoke a broader conversation about research needed in the financial inclusion field.

You can respond either in the comment block below, or by email to erhyne@accion.org.

Technology-related topics

  1. Impact of ubiquitous internet access on the business models for financial inclusion. By 2020, the vast majority of the world’s people will have access to internet through smart phones and tablets. Internet access could transform the way financial service providers and customers interact and facilitate a richer interface with customers. What scenarios are possible and are providers ready to respond?
  1. Under what conditions do “on-ramps” lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access focused on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to active account usage or access to additional products. What are the cases of successful access expansion that have led to deeper inclusion and why did they succeed?

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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla, Senior Investment Analyst, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on SocialStory.

The Indian financial services landscape is undergoing a tectonic shift. The last few years have seen a renewed public focus on expanding financial inclusion. Building off prior programs, the government has invested in regulatory reform, improvements to the banking system, payments, and ID infrastructure. They have also announced a series of programs targeting the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Simultaneously, we are beginning to see real shifts in the adoption of digital technologies and banking services (such as basic savings accounts and smartphones), driven by compelling use-cases, such as government subsidies, delivered directly into bank accounts, and rickshaw-hailing apps that use mobile wallets. Together these trends are unleashing tremendous innovation with the potential to speed financial inclusion for millions.

As investors in early and growth stage “social” enterprises that are speeding financial inclusion around the world, we believe startups are uniquely positioned to navigate this shifting technological, regulatory, and competitive environment. Indeed, financial sector reform in India has had many false starts, and there are still many regulatory and structural hurdles to be overcome. However, we believe India is nearing an inflection point with changes playing out in three areas that are giving birth to exciting startup financial services models: MSME finance, digital payments, and consumer services.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Coinciding with this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program released its fourth annual ‘State of the Industry Report on Mobile Financial Services.’ I talked with Jennifer Frydrych, Insights Coordinator for the MMU program and one of the authors on the report, about the project’s findings. The conversation touched on new markets, shifts in the mobile payments mix, successes with products beyond payments, the main hurdles facing mobile money ecosystems, and more.

1. The mobile money industry has grown rapidly in recent years. Can you bring us up to date with some of the growth figures and dynamics?

In the past five years, mobile money services have spread across much of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. At the end of 2014, there were 255 live mobile money services across 89 markets, 36 more than in 2013. Mobile money is now available in 61 percent of developing markets globally. In terms of adoption and usage growth, 75 million additional mobile money accounts were opened globally in 2014, bringing the total number of registered accounts to 299 million. Importantly, account activity increased faster than account registration in 2014, and the total number of active mobile money accounts is now 103 million (up from 73 million in 2013). An increasing number of services are reaching scale: 21 services now have more than one million active accounts.

2. As of the last State of the Industry report, half of all live mobile money deployments were in sub-Saharan Africa. How has this distribution changed? What were some new or emerging markets of the past year?

There were 22 new services launches in 2014, of which half occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. The mobile money industry in sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow, and the region still accounts for just over half of all live services globally, and 60 percent of all active accounts. Much of this success can be attributed to East Africa; however we are now seeing exciting growth in mobile money uptake and active usage in West Africa.

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> Posted by Abhishek Agrawal, India Country Director, Accion, and Victoria White, Senior Vice President and Asia Regional Head, Accion

In November 2013, Dr. Raghuram Rajan was appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). In his maiden speech, he announced plans to issue differentiated banking licenses. He spoke about his intention of creating significant reforms in the banking system around priority sector lending, payment systems, and the drive towards a cashless economy, among other areas. Within two months of this speech, the RBI published what has become known as the Mor Committee report, supporting plans for differentiated licenses; and in a record setting 10 months, the RBI finalized the guidelines and invited applications for differentiated bank licenses for small finance banks and payment banks.

At the February 2 deadline, the RBI had received 72 applicants in the small finance bank category and 41 for payment banks. The stated objective of both types of banks is to further financial inclusion. For small finance banks, this is to be accomplished through the mobilization of credit and savings to underserved segments of the population. The relatively low minimum capital requirement (approximately $16 million, versus the $80 million required for banks) offers a much more feasible option for MFIs seeking to offer more than the traditional credit-only product offering. Likewise, payment banks (which will also have a minimum capital of $16 million) will be authorized to provide small savings accounts and payments/remittance services to this same underserved market segment. This option offers a tremendous opportunity to expand product offerings for those already active in the payment space.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Last week Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity was released, a new FI2020 report from CFI and HelpAge International supported by MetLife Foundation. The report examines the unmet financing needs of older adults, an area of increasing importance as global demographic shifts see the rapid expansion of this population segment. Within 25 years, the percent of the world’s population over age 60 will nearly double.

As part of the report’s launch, HelpAge International’s Head of Policy Eppu Mikkonen-Jeanneret, MetLife Foundation’s Financial Inclusion Lead Evelyn Stark, and CFI’s Managing Director Elisabeth Rhyne sat down to discuss the project and its findings. The conversation, among its topics, touched on the scale of the demographic shifts at hand, the opportunities in these changes, where we are with pension services, and action areas for policymakers, providers, and support organizations.

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> Posted by Monica Brand Engel and Jackson Scher, Managing Director and Program Coordinator, Frontier Investments Group, Accion

Innovative payment solutions are proliferating globally. Enabled by the exponential expansion of mobile phones, social media, “big data”, and internet access, financial players throughout the world are inventing new ways to complete transactions. Disruptive innovations such as prepaid options, NFC-enabled payments, and cryptocurrencies are gaining significant adoption and are changing the payments space. These trends are especially pronounced in emerging markets where many new entrants have chosen to “leapfrog” traditional, resource-intensive systems and dive directly into the seamless and nimble world of digital financial services. Although these exciting innovations in digital payments have the potential to increase convenience for customers and dramatically reduce costs, some challenges remain. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Twitter and Groupe BPCE, France’s second-largest bank, are teaming up to enable Twitter’s users to complete person-to-person money transfers using tweets. Payments on the service will be open to anyone in the country, not just Groupe BPCE users, and won’t require senders to know the recipient’s banking details to initiate a transaction. The payments will be managed by S-Money, Groupe BPCE’s mobile money unit.

The development comes amid a wave of new offerings from digital and internet-based payments providers, both newcomers and veterans. In 2012, Western Union experienced a 41 percent increase in online transactions. Venmo, the PayPal-owned smartphone app that integrates users’ social info, reached a transaction volume of US$ 468 million in the second quarter of this year, a 347 percent increase over last year’s Q2 figure. Last month, with a portion of users in the United States, Twitter also began testing its potential to be a retail marketplace with Twitter Buy. The platform update integrates a “buy button” into the tweets of companies selling products or services, harnessing the Twitter stream of tweets as an avenue for online window shopping.

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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 Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features a post that offers a fresh framework for examining savings groups, a post that synthesizes recent research on payments in South Asia, and a post on the relative effectiveness of aid approaches.

Steering the conversation on savings groups towards foundational concerns, or at least towards more interesting matters than the oft-trodden territory of model and methodology specifics (e.g. passbooks versus ledgers), Paul Rippey in a new Savings Revolution blog post offers six questions for potential consideration. Here’s a portion of one of the questions: “How big is the gap within the program between what is said and written, and what is done? Said another way, the casual disrespect and bending of procedures makes management incredibly difficult and inefficient.”

In South Asia, domestic remittances are conducted much more than international remittances, and they’re carried out mostly in cash through informal channels. These are two of the big findings from a recent Gates Foundation survey, highlighted by Jake Kendall in a new Next Billion blog post. The post provides a brief overview of the importance of digital payment options for the poor and shares the big findings from the Gates survey, which interviewed individuals in South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) and Indonesia on their experience with payments. Another key finding from the survey, demonstrating a big potential market for digital payments, was that the majority of those interviewed – who represent the majority of a population of 1.9 billion adults – reported having sent, brought, or received a domestic or international remittance in the past 12 months.

What’s better?: an organization giving money to the poor with no strings attached, or an organization giving the poor productive assets which require higher expenditures that hinder the organization’s scope? That’s one of the big questions presented in a new post, “Cash or Cows?“, on the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) blog. It’s a question getting a lot of attention recently thanks to the increasingly talked-about organization GiveDirectly that gives money directly to the poor in Kenya, with no associated conditions, via M-PESA mobile money transfers. To put this approach to the test, GiveDirectly agreed to allow IPA to conduct a public evaluation (which is currently underway) of the effectiveness of their work. In addition to exploring this question, the post takes an additional half-step of comparing the net impact of conditional and unconditional cash transfers, drawing on IPA research.

Image credit: Ianf

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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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