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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

I rarely think about the cost of convenience. I often use my phone’s navigational system, seeking turn-by-turn directions, but I usually don’t consider the trail of data I’m leaving behind – and even if I do, I decide the benefit outweighs the cost. We live in an age where leaving myriad digital footprints is almost inescapable. Increasingly, we hear of big data analytic companies that “liberate data” or “democratize data” for the purpose of improving products and services or making them more widely available. There are true benefits to advancing our society’s data capabilities and unearthing new patterns and insights. (The phone that tracks my travel can give me advice on promising restaurants nearby.) But the costs can be high. Here in the U.S., the anonymity of “meta” data sets is continually being challenged. Fortunately, in this country consumer advocacy groups and institutions such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Bureau of Consumer Protection at FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working to address and remedy breaches of privacy and data rights.

In most of the world, similar institutions are nonexistent or under-developed. The fast uptake of technology has opened up large population segments to new possibilities, while leaving them vulnerable. Digital financial services users in developing countries are often choice-less and voiceless on how their data is used.

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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Associate, the Smart Campaign, and Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Click for complete and full-size infographic

Earlier this year we shared a puzzle: microfinance institutions reported that they had age caps on credit products, but we couldn’t figure out what data or rationale was backing them. Leveraging the Smart Campaign’s endorser network of over 2,000 microfinance institutions, we set out to get to the bottom of this puzzle. What we found in our survey surprised us.

Consistent with our research in the Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) publication Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity, 61 percent of respondents indicated that they have age caps at their microfinance institutions. Indeed, it is common-place for institutions to place age caps on their credit products. The practice is not limited to one country or region – respondents to the survey came from 45 different countries across every region. As we analyzed the survey, we figured there is either a global phenomenon of discrimination against older people or everyone has a very good reason for their actions that we have been missing.

When asked what the age cut-off is at each respondent’s institution, the responses ranged between 55-80 years, and the average age was 65. Our research earlier this year, however, found that this age cut-off is not always consistently applied within each institution. New customers may have an earlier age cut-off, whereas customers with an existing relationship with an institution may be given an additional few years to apply for a new loan.

So, why do institutions impose these age caps on credit products? We received two competing answers:
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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

Technology has brought safe and simple financial solutions to Somalia, a place where, until the past few years, they were completely non-existent. In June 2015, MasterCard became the first international payment network to enter Somalia, a country that hasn’t had a formal banking or financial system since the collapse of its government in 1991. MasterCard issued its first 5,000 debit cards to be used by Premier Bank, one of the few commercial banks in the country. The cards will be compatible with Premier’s ATMs, whereby customers can conduct cash withdrawals. MasterCard’s products will be the first domestically-issued debit cards in Somalia, the last remaining country in Africa not under sanctions that the company hasn’t worked in yet.

Somalia has been mired in decades of conflict since 1991, and the government continues to battle al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab insurgents. Despite the formation of a federal parliament in 2012, creating a more stable government, turmoil continues to severely restrict development of the banking system. For example, the country installed the first ATM machines in the capital, Mogadishu, only last year.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Momentum for Smart Campaign Certification is accelerating. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that there are now more than 20 million lower-income clients whose financial service provider has been certified as meeting the Campaign’s standards for consumer protection.

Since February 2015, the number of clients served by Smart-Certified financial institutions (FIs) has grown by 6 million, to a total of 21 million, with the certification of an additional 11 institutions. To date, 39 FIs, from 19 countries across Latin America to Africa and Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s best-known institutions dedicated to serving the poor.

As you might be familiar, the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party evaluators. Smart Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to microentrepreneurs with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. Customers of Smart-Certified organizations can be confident that their financial service provider has policies and processes in place to ensure that they are treated responsibly.

“Twenty million clients is an exciting milestone – recognition of the fact that there’s growing momentum in the industry for client protection,” said Isabelle Barrès, Smart Campaign director. “These organizations are not just paying lip service to the concept of fair treatment, but actually working hard to improve practices,” she added.

In April 2015, having listened carefully to evaluation results and industry feedback, we launched certification program revisions to streamline the process while maintaining high standards. These revisions included an appeals and complaints system and a process for renewing certification validity. At the end of 2015, the Campaign will introduce an accreditation system to license existing and new certifiers, and a version 2.0 of the certification standards. Certification 2.0 standards remove duplication and ambiguity, and deepen standards for savings, insurance, and digital financial services.

Even as the coverage of the certification program approaches critical mass, the broader Smart Campaign continues to advance. For the Campaign’s next phase we are excited about working on the following:
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> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation

The following post was originally published on NextBillion, in two parts, here and here

The Smart Campaign was born in the midst of extraordinary upheaval in the microfinance sector. Its launch in 2009 was sandwiched between the 2008 global financial crisis, repayment crises in several microfinance markets, and the 2010 debtor suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the turmoil served to amplify the campaign’s main point: that microfinance needs to focus on customer protection. In the succeeding years, it has labored to unite microfinance leaders and practitioners around this goal – most notably through its efforts to convince microfinance institutions (MFIs) to undergo the process of Smart Certification, in which independent evaluators verify that they are “doing everything [they] can to treat [their] clients well and protect them from harm.”

Over time, these efforts have started to gain traction. The campaign – which is steered by a group of prominent leaders in the industry and housed at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion – has certified 39 microfinance institutions. (Note: Accion is a NextBillion Content Partner.) Certified institutions include a number of leading MFIs in markets around the world, from Equitas in India to Kompanion in Kyrgyzstan. And the campaign calculates that certified MFIs now serve slightly more than 20 million clients. In a recent interview with NextBillion, its director, Isabelle Barrès, called the 20 million client mark “an exciting milestone, recognition of the fact that there is momentum growing in the industry for client protection –  not just paying lip service to it, but actually working hard to improve practices.”

But achieving this momentum hasn’t been an easy task for the campaign – or for the industry whose practices it’s trying to improve. Barrès discusses the challenges it has faced – and the controversy it has sparked – in this two-part Q&A.

James Militzer: Do you have any data on which markets have the highest percentage of Smart Campaign-certified MFIs?

Isabelle Barrès: I think Kyrgyzstan probably is the one where we currently have the most right now – 60 percent of microfinance clients are served by organizations that have been certified. This shows that when there are some substantial efforts that are put towards improving client protection – whether it’s at the market level or at the regulatory level, or through market infrastructure, such as supporting a good credit bureau – it can make a difference for the entire industry.

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group

As a member of the Smart Campaign Steering Committee, I had the pleasure last week of attending the first ever Certification Summit held in Turin, Italy. The CEOs of 24 client protection certified microfinance institutions (MFIs) came together to discuss with one another their experiences with certification, their practices for preventing over-indebtedness, collections and grievance redressal, and their thoughts on how the certification process could be made more valuable.

I tried my best to talk with each and every participant there in order to get their honest thoughts about certification. I was surprised but pleased to discover that, without exception, every one of them said how happy they were that they had gone through the process and achieved the recognition. Some examples of the types of comments I heard are:

  1. Client protection has always been part of our DNA. It’s who we are. The certification process helped us align our practices with our values – and come closer to what we aspire to be.
  2. It has allowed us to improve our relations with the regulators in our country more than we imagined. They now turn to us for advice!
  3. It was great for our employees. It was a truly motivating exercise for them . . . and the recognition that comes with certification made them feel very special. Our employees are proud to be associated with a responsible institution.
  4. There was a cost to it, no question – but the process convinced us that it was well worth the investment.
  5. We wanted third-party validation of our practices, and this gave us that validation.
  6. The process was excellent. I have tremendous respect for the rating agency that conducted our mission. It was far more rigorous than I anticipated, and it did result in our making some very significant changes, especially to our disclosure practices.
  7. Our customers have told us that they appreciate the changes we made that were clearly visible to them. They especially like the improvements we’ve made to our grievance redressal mechanism.
  8. Certification must be seen as a risk management tool because that’s what it is. We need more MFIs to go through the certification process in order to control risk in our market. We need to engage more closely with investors and regulators about what it means and how it acts to mitigate risks.
  9. The process helped us to get back to our fundamentals, for the reason we were formed. This was something we had needed to do, without really realizing it, for a long time.
  10. There’s no question that it contributed to our ability to get new capital from our local bank.

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Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group publish an operational framework for measuring impact in inclusive financial services investing

> Posted by Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group

A key aspect of investing for social impact is being able to effectively measure impact, which has always been challenging. Whilst there have been several well-informed attempts to create uniform standards to address this challenge (such as IRIS and GIIRS Ratings), these have largely been intended to compare impact investments across multiple industries. This can be a valuable exercise for multi-sector fund managers, but the approach invariably leads to a trade-off: using the same scale to measure impact across a number of diverse industries leads to a lowest common denominator analysis. These standards seek to measure impact across industry sectors, but they do not provide information about the nature of social change created within each industry. At the other end of the spectrum, several fund managers have developed bespoke systems to measure the impact of their own portfolios. These systems have been tailored for insurance at the base of the pyramid or poverty alleviation progress, and they do a good job of accomplishing those goals. Unfortunately though, they are often too specialized to allow for any comparison across impact managers.

Therefore, the most optimal approach to impact measurement is that which: (1) surfaces the specific nature of impact created in a sector, (2) remains broad enough to allow for some objective comparison across managers, (3) but does not seek to compare the incomparable. Such an approach only seems possible when impact measurement is focused on specific industries.

It is with this approach that Apis Partners and Accion Frontier Investments Group have chosen to operate. Apis and Accion are fund managers investing specifically in inclusive and innovative financial services for the un- and under-banked. Like other impact focused investors, we have a dedicated mission to provide social as well as financial return on investments, which requires the measurement of social impact in a real, quantifiable way.

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> Posted by Ros Grady, Senior Financial Sector Expert, the World Bank Group

The following post was originally published on the World Bank Private Sector Development blog.

The Client Protection Principles: Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (the “Model Law”), recently launched by the Microfinance CEO Working Group, has the potential to be a useful resource for the many developing and emerging economies that are seeking to design and implement international best practices in financial consumer protection, having recognized that consumer protection is a critical element in building and maintaining trust in the financial sector and achieving financial inclusion targets.

The Model Law was prepared on a pro-bono basis by the international law firm DLA Piper on the basis of the seven Client Protection Principles of the Smart Campaign. The project, which took place over a 15-month period and was managed by Accion on behalf of the Council of Microfinance Counsels, included consultations with financial inclusion stakeholders and legal experts, who undertook a review of existing legal frameworks in various countries. Reference was also made to international best practices and principles such as the World Bank’s Good Practices on Financial Consumer Protection and the G20 High Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.

The Model Law is a high-level, activities-based law that is intended to apply equally to all financial services providers. This includes “banks, credit unions, microfinance institutions, money lenders and digital financial service providers.” The apparent aim is to ensure an equal level of protection for all consumers and a level playing field. The consumers concerned may be an individual or a micro, small or medium-sized business, and so the law will apply equally to consumption and small-business facilities. Many of the provisions are framed in terms of principles, the detail of which would need to be filled out in related legislation.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group

The Microfinance CEO Working Group, as part of its commitment to client protection in microfinance and financial inclusion, set out in early 2014 to develop a model law that could be adapted, in whole or in part, into different national contexts. The Working Group’s partners were the global law firm DLA Piper and its “Council of Microfinance Counsels” which is composed of the in-house counsels of all Working Group members. After 15 months of effort, the first version of this law has now been completed and released. The blog below describes this tool and how it can be used.

Those who set policy for consumer protection in financial inclusion have a powerful new tool at their disposal, one that financial inclusion practitioners, legal experts, and regulators have had a hand in creating.

Over recent months, the law firm DLA Piper/New Perimeter has been working with the Microfinance CEO Working Group and a subgroup of the Council of Microfinance Counsels to prepare the Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection. This is a framework of suggested legislation on financial consumer protection based on the Client Protection Principles as promoted by the Smart Campaign. The seven Client Protection Principles set standards that clients should expect to receive when doing business with a microfinance institution, and cover such critical areas as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, privacy, and prevention of over-indebtedness. The team that developed this studied multiple countries that had the most progressive and effective laws related to client protection in financial services, and in other areas.

The Model Law can be used in a variety of ways.

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Smart Campaign> Posted by Center Staff

Big news from the Smart Campaign camp. Today, the Campaign, the global movement you’ve come to know for embedding a set of client protection principles into the fabric of the microfinance industry, is announcing enhancements to its Client Protection Certification Program designed to improve and accelerate the certification process.

The Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party raters. Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to low-income people whose standards of care uphold the seven Client Protection Principles. The certification process aids institutions in strengthening their practices, and becoming certified helps institutions demonstrate to industry stakeholders – including clients, investors, and other institutions – their commitment to responsibly serving their clients. The Client Protection Principles cover important areas such as transparency, fair and respectful treatment, privacy, and prevention of over-indebtedness.

The Certification changes will enable the program to better meet the growing global demand for certification among microfinance institutions, while ensuring that certified institutions demonstrate high standards and the program maintains strong governance and quality control. Several enhancements will take place immediately:

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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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