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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Research Consultant

After two weeks of speaking with bank and microfinance institution staff, entrepreneurs, social investors, policymakers, and tech companies in India, my once clear understanding of how to build financial capability has now been completely scrambled. Building financial capability – that is, helping clients change (knowledge, skills, and ultimately behaviors) to make good financial choices – has taken on many layers of complexity and challenges in the context of, and in the face of, the realities of India’s poorest people.

But that is, of course, the fun of travel.

To briefly put India’s banking services in context – many villages in rural India still do not have a bank. According to the latest World Bank Findex data, half of rural Indians and nearly half of all Indians remain completely unbanked. Even if a bank exists in a village, social constraints often prohibit women from using it due to both limited mobility and lack of knowledge about and decision-making power over household finances. Basic access and usage of mobile phones remains limited. From my own earlier research with Cashpor Microcredit, I know that numeracy and literacy, as well as access, remain barriers for women to save with mobile technology.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

In 2013, Elisabeth Rhyne was asked what she was particularly excited about as she looked forward to the future of financial inclusion. Her response? “A second data point.”

Well, now we have that second data point. The 2014 Global Findex reports that 62 percent of people in the world have a bank or mobile money account, up from 51 percent in 2011, and those two points describe a line. Simply projecting that line forward takes the world to about 83 percent of people with accounts by the year 2020. But of course, that’s not the whole story…

The Global Findex encouragingly articulates some concrete steps that governments and providers can take to accelerate progress toward financial access. I would venture to guess that these steps would bridge the gap between the projected 83 percent and the full 100 percent by 2020 (you can read about the World Bank’s goal of universal access by 2020 here).

So let’s just assume that universal access will be a reality by 2020. We can envision a world in the near future where people receive wages, government payments, and remittances into their bank accounts. Businesses spend less on payroll and have fewer risks than if they paid out in cash. Governments avoid corruption associated with social benefit payments by having a cheaper G2P system that entails fewer human intermediaries. Remittances are cheap—or even free—and go directly into the recipient’s bank account. Cause for celebration, right?

Well, yes, but not so fast.

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Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group

> Posted by Center Staff

Among the excitement of the World Bank Spring Meetings last week, key players in financial inclusion declared actionable commitments toward the goal of universal financial access by 2020 in a standout session. Those committing included banks, associations, payment companies, and telcos. The message of the commitments, and of the session’s panel discussion, was that we’ve achieved remarkable progress in the past few years, the goal of universal access by 2020 is very much in reach, and both of these are due in no small part to the aligning of stakeholder incentives and powerful partnerships. The panel highlighted that in three short years, the number of unbanked adults around the world dropped from 2.5 billion to 2.0 billion, according to the 2014 Global Findex.

The focus of the panel was mobilizing the public and private sectors to achieve the goal of universal financial access. Although achieving access is just the first step toward inclusion, it is a bridge to effective services usage, as well as to other development objectives like adequate housing, education, clean water, and healthcare. During the session, panelist Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group said, “If we reach universal financial access by 2020, we’re going to have a much better chance of getting to the end of poverty by 2030.” One particularly promising avenue to expanding access is digitizing government payments. Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard shared that 30 percent of the money that flows into the hands of the under-banked comes from governments. Delivering these payments into a mobile phone, card, or cloud-based account that can be accessed using biometric technology or other non-limiting customer-identification methods brings tremendous benefits. In this way, by migrating their social benefits from cash to electronic, Pakistan opened 3 million debit accounts in six months. Countries with national financial inclusion strategies achieve twice the increase in the number of account-holders compared to countries that don’t have strategies in place.

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> Posted by Aissatou Diallo, Special Assistant to the CEO, BRAC USA

For the three countries most affected by Ebola – Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – the impact of the disease on society came in waves. The first wave happened around March, after the virus was first confirmed in the region. It was characterized by denial, disbelief, and a general numbness. The second wave, in May, happened as the disease spread geographically with a corresponding increase in cases and deaths. During this time, people felt overwhelmed. Even though a lot of people still doubted that the disease existed, they knew something was wrong because people were getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. The third wave, in August, blew the lid wide open on shortcomings and vulnerabilities in the region as Ebola spun out of control. Health systems collapsed, schools closed, communities were quarantined, and supply chain systems broke down. People lived in fear.

These factors contributed to severe economic losses in the region, especially for actors in the informal economy (e.g. traders and farmers) who depend on moving freely to sell their goods at markets and have little financial flexibility or cushion to absorb a shock to the system.

I just returned from a five-week trip to Liberia. In the towns and villages I visited, people told me that August was characterized by bleakness and despair. Communities looked like ghost towns, social ties were weakened, and there were sick people dying on the streets because no hospitals or care facilities were available.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Last week global leaders across industries gathered in the tiny mountain town of Davos, Switzerland for the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF). (Though you probably already knew that, given the annual event’s ever-swelling stature and press.) The WEF fosters strategic dialogues in the hopes of developing ideas, insights, and partnerships around the most pressing issues and transformations reshaping our world. This year’s WEF included sessions from Jack Ma of Alibaba on the future of commerce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on global responsibilities in a digital age, IMF Director Christine Lagarde on global monetary policy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres on political affairs affecting the region, and Bill Gates on sustainable future development. Of course we were following the topic of financial inclusion, and the action that got underway made it a week worth noting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the financial inclusion happenings at Davos.

In the “Inclusive Growth in a Digital Age” session held on Wednesday, a panel, which included MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, considered how our age of digitization can confront income and wealth inequality, support investments in education and work-based training, and address vulnerable employment. Among the points of discussion was mobile phone penetration leveraged for financial services access. A full video recording of the session is available, here.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI

Inclusive financial services in Africa are blooming. Between the turn of the millennium and 2011, the number of African MFIs reporting to the MIX increased from 58 to 397. From 2000 to 2014, the gross loan portfolio expanded over tenfold to $6 billion. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of borrowers served by MFIs in Africa increased from 1.6 million to 8.5 million. These numbers represent the development of an economic development tool for economies with very small financial sectors. It is impressive progress for an undeveloped industry beset by sparse human capital, problematic governance, and minimal external commercial interest.

AfriCap, which was the first private equity fund to invest exclusively in African microfinance institutions, and other microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) funded by social investors have been a key growth factor through capitalizing MFIs and offering technical assistance and training. This interest is relatively new. The African MIV portfolio grew at an average annual rate of 36 percent between 2006 and 2013. This compares with an average growth of 38 percent for investments in the Latin America & Caribbean region since 2006, and 8 percent in both the Middle East & North Africa and South East Asia regions. The strong connection between MIV financing and microfinance sector growth was also noted in a World Bank paper, Benchmarking the Financial Performance, Growth, and Outreach of Greenfield Microfinance Institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper, released in 2014, explains the relevance of greenfield MFIs to effecting financial inclusion in undeveloped financial markets. These institutions are financed in large part by equity and debt from development finance institutions, as well as a now-significant cohort of MIVs.

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> Posted by Madeleine Dy, International Programs Manager, Water.org

More than 100 leaders from the water, sanitation, and finance sectors came together October 21-22, 2014 for the second East Africa WaterCredit Forum in Nairobi to share progress made and to brainstorm lasting solutions to the water and sanitation crisis affecting East Africa. In Kenya, for example, access to safe water supplies is 59 percent and access to improved sanitation is 32 percent.

Water.org, in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, convened the Forum, part of Water.org’s five-year collaboration with the Foundation to bring safe water and sanitation to economically challenged communities in East Africa through the WaterCredit approach. Since 2010, the WaterCredit initiative in Kenya and Uganda has empowered almost 115,000 people to obtain financing from seven financial institutions (FIs) for long‐term, sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

The Credit Reporting section of the FI2020 e-zine (click to read)

The Financial Inclusion 2020 Round-Up 2014 e-zine, found on the CFI website, takes a look at progress toward financial inclusion in the year following the FI2020 Global Forum. It was at the Global Forum that five Roadmaps to Financial Inclusion were presented after two years of being developed and debated by dozens of financial inclusion experts. Now, imagine the editorial challenge of collapsing a year’s worth of activity around each Roadmap into just two pages each.

While it’s a fun read, I admit to a little cognitive dissonance as I page through the Round-Up. The brief analyses of where we stand around each of the Roadmaps to Financial Inclusion can be summed up in the quote “we’re not as far along as we think we are.” While that quote was about the Technology Roadmap, it could just as easily be said of the other Roadmaps: Financial Capability, Addressing Customer Needs, Client Protection, and Credit Reporting.

Yet despite the clear-eyed look at the ongoing challenges, the e-zine also tells a story of intense and productive activity by a wide range of actors. Legacy financial service providers—the heavy hitters with big resources and even greater reach—are investing heavily in financial inclusion. It’s not just for corporate social responsibility any more; it’s part of a new business strategy inspired by the discovery of an untapped and (they hope) profitable new market. Sprinkled in and around those vignettes are stories of scrappy start-ups doing the social entrepreneurship thing. Some of those services may not make it past 2015, but some of them have a “why didn’t I think of that” inevitability about them. The diversity of actors and the energy are impressive.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

New World Bank analysis indicates that along with the already devastating loss of life, the Ebola outbreak could cause “potentially catastrophic” economic effects on West African countries, especially in the three hardest hit. According to the analysis, Liberia’s GDP could fall by 12 percent, Sierra Leone’s by 9 percent, and Guinea’s by 2 percent.

Efforts to contain the epidemic are fueling much of the economic slowdown, like the closings of businesses, transportation infrastructure, and critical air and sea links with other nations. As mentioned in a post on this site a few weeks ago, microfinance institutions are being affected, too.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the economic losses suffered from Ebola are related to containment behavior, a dynamic consistent with recent SARS and H1N1 outbreaks. A lower supply of available workers – due to employee illness, death, and caregiving – is a smaller factor. At the same time, health systems are collapsing under the onslaught of the epidemic, leaving those with other serious illnesses unable to receive treatment. These conditions cause shortages, panicked buying, and speculation, which lead to rises in food prices and inflation. Economic life in the affected areas was already extremely tough to begin with. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

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Adam Mooney is the CEO of Good Shepherd Microfinance, Australia’s largest microfinance organization.

As the first day of spring arrives in the Southern Hemisphere, we see new buds emerging, fresh blooms, and a new sense of hope and optimism. In Perth, Western Australia, the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) meets Monday, September 1 at a forum to stimulate, coordinate, and reflect on action to bring about financial inclusion. I am hopeful as the GPFI prepares recommendations for the G20 meeting in Brisbane in November this year, it will commit to powerful actions to boost the well-being of at least 2.5 billion people living in poverty around the world.

There is clear evidence that improving the economic well-being of the poorest third of the world’s population will have a profoundly positive impact on all people. Economic mobility and resilience at the family and community level directly leads to increased security, human connectedness, and hope for everyone. It also enables self-directed action to realize one’s own dreams and aspirations, however modest, leading to overall contentment. Yet despite such a compelling economic and social case, poverty and inclusion remain ideologically contested concepts where causality is often polarized into either inadequate human behavior or opaque environmental factors.

Speaking at the C20 Summit last month, I suggested that targeted inclusive finance around the world can and will be a key driver of economic growth, especially through production, employment, and education. It is not a coincidence that the number of people living in poverty is the same as those that are unable to access appropriate financial services, as measured by the World Bank’s Findex reports. These reports state that only half the world’s adults have bank accounts and of those, only 15 percent believe that their needs are understood and met by the products they have access to.

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