> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

I recently browsed the website of CashNetUSA, a company that offers payday loans and related products in 38 states across the United States. The website was easy to read and presented the application process and the (very high) charges simply and clearly. But I wanted to know more. Is this company legitimate? Does it live up to its promises? Will I experience any problems along the way? More broadly, how can a consumer tell whether an online payday lender is trustworthy?

I had no peer or family member to ask about this, so I turned to online credit provider reviews and began a Google-based armchair investigation.

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Insights from new CFI Fellows research on integrating human touch in Kenya’s digital financial services landscape.

> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow

Mbugua, owner of a restaurant, a butchery, and a dry goods store in Nairobi, Kenya has actively used financial services to grow his businesses from the meager beginnings of a small stall selling boiled cow heads. He is currently juggling four digital loans and two microfinance loans. Whenever possible, Mbugua prefers to interact with his financers digitally to save time. Yet, like most of the Kenyans my research associate and I spoke with as part of our CFI Fellows research project, Mbugua considers in-person interaction to be critical at certain stages. “Face-to-face is tiresome. There’s a time factor,” he said. “But it’s 100 percent perfect. Your questions will be exhausted. And you can’t negotiate with the phone.”

Our research seeks to understand when and why customers prefer human over digital interfaces across their financial services customer journeys – and vice versa. We focused on value-added financial services, including loans, savings, and insurance, and we chose Kenya because of the country’s deep penetration and market maturity of mobile phone-based financial services. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 104 respondents.

We discovered that a “centaur” solution—one that unites the strengths of both tech and human touch—offers the most promise for both customers and financial service providers (FSPs) targeting the base of the pyramid.

Digital interfaces outperform human interaction in a number of areas: digital services are often more convenient (once you learn how to use them), more predictable and consistent (with the exception of loan approvals and rejections, which are often opaque), and less stressful for customers during collections. However, most Kenyans – even those who already use low-touch digital products – prefer to interact with a person face-to-face at key stages in their customer journey. We found that while Kenyans are very comfortable conducting transactions digitally, other key aspects of the financial service customer journey are not adequately handled by digital means alone.

Like most of our respondents, Mbugua wants to interact directly with a person to accomplish three critical tasks:

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> Posted by Center Staff

Are you working to expand quality financial services access? The 2018 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place March 25-30, 2018 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll join us!

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> Posted by Ana Ruth Medina Arias, Lead Specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Smart Campaign

“The risk is to regulate by anecdotes and not by evidence.” – Mariela Zaldivar, Deputy Superintendent, the Superintendency of Banking, Insurance and Private Pension Fund of Peru (SBS Peru)

In recent years, Peru has called for our attention not only for being at the top of the Global Microscope’s international country rankings for the most conducive environment for financial inclusion, but also for its historic collaborative effort to establish a fully-interoperable nationwide digital payments platform (Bim) to support the supply of financial services. But buckle up, there is more.

The country’s regulator, the Superintendency of Banking, Insurance and Private Pension Fund of Peru (SBS Peru), has taken client protection very seriously, and despite already having very robust systems (on grievance redress and dispute resolution, for example), it continues to lead with groundbreaking policy changes based on evidence and research to ensure that regulation is aligned with the needs and capabilities of the end client. The Smart Campaign is proud to have collaborated with the SBS on these policy changes.

Client Voices was a research project of the Smart Campaign that directly asked clients in four countries (Peru, Benin, Georgia and Pakistan) about their experiences with financial providers and what they thought constituted good and bad treatment. In Peru, the project was made possible through strong support from the SBS, which was involved from the very beginning, providing substantive inputs to all project phases. However, their engagement did not stop there. The SBS is also committed to implementing the client protection recommendations arising from the project.

Here is how the SBS turned the major findings of the research into an opportunity for policy improvement in the area of financial consumer protection.

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For Telenor Group, the key to fostering inclusive digital finance is collaboration and open technologies.

By Johanna Stemberger, Telenor Financial Services

The digitization of the financial services industry is in full swing. Seamless in-app payments enable smartphone users to pay for rides, tickets, food, etc. with just one click.
Pay with Wave Money AdIn emerging markets, where most of the world’s 2 billion adults without bank accounts live, basic financial services have improved over the last decade: mobile operators and banks enable customers to store and transfer funds using their mobile phones. Still, developers and digital innovators struggle to reach users in these cash-based markets.
How can we foster innovation in financial technology for low-income consumers through products and services that promote digital financial inclusion? Telenor Group believes the answer to this question is to collaborate and open up. We’re going to discuss two examples below.
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BRAC Uganda shares strategy and sustainability insights from its transition from an MFI to a bank.

By Emily Coppel and Isabel Whisson, BRAC

Woman holds carton of eggs

©BRAC/Alison Wright

BRAC Uganda Microfinance is pursuing a shift in its regulatory status that will allow it to broaden the landscape of financial services it provides to Uganda’s rural poor.

BRAC, the largest microfinance provider in Uganda, currently serves more than 200,000 predominantly rural, female clients, through more than 150 branches across nearly every district in the country. In the nine years since the microfinance company was established, BRAC has provided microloans to poor women (a basic loan ranges from US $55 – $1,400), and small enterprise loans for male and female business owners (from US $1,400 – $10,000). Its current portfolio is around US $45 million. This year, BRAC submitted its application to transform into a bank. In Uganda, it was a Tier 4 institution, a category for unregulated credit-only NGOs, and money lenders. After the transformation, BRAC will become a regulated Credit Institution, under Tier 2, allowing it to expand its suite of services for clients – most notably, to savings accounts.

The process of transitioning to a regulated institution in Uganda is a lengthy one, and requires the organization to strategically analyze its goals and pro-poor model. Much can be learned from this process that can inform others considering a similar transformation to expand services for clients. As with any significant change, the organization is already facing new challenges that must be carefully and creatively navigated so as not to alienate its customer base.
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For Financial Inclusion Week 2017, WSBI highlights the ways that new partnerships and new products are helping its members make progress toward financial inclusion.


Posted by Mina Zhang, Senior Advisor, WSBI

The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) and its members are committed to Universal Financial Access (UFA), doing their part to help realize the “account for everyone” goal. Our data from the end of 2016 shows that we’re making progress, with 136 million new clients and 236 million new transaction accounts, since the UFA benchmarks were set at the end of 2014.

For Financial Inclusion Week 2017, we are highlighting the ways that new partnerships and new products are helping us achieve this goal.
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Together, the mobile industry and the financial services community have the power, and the opportunity, to put billions of people on the path to financial inclusion. Steve Polsky of Juvo talks here about getting the the how, the why and the when in place.


Posted by Steve Polsky, Founder and CEO, Juvo

Juvo Be Bold for Change Report Cover

During the Mobile World Congress Americas in September 2017, Juvo held its inaugural Be Bold for a Change event with mobile and fintech leaders in San Francisco. Photo credit: Juvo

Thanks to World Bank, we all know the numbers: two billion unbanked people around the world, excluded from formal financial services. Thanks to the United Nations, we have a global rallying cry with the Sustainable Development Goal and that financial inclusion is the enabler for seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And thanks to the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s initiative Financial Inclusion Week, we also know that dozens of companies are committed to improving the lives of billions of people around the world.

But in the same way that no man (or company) is an island, no single industry can financially include billions of people. Financial institutions have the technology and services to change the way people borrow, save, insure, send and lend money in emerging markets; however, even an industry of the scale of the financial system doesn’t have the reach to change the world as quickly as the UN Sustainable Development Goals demand.

The only industry with that reach is the mobile industry. And as mobile operators around the world begin to embrace the maxim “doing good is good for business,” likewise they’re becoming cognizant that while they may have the reach, they may not have the technology and services to drive sustainable financial inclusion.

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Nina Nieuwoudt of Mastercard explains the company’s commitment to financial inclusion for Financial Inclusion Week 2017.

Posted by Nina Nieuwoudt, Global Product Development, New Consumers, Mastercard

Women walking up dirt road with bundles on their heads

Around the world this week, governments, multilaterals, and companies are coming together to celebrate Financial Inclusion Week. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the progress that we’ve made in extending financial access to un-banked and underbanked communities, and also a time to take honest stock of how far we still have to go. As Mastercard’s Chief Product Officer Michael Miebach noted following his speech at Money20/20 last week – we’re making progress, but at our current pace we won’t achieve full financial inclusion for another 200 years. Needless to say, we’ve got work to do.

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AXA shares insights on and solutions to women’s unmet insurance needs in emerging economies.

By Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of Emerging Customers, AXA Group

Women-focused insurance solutions are a central part of AXA’s Emerging Customers work. In our SHEforSHIELD report, launched with the International Finance Corporation in 2015, we found that the market is growing quickly, as women become more risk-aware and willing to invest in protection. We conducted focus groups with women in Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and learned that women have very specific, yet unmet needs when it comes to insurance. I am happy to share the stories of three of the women we met on our customer insights journey, diving into their fears and desires and the role that inclusive, women-focused insurance solutions could play.

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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.