> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Are interest rates necessary for loans? What about strict repayment structures? Recently, a colleague emailed me about Zidisha, an online lending platform that’s harnessing expanding internet penetration rates to offer lower-cost peer-to-peer loans. Zidisha adopts a handful of approaches that depart from how loans are typically served to the base of the economic pyramid, including in terms of interest rates and repayment structures. I wanted to learn more, so I reached out to Julia Kurnia, Founder and Director of Zidisha, for a quick conversation. The following is an edited version of our exchanges.

First off, I’d like to say congratulations on all of Zidisha’s success. I understand that in its six years, Zidisha has disbursed roughly $6 million in loans to 40,000 people. By way of background, maybe you could start by offering a quick description of Zidisha?

Zidisha is a peer-to-peer (P2P) microloan crowdfunding platform that lets ordinary people like you and me send zero-interest microloans directly to lower-income people in developing countries.

What makes Zidisha unique is that we don’t work through local banks or other intermediaries. Instead, we target today’s generation of internet-capable microfinance borrowers, and connect them with the lenders directly. Borrowers post their own stories and loan proposals, and dialogue directly with their lenders via our website.

Eliminating local intermediaries allows us to provide loans at far lower cost to the borrower than traditional microloans. This amplifies the social impact of the loans, as borrowers keep the profits they generate instead of paying high interest rates to cover local banks’ operating expenses.

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A new report from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, “From Middle India to the Middle Class of India: Inclusive Growth as the Path to Success”, uses detailed household survey data to highlight how the empowerment of “Middle India” –  the middle 60 percent of Indian households which aren’t quite poor and aren’t quite middle class – is critical to ensuring the success of India’s economic takeoff. The report offers a snapshot on how these families live, work, earn, and save – revealing an enormous opportunity for inclusive finance. For example, while 87 percent of Middle India households have access to a bank account, only 13 percent have had a bank loan. For more on the report, the following is a post from the Center for Inclusive Growth originally published on Medium.

Photo Credit: Mastercard / Getty Images

India’s economy is poised for takeoff. GDP is on the rise. Inflation is the lowest in decades. India’s doors are open to foreign investment. And earlier in the month, the Indian Parliament paved the way for the “mother of all economic reforms,” a new tax scheme to make it easier to do business across state lines, essentially creating a single economic zone. The World Bank predicts that India could be the world’s third-largest economy within 10 years.

These and other reforms introduced by the Modi government are desperately needed as one million enter the job market every month, and millions more knock on the door of the middle class.

India, says the author Aatish Taseer, may not yet be a middle class country, “but it [has] begun to think of itself as one.”

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> Posted by Steve Waddell, Principal, NetworkingAction

Financial inclusion is a large systems change challenge – it’s one that integrates a basic new goal into the working of the financial system. This is a very different challenge than simply opening a new branch or even policy reform. What are the implications of large systems change for traditional governance structures? Put another way, if an industry is significantly disrupted, does this affect the way it is governed? I recently dived into the question looking at the impact of financial inclusion on financial sector governance, including central banks. The was done in collaboration with Ann Florini, a governance expert and professor at Singapore Management University, and Simon Zadek, a visiting professor there and Co-Director of the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System.

The three of us have common interest in how multi-stakeholder processes might impact governance. Such processes in the case of financial inclusion involve business, government and civil society interests. With many diverse parties at the table, and many more such multi-stakeholder processes, is financial sector governance also becoming more multi-stakeholder? We decided to investigate the question of financial inclusion with a descriptive analysis of what has been happening in Kenya. We came to the topic with the understanding that multi-stakeholder process governance in itself is not necessarily good or bad compared with traditional government-dominated governance, but experience might indicate that it is necessary for advancing public good. The Center for Financial Inclusion defines full financial inclusion as:
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> Posted by Kim Wilson

Many privileges require a license: driving a car, flying a plane, even scuba diving. Licenses ensure that you understand the consequence of driving too fast, flying too low, or diving too deep. All of these activities have systems to regulate how a service is supplied and how it is used. But when it comes to borrowing money, regulators usually regulate lenders (how the service is supplied), but rarely borrowers (how it is demanded).

Why add barriers, burdens, and bureaucracy to the credit market? Hasn’t credit famously been declared a right versus a privilege? Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where in most countries the financial chokepoint is a lack of credit rather than an abundance?

Participating in Credit on the Cusp, a project that studied the credit experiences of those living on the “cusp” of poverty (between $2 and $5 a day) in urban Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa gave me a chance to think about these questions in depth. As it turns out, South Africa is ground zero – an African market that provided easy credit to millions of new customers in a very short time. In fact, South Africa struggles with an extensive debt problem.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI, and Michael Mori, Senior Designer, Dalberg Design Impact Group

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

From a mathematical point of view, borrowing and saving are mirror images. In both cases many small payments allow for one or more large payouts. Only the sequence differs. Stuart Rutherford’s classic description involves “saving up” (saving) and “saving down” (borrowing), both for the purpose of assembling “usefully large sums.” When viewed in this way it is clear that saving and borrowing can serve much the same purpose, and at times can even substitute for each other.

This is true, as far as it goes, and it underscores the importance of disciplined payments of small amounts as a path to obtaining the lump sums needed for major purchases.

We recently traveled to India (Mumbai and rural Maharashtra) and Kenya (Nairobi and farming villages outside of Nyahururu) as part of a research project led by the Center for Financial Services Innovation and the Center for Financial Inclusion, and conducted by Dalberg. In speaking with a variety of residents, we were struck by vast differences in the way people make borrowing and savings decisions.

The people we talked with carried out most of their financial actions through informal instruments, though many were members of cooperatives and some did have (largely inactive) bank accounts. Instead of using these formal options, they borrowed mostly from friends, family and moneylenders. They saved in cash stashed at home, livestock, land and gold, amongst other assets. We asked how they decided where and how to save and borrow. They very willingly described their thought processes and the considerations that guide them in making decisions. As it turns out, their decisions about borrowing hang on surprisingly different criteria from those about saving, bearing on very different realms of their lives.

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> Posted by a Nairobi-Based Consultant

Kenya and Nigeria are often heralded as two of the most dynamic economies in Africa. They could soon have something else in common: interest rate caps.

Banks in Kenya have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to dismiss a new bill which caps loan interest rates and provides for sanctions (fines and prison) directly to the CEOs of banks that fail to do so. This is not the first time such a proposal has come forward; the last one having come at a time the incumbent president was Minister for Finance. Should the President sign off on the bill it will become law, and lending rates will be capped at 400 basis points above the Central Bank discount rate which now stands at 10.5 percent.

Understandably, the prospect of such limits has caused anxiety amongst lenders. Through the Kenya Bankers Association, Kenya’s bankers immediately lodged appeals to the government arguing that capping interest rates is counterproductive and against the free market economy premises Kenya enjoys. We are yet to see how the financial markets react.

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> Posted by Brian Kuwik, Chief Regional Officer, Africa, Accion

Today around the world, we celebrate our youth and their achievements and reflect on the goals of “eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production” for the youth of this generation. To achieve these goals, a culture of saving money consistently over time will be important.

How can financial institutions, policy makers, and parents encourage the youth to save? A six-year project (2010-2015) across four countries, YouthSave, led by Save the Children and Washington University examined this question. Recently, I attended the project’s dissemination event in Accra, Ghana and learned about how, as part of the project, a bank partnered with middle and secondary schools to offer formal savings accounts to students 12-18 years of age.

Many Ghanaian students are saving money informally in their schools because they either lack national identification documents or cannot find an adult whom they trust to be the primary signatory to a bank account.  Some entrepreneurial students act as “susus” collecting cash from their classmates on a daily basis and safe-guarding it. Since they often keep one day of savings as a fee for this service, this can be a costly way of saving.

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> Posted by Kathleen Yaworsky, Lead Specialist, Channels & Technology, Accion, and Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign

Hi, I’d like to send money to my mother in Bihar. Can you help me?

Sure, I’ll help you do that here. Here’s what you’ll need…

A similar scene unfolded across 80 small merchant agent locations (business correspondents or customer service points, as they’re called in India) as the Smart Campaign conducted mystery shopping research to uncover and understand the client protection risks in the provision of financial services at agent network outlets.

Agent networks play a critical role in increasing financial access by helping financial service providers broaden their reach beyond branches, but in order for an agent network to succeed, the client must trust the agent and be able to perform transactions with confidence. The current rapid growth in agent networks is driven by a push to build out the infrastructure and increase access points. Future growth will require quality from the services delivered through that infrastructure. That’s why it is critical to identify and address potential risks early on.

Complicating the identification and mitigation of client protection risks are several common characteristics of agent banking, including limited agent control over product design and pricing, and the part-time nature and lack of employee status of agents.

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> Posted by Darrell M. West, John Villasenor, Robin J. Lewis

On August 4, the Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project (FDIP) team held a public event to officially launch the second annual FDIP report. The report aims to assess country commitment to and progress toward financial inclusion across economically, politically, and geographically diverse countries. The 2016 report highlights recent developments across the financial inclusion landscapes of the 21 countries featured in the 2015 FDIP Report and provides detailed summaries examining the financial inclusion ecosystems of five new countries: the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Haiti, and Vietnam.

Together, the FDIP reports serve as a complementary resource to existing financial inclusion literature by providing detailed, annual snapshots of the financial inclusion environment in a diverse array of countries and by measuring country commitment to financial inclusion at the policy and regulatory levels, as well as the robustness of countries’ digital infrastructure and actual adoption of selected traditional and digital financial services.

The 2016 FDIP Report found that many countries across the geographic and economic spectrum are making progress toward financial inclusion. However, key data gaps, regulatory constraints, and capability limitations with respect to usage of formal financial services pose challenges for the acceleration of financial inclusion. Thus, to advance the availability and adoption of affordable, quality financial services, the 2016 FDIP Report highlights four priority action areas for the international financial inclusion community: identifying quantifiable financial inclusion targets; collecting, analyzing, and sharing data germane to countries’ financial and digital ecosystems; advancing enabling regulatory environments for traditional and digital financial services; and enhancing financial capability among consumers.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

With their soaring ubiquity and utility, mobile phones are revolutionizing disaster and crisis relief, as recent experiences have shown. From Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to Ebola in West Africa, we’ve seen mobile networks help provide critical financial services, information, and communication – in every stage of a crisis. And all signs point to this support expanding.

A few weeks ago GSMA spotlighted a growing collective of mobile network operators (MNOs) working together to aid those hit by crisis. The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative launched by GSMA in 2015, aims to unite the industry under a set of principles for harnessing mobile technology to support people affected by humanitarian emergencies. GSMA recognized four new member MNOs that signed onto the Charter, joining more than 60 other MNOs from around the world. By signing the Charter, MNOs commit to a common set of principles designed to enhance coordination, standardize preparedness and response activities, and strengthen partnerships between industry, government, and humanitarian organizations.

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