> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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As we have watched events unfold in Iran, it has become increasingly clear that major problems with stability and security of funds in the financial system is a driver of civil unrest and political instability.

Over the last few weeks more than a dozen people have been killed and thousands have been arrested in demonstrations across the country. These demonstrations have involved tens of thousands of people in the most significant public display of opposition that the government has seen in a decade. The magnitude of this unrest is significant, and global concern is growing.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Financial Inclusion Consultant

This post accompanies the release of “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a new joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

I have been an inclusive insurance enthusiast ever since I worked for Opportunity International and witnessed the experiments that later became MicroEnsure. In those early days, Richard Leftley framed insurance as the missing piece in the game of Chutes & Ladders (Snakes & Ladders for those outside the U.S.). He likened credit and savings to ladders that could provide a way up for those with lower incomes –but without insurance, each borrower or saver was just one disaster away from slipping back down into destitution. I remember his—at the time—revolutionary concept of paying insurance claims within 10 days or less. He would say that days-to-payout was the only report he wanted on his desk every morning. (Today, of course, payouts can be automatic or even come pre-loss.)

As is often the case with breakthroughs, Richard, of course, was not alone. Thanks to many innovators, an entire industry has emerged with profitable models reaching millions of people, and there is a growing understanding around the world, across social strata of the impact that insurance can have for families, communities and societies. The NGOs that pioneered microinsurance spurred the interest of commercial giants such as Allianz, AXA, MetLife, Swiss Re and Zurich, which have lent their considerable weight to solving the business challenges of extending insurance to underserved and unserved customers. Market catalysts such as A2ii, MicroInsurance Centre, MicroInsurance Network, ILO’s Impact Insurance Facility, and Cenfri have offered insights on everything from the customer experience, to good product design, to proving the business case, to creating an enabling regulatory environment for reaching new insurance markets.

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> Posted by Amanda Epting, Independent Consultant

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Lately it seems that everyone wants in on sustainable, responsible impact investing (SRI). Encapsulating a broad swath of investment styles, from environmental, social, and governance (ESG) screening to shareholder resolutions and community investing, SRI has become the darling of the social impact community.

In the U.S. alone, over one-fifth of professionally-managed funds (held by institutional investors, money managers, and community investment institutions), or a total of $8.7 trillion, consider ESG factors. This figure is up from $6.57 trillion in 2014 according to the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (USSIF)’s 2016 SRI Investing Trends Report. A much smaller proportion is in impact investments. According to the Global Impact Investing Network’s 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey, which polls 209 institutional investors making impact investments, capital invested in impact investments rose by 17 percent last year from $22 billion to $26 billion.

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> Posted by Center Staff

2017 was certainly an eventful year. And our year at CFI was no exception. Through our CFI Fellows Program and partnership with the Institute of International Finance, Mainstreaming Financial Inclusion, we produced thought-provoking research on fintech partnerships, the role of human touch in a digital age, breakthroughs in insurance and more. In the client protection area, 24 financial institutions were Smart Certified, bringing the total number of certified institutions to 94. The Africa Board Fellowship Program continued to make a difference at the governance level of financial institutions across Africa, and now roughly 200 CEOs and board members have participated in the program. And more…

Before we celebrate the New Year, we wanted to pause and look back at some of our favorite moments of 2017.

Financial Health as a Global Framework

We developed a new model for assessing financial health. The financial health framework was developed through a project led by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with CFI and Dalberg as partners. The framework offers a globally applicable model for financial health that includes six indicators of financial health and four contributing factors that are particularly relevant to the developing world.

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> Posted by Carmen Paraison, Senior Program Associate, Africa, the Smart Campaign

Nigeria has an ambitious target of including 70 percent of its population in the formal financial services fold by 2020, from a baseline of 44 percent with access to an account in 2014. But financial inclusion involves a lot more than account access. The Center for Financial Inclusion defines financial inclusion as a state in which all people who can use them have access to a full suite of quality financial services at affordable prices delivered by a range of providers in a competitive market with convenience, dignity and consumer protections, to financially capable clients. Protection for consumers is an important part of that definition, and I recently had the opportunity to visit Lagos to learn more about consumer protection challenges in the country. In particular, I wanted to see how Smart Certification can help Nigeria reach its financial inclusion goals in a way that provides benefits to customers.

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New report from CFI Fellows Program on effective agent banking

> Posted by Shreya Chatterjee and Misha Sharma, Senior Research Associate and Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

India’s financial services industry is poised for a digital revolution. From payment banks to India Stack to the recent expansion of mobile financial services, policy makers and financial service providers are energetically pursuing digitization of financial services. But the country still has a tremendous way to go. Roughly half the population has low digital literacy, and adoption of digital financial services (DFS) is skewed towards higher income population segments. For example, only 9 percent of those with lower education levels are online, as compared to 38 percent for those with higher education levels.

As CFI Fellows, we explored how frontline banking agents can advance the adoption of DFS by helping first-time DFS users become comfortable transacting in new ways. We evaluated the factors currently shaping the adoption of DFS by emerging consumers in India and assessed how well agents are playing their crucial role in helping customers successfully transition to digital platforms.

In the blog post we wrote at the outset of our project, we pointed out that there are benefits and drawbacks to deploying human touch in digital financial services, and that an optimal mix of human and technology-enabled customer touchpoints needs to be achieved. Over-reliance on banking agents could cause overdependence on the part of customers, possibly eliminating potential cost savings unlocked by technology. But banking agents may also present great benefits, including in assisting with product adoption, facilitating transactions, resolving problems, building trust, and supporting customers’ transitions to more advanced services.

However, not all agent banking services are created equal, and in India we observe a wide range of models in action. In our research we studied three types of agents, each with a different profile and relationship to their parent organization. We wanted to answer these questions:
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What the FCC’s net neutrality vote means for financial inclusion, fintech startups

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Vikas Raj, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and Managing Director of Accion Venture Lab

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In a landmark ruling yesterday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to end net neutrality — the requirement for internet service providers to treat all the content they carry equally regarding access, price, and speed/quality of delivery. This decision, overturning Obama-era internet regulations, is a big deal and may shape the way Americans experience the internet in the future.

It could have significant implications for financial inclusion, too.

Under the new ruling from the FCC, internet service providers (ISPs) may give preferential treatment to content from applications they favor — unlimited access, differential pricing, or faster/better download speeds — while slowing or even blocking other applications.

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> Posted by Lauren Oldja and Gabriela Zapata

Acreimex credit officers receive sales training

The following post was originally published on NextBillion and has been re-published with permission.

Basic savings accounts are essential to helping people build assets, and they’re often the first step in building a relationship with customers.

This is something Acreimex—a savings and credit cooperative in Oaxaca, Mexico, serving over 120,000 members (as the cooperative refers to its customers) across eight states through its network of 45 branches—understands very well. Although they are a savings-based institution, some of their customers find it difficult to save. The cooperative has worked with BFA since 2016 to improve the profitability, relevance and accessibility of its product portfolio – and part of these efforts have focused on finding a way to introduce savings to its existing payroll loan customers.

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New data from InterMedia breaks down the impact of demonetization on financial inclusion across gender, locality, income levels, account types, and more. 

> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Research Manager, Financial Inclusion Insights, InterMedia

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Demonetization had a strongly positive effect on financial inclusion, leading to increases in account registration and active and advanced use of registered accounts, according to our data. Perhaps surprisingly, given some of the discussion in the financial inclusion community over the last year predicting demonetization increasing electronic payments, these account registration increases were mostly among bank accounts rather than mobile wallets.

InterMedia’s fourth annual Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) survey was underway on November 9, 2016 when approximately 85 percent of the banknotes in circulation in India were invalidated by the policy known as demonetization. The invalid notes had to be deposited in a bank or exchanged for new ones at banks and other financial institutions. The timing of demonetization in relation to InterMedia’s activities presented an opportunity for us to measure the impact on financial inclusion using a panel survey of 1,600 randomly selected individuals in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. These respondents were first interviewed for the FII survey roughly one month prior to Nov. 9, and then re-interviewed seven months later.

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> Posted by Aurora Bila and Kim Dancey, Director of Payment Systems at the Bank of Mozambique and Head of Payments at First National Bank

Of the 338 million citizens of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, 138 million lack adequate official means of identification. This limits their access to and usage of many government services, as well as the range of services offered by financial service providers. This affects their wellbeing in a host of ways, which is why the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals include the goal of a robust “Identity for All” by 2030.

Some SADC countries lack a standardized form of identification, and citizens require various pieces of documentation to access financial services in the formal sector. And in some instances there are no legislative frameworks for issuing any form of formal identification document.

Even among those SADC adults who do have national IDs, documents are often not accepted across borders for opening bank accounts or sending remittances home. Banks and remittances agencies in SADC countries face more stringent Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements for cross-border than for domestic remittances. Therefore, if the identity source document is not easily verifiable to the level of assurance required, to manage both internal risk and to comply with Anti-Money Laundering/Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) requirements in force, the provider will not make the service accessible. Furthermore, global standard-setting bodies are increasing the pressure on local regulators regarding identity. For example, it is no longer sufficient to identify only the remittance-sending customer. Financial services providers are now compelled to also know the identity of the recipient and to hold these identities throughout the payment transaction. Consequently, only institutions willing and able to price and charge for the risk and cost will offer the services.

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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.