> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

UNLEASH Lab 2017 gets underway in Denmark

UNLEASH Lab 2017 gets underway in Denmark

This week and next, three Accion staff—myself, Pablo Antón Díaz, and Kathleen Yaworsky — are working with about a thousand other people to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during UNLEASH Lab 2017. As the website exclaims, “The first UNLEASH event is held when talents from all over the world come to Denmark for nine days to create real, scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals.” Before I left, a friend of mine asked what the goals have to do with my work, since they don’t explicitly include financial inclusion. The answer is quite simply that financial inclusion is an enabler of the SDGs. We encourage and advance financial inclusion so that people’s lives can be better in many of the ways the SDGs address – from education to health care to housing.

UNLEASH Lab 2017 is an audacious experiment that brings together people from 130 countries who work in academia, health, education, economic development, infrastructure development, city planning, and more. The idea is that with adequate brainpower and resources, a group of people like this can move the needle on the SDGs. The events team, with support from Deloitte, Dalberg, and others, and drawing on input from more than 200 “knowledge and talent partners”, has loaded the agenda with inspirational speeches, team-based design workshops, and competitions. At the end of the event, some of the better ideas that emerge will receive funding. And apparently Ashton Kutcher will be there too for a little extra star power.

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CFI Fellow Patrick Traynor, an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the University of Florida, explains the second part of his research effort on the security and privacy of data in digital lending applications. Patrick’s previous post, explaining the first part of his research on evaluating the privacy policies of digital lending applications, can be found here.

“I’m sorry, but we are just not interested in providing security for our customers.”

Here is a phrase that you are unlikely to see from any company, at least if they want to stay in business. In fact, you are far more likely to see statements to the opposite. Yet time and again, the same services that tout security as something they care about prove to be tremendously vulnerable. Think about it – when was the last week that you didn’t hear about stolen Bitcoins, ransomware attacks, or data breaches?

If companies care so much about security, what is going on?

What Does “Secure” Mean?

Security is one of the least well-defined terms I know. By itself, it completely lacks context. Secure against what? Against whom? Under what conditions? Based on what assumptions?

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> Posted by Robin Brazier, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

U.S. Capitol BuildingLately, so much has been happening in Washington, D.C. that it feels impossible to keep up. Every day is a whirlwind of new developments. The Smart Campaign has been keeping its eye on one bill in particular: H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE (Creating Home and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs) Act of 2017. Among its other provisions, the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to disarm the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and compromise the well-being of financial service consumers in the United States.

Introduced by House Representative Jeb Hensarling (TX-5) in April, the CHOICE Act, according to its sponsors, would loosen the allegedly burdensome and complicated regulations put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 with the stated goal of increasing financial services access for small businesses and spurring economic growth. These small businesses are said to be having a difficult time getting loans from small banks due to Dodd-Frank, and the CHOICE Act would purportedly lessen these difficulties and allow more small banks to lend to small businesses.

However, from where the Smart Campaign is sitting, the CHOICE Act looks quite different.

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> Posted by Center Staff

ICICI Bank and Stellar: A look at a transaction enabled by blockchain (click to enlarge)

Why are mainstream financial institutions and fintechs partnering to pursue financial inclusion? In the case of ICICI Bank and Stellar, it’s because combining forces enables them to reach clients with a free blockchain-backed mobile wallet that they could not sustainably offer on their own.

Last week we released a new joint report with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines. As part of the report, CFI and IIF conducted in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants. We discovered dozens of partnerships between mainstream financial institutions and fintechs in emerging markets, and we detailed the workings of 14 of them.

The story of ICICI Bank and Stellar began when an ICICI Bank senior executive read a book about new technologies. The book mentioned a blockchain company in Silicon Valley called Stellar. Fast forward to today, Stellar now provides ICICI Bank with an open-source online ledger, or blockchain, designed to oversee the movement of money. ICICI Bank customers in India and abroad can transfer money through a free mobile wallet over Stellar’s platform. These transfers are made in real fiat currency, but internally they are documented in cryptocurrency. While the transfers are recorded on Stellar’s ledger in a cryptocurrency called ‘lumens,’ ICICI Bank holds the value for these transactions in Indian rupees in a pooled account. Due to the open nature of Stellar’s platform, ICICI Bank customers can transfer money to customers at any other bank on the platform. Stellar’s open platform has allowed ICICI Bank to easily connect with financial institutions that it might not have connected with otherwise.

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

(click to enlarge)

What’s been happening with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG)? We’re glad you asked. Fresh-off-the-press is a new annual report from the MCWG, detailing the Working Group’s key accomplishments and activities of the past year. Consumer protection is among the standout areas for the MCWG for 2016. Over the course of the year, 14 local partners belonging to the MCWG network achieved Smart Certification, including BRAC Bangladesh, the first microfinance provider in the country and the largest in the world to reach the consumer protection milestone. In total, 21.9 million clients are served by 39 MCWG network Smart Certified institutions.

The MCWG is comprised of the leaders of 10 global microfinance organizations: Accion; Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance; BRAC; CARE; FINCA; Grameen Foundation; Opportunity International; Pro Mujer; VisionFund International; and Women’s World Banking. The newest member, added in 2016, is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and its General Manager Jesse Fripp. The MCWG also harnesses the expertise of more than 40 senior staffers across the member organizations, who meet regularly across seven Peer Groups focused on specific areas of microfinance, from digital financial services, to social performance, to communications, taxation, and others. Members and local partners work with more than 89 million clients in 87 countries, providing them with financial services as well as other support to help them succeed and lift their families out of poverty.

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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Director, the Smart Campaign

The merits and pitfalls of mobile credit continue to be debated hotly in financial inclusion circles. Mobile products are making credit more accessible through branchless banking and alternative underwriting and business models. But experimenting with new ways of lending when your borrowers include those at the base of the pyramid brings steep risks and some models can be downright reckless. Which side of the fence are you on?

The Smart Campaign is seeking to assist the sector to develop a consensus about responsible online credit practice, and the good news is that these questions have recently become top-of-mind for a range of stakeholders. Quona’s Johan Bosini and Positive Planet’s Bezant Chongo gamely volunteered for an Oxford-style debate on whether mobile credit is good for its clients at the 4th Annual Mondato Summit in Johannesburg back in May.

The convenience and ease-of-access of mobile credit products are immensely beneficial to the unbanked, according to Bosini, speaking for the pro side. When juxtaposed to traditional lending products that take, for instance, in Benin, an average of almost 5 weeks to access (involving multiple trips), mobile credit seems supersonic, he emphasized. Using alternative data and analytics, mobile credit unlocks access for individuals without credit history. The reality for the poor, as elucidated by the Financial Diaries and other research, is that incomes fluctuate widely. Now with mobile credit, a person in a pinch can help smooth the inevitable bumps in income with a few clicks on the phone.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath and Dennis Ferenzy, Analyst at CFI and Associate Economist at IIF

Contrary to popular rhetoric, banks do not view fintechs primarily as competitors. Increasingly, they seek them as partners. This is the message of How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlinesa new joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The report, launched today, finds that banks, insurers and payment companies don’t see fintechs as “little more than pinpricks for a banking mastodon with trillions in assets,” as The Economist colorfully described the fintech-bank relationship in 2015. The relationships between these players are more symbiotic than combative, because fintechs and mainstream financial institutions bring different strengths. With partnerships, fintechs get to scale their technology and access capital, while financial institutions gain assistance to improve product offerings, increase efficiency, and lower costs.

As it turns out, these are all goals with special relevance to low-income customers who look for products and services that are more convenient, less expensive, and higher quality. That makes financial institution-fintech partnerships a crucial strategy for meeting the financial needs of the unbanked and underbanked around the world. During our in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants, both mainstream financial institutions and fintechs, CFI and IIF identified dozens of effective bank-fintech partnerships working at the base of the pyramid in emerging markets. The report highlights 14 of them.
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> Posted by Chris Wolff

At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

Outside the Tosh Hovli Stone Palace of Khiva, an Uzbek lady practices her craft, knitting.

At the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), we spend a lot of time thinking of ways economically marginalized people can gain access to the capital they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Through our work, we’ve repeatedly seen that, while talent is universal, opportunity is not. Large swathes of the population across the developing world have limited access to the formal financial system and are stuck managing money in ways that are often inconvenient, inefficient, and sometimes even involve humiliation and abuse.

Focusing on places where economically vulnerable people are at risk, however instructive, risks obscuring the fact that great divides exist across gender in many diverse geographies. In developed countries as in the developing nations, women lag behind men in indicators that measure entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. Their societies are poorer for it. In the U.K., women-led businesses are far less likely to secure financing; 91 percent of investment was directed to companies without even one female founder. In the U.S., women make up half the labor force but own just a third of all companies.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

It may have been the worst-timed joke ever.

At an Uber all-hands meeting for the company’s 12,000 staff to announce how the board planned to address the findings of an investigation that confirmed Uber’s toxic workplace culture and serious instances of sexual harassment, Arianna Huffington, the lone woman on the board, noted that a second woman would be added to the board as one part of the response. “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” said Huffington. That’s when investor David Bonderman, another member of Uber’s board, blurted, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” He claimed to be trying to lighten the mood, but in the firestorm of criticism that followed his ill-considered remark, he quickly resigned from the board.

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