> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

We are looking for four research fellows to explore some of the most relevant and exciting questions facing the financial inclusion community. Interested?

Before answering, some background. A few months ago we articulated some ambitious unanswered questions that we think will propel financial inclusion forward, and offered the space for you to contribute questions, too (many thanks to those of you who made suggestions!). Since the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is committed to figuring out what is working in financial inclusion and worth replicating, we have made it a priority to partner this year with researchers to explore some of these questions in greater detail.

And that’s where you come in.

We are looking for researchers who are interested in becoming fellows for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s brand new Fellows Program. The Fellows Program will empower independent researchers to systematically analyze some of the most important and critical challenges facing the industry. This year, we are selecting four fellows to explore the following topics:

  • What are the conditions for “on-ramps” to lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access and the Better Than Cash Alliance’s pursuit of G2P payments, both of which focus on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to greater inclusion, through either active account usage or access to additional products. What cases demonstrate successful on-ramps and what factors or strategies enabled deeper inclusion to take place? Research could examine one or several examples.

  • Impact of ubiquitous Internet access on the business models for financial inclusion. By 2020, the vast majority of the world’s people will have access to Internet through smart phones and tablets. Internet access could transform the way financial service providers and customers interact. For example, SMS could be displaced as the main mobile money channel by apps that connect directly to customers, altering the respective roles of mobile network operators and financial institutions. App-based services could also facilitate a richer interface with customers, involving local languages, scripts and pictures, among other features. What scenarios are possible or likely? What can be learned from offerings to date?
  • Clients that grow from microenterprise to small business. An increasing number of longer term clients in the portfolios of Accion partner microfinance institutions (MFIs) began working with their MFIs as microenterprises and have since grown into small businesses with higher turnover and more employees. This phenomenon merits closer examination in order to identify the factors that have supported such growth and the financial service needs of these enterprises when they reach larger scale. Research questions might include: prevalence of such clients; their characteristics; growth path and history as clients; and/or current sources and uses of financial services. Research could draw from administrative data provided by the MFI, surveys or interviews with clients, or a combination.
  • Cost savings from technology in microfinance delivery. Accion partner MFIs have taken various initiatives to incorporate technology into their operations with a view to reducing costs. These steps include use of data analytics to streamline the credit underwriting process, digital field applications to boost the productivity of front line staff or agents, and transaction automation such as mobile payments to reduce the cost of handling transactions. Research on this question could either focus on one type of technology use and assess its results across several institutions or, if a suitable methodology were available, it could look at results across technology types.

Fellowships will last from 4-12 months (depending on the timeline articulated in the research proposal), and fellows will have access to the resources of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. In some cases fellows will be able to leverage data generated from Accion institutions or investments. In addition to these benefits, research the fellows undertake will be actively disseminated through Accion’s network, and even more broadly.

We would like to invite you to propose a research project under this program, or, if the opportunity isn’t right for you, to share the announcement with your network. We are accepting proposals until 11:59 pm August 11, 2015 EST. The most competitive proposals will be ones that clearly and specifically articulate a feasible research methodology, budget, and timeline. Applicants most suited to the program will be ones who clearly understand the relevance of their research for financial inclusion, and who can demonstrate previous experience with the methodology and/or research topic.

For more details, see the full announcement here or contact Sonja E. Kelly at skelly@accion.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

Have you read?

FinTech for FI2020: A Conversation on Aligning Technology and Partnerships for Financial Inclusion

New Research Highlights Increasing Use of Alternative Data in Credit Reporting

Remittances as an On-Ramp to Financial Inclusion: Let’s Deliver on the Promise!