> Posted by Nikhil Gehani, Marketing and Communications Manager, MIX

The importance of data in strategic decision-making cannot be overstated – especially in the era of ‘big data’. Yet, as the inclusive finance community continues its efforts to shift more people from unbanked to banked, improving both data quality and data regularity remains a pressing issue. While there certainly has been progress in data and measurement overall, a more nuanced picture is needed to identify specific opportunities for industry players to increase the reach and quality of financial services for underserved populations.

Current data platforms, including the World Bank’s Global Findex and the IMF’s Financial Access Survey, are beginning to fill the gaps in national measures of financial inclusion. Now, the next iteration of financial inclusion data is needed to enable local industry actors – policymakers, regulators, and operators – to assess the gaps and opportunities at the state, district, and township-level. With that in mind, MIX’s FINclusion Lab recently sought out high-quality, subnational data to answer key questions related to supply and demand for financial services in underserved areas. Questions like: How does geographic proximity impact usage of financial services? And: How effective are non-traditional providers in increasing access to financial services in rural areas?

The 2015 State of the Data report, published by MIX’s FINclusion Lab with the support of The MasterCard Foundation, takes stock of which data points are available for measuring financial inclusion at a subnational level while highlighting gaps in data quality, regularity, and granularity in 20 different countries. Through the FINclusion Lab platform, users can visualize multiple data sets at once to better understand the key challenges and opportunities for expanding financial inclusion. Geo-spatial functionality maps out nearly 700,000 financial service access points including bank branches, mobile money agents, post offices, and pawnshops. The data also includes more than 13,000 microfinance service points and 180,000 ATMs across three continents. Even with this breadth of information, there are still gaps in financial inclusion data that need to be addressed. For example, while financial service usage is a key measure of inclusion, this kind of information is very limited. The data and report highlight an opportunity to support local stakeholders in building data collection systems that can benefit the inclusive finance community at large.

By assessing the state of financial inclusion data, MIX hopes to encourage policymakers, regulators, and financial service providers to improve data availability. An increased commitment to compiling and sharing data will allow industry actors to better identify potential obstacles, uncover new delivery channels, and more effectively target investments – all to the benefit of the unbanked.

Image credit: Accion

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