> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

What are the biggest unanswered questions in financial inclusion? This isn’t rhetorical—we want your opinion.

In preparation for selecting three CFI Fellows for 2016-2017, we are developing a short list of questions whose answers would drive financial inclusion forward.

Our Research Fellows Program is an initiative intended to tackle the biggest questions in financial inclusion—in order for the industry to take action in new areas and in new ways. The current cohort of fellows is finalizing research ranging from big data to small enterprises to technology infrastructure to G2P payments.

The questions we put forward for this next cohort will only be relevant if they are essential to the financial inclusion community. So we’re coming to you (yes, you!) for your input.

To get the conversation started, here are some of the questions on our working list. Let us know below in the comments which you think are compelling, and please take the liberty of adding your own.

  • What does effective human touch look like in our digital age?

Today, financial services are rapidly going digital to lower their costs and serve more people. But customers still may desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products, and is it working?

  • What is the business case for financial capability?

Proponents of financial capability report that institutions want to know about the business case before they pursue financial capability building initiatives. Our hunch is that financially capable customers are more loyal and frequent users of products, but we have not seen much concrete evidence to support or refute this.

  • Solving the challenges of agent network management

There is no “right” way to manage agent networks, but how such networks are managed has an impact on the relationship with the client, where the risk is held, and the cost of the network to the institution (among other considerations). We frequently hear about the headaches of agent management, from liquidity problems, to high turnover to uneven service quality. What can we learn about how to solve these problems?

  • Are fintech startups really disrupting the financial sector?

There is a lot of (justified) enthusiasm about fintech investments to further financial inclusion. Accion and other institutions are betting on fintech—quite literally. But are fintech companies actually changing the system? Are they on a path to do so? What is the evidence and what can we learn from the experience so far?

  • What are the challenges to increasing regulatory or supervisory capacity to oversee financial inclusion?

Our analysis of recent draft Basel Committee guidance suggests that overseeing financial inclusion requires regulators and supervisors to develop a host of new activities and skills. What investments are needed to increase supervisory capacity to meet the changing needs, and who can make them?

  • What are the financial needs of refugees and how well are they being met?

Refugees face unique challenges in their financial lives, as they leave behind their livelihoods, their portfolio of financial services, and their credit histories. In addition, many refugees are on the move and cannot connect physically with an institution. Nevertheless, being a refugee comes with a host of financial needs. What are those needs and how are financial institutions meeting them?

  • Can personal financial data be made portable?

If customers could take their financial behavior data and give it to a financial institution, they may be eligible for higher credit limits, lower interest rates, and better premiums. What needs to happen to make data portable? Is this a good idea? How are existing efforts working out so far?

  • What is the landscape of digital financial services for people with disabilities. Are innovations moving to scale?

Digital financial services can support the financial inclusion of people with disabilities. But have such innovations gone mainstream? We suspect that those who are successful at leveraging innovations for people with disabilities have done so by most comprehensively understanding both the use case and the business case, but we would like to see evidence from the institutions themselves.

  • How does financial inclusion relate to the Sustainable Development Goals?

The new Sustainable Development Goals offer guidance for countries looking to pursue economic development in a way that benefits everyone. How does financial inclusion translate into success in meeting these goals? What strategies are most important for governments to pursue?

  • What are the elements of a great user experience and who is providing it?

Some of the biggest financial technology investors are betting that an excellent user experience will drive customer uptake and use of services. What does excellent user experience look like? Can it be available for BoP customers? Does it matter to financial services access and use?

  • Using technology to equip frontline staff.

As financial services providers adopt technology to streamline their operations, they must rethink the role of frontline staff. Digital field applications are one strategy. What creative concepts are being developed to empower staff with technology that both provides value to clients and makes operations more efficient?

  • Does prioritizing consumer protection benefit providers and customers?

It has been five years since the Smart Campaign launched its certification program—enough time to assess whether and how certification makes a difference in a financial institution. Do certified institutions treat their customers better? Do they perform better on financial and/or social dimensions? How has certification affected institutions internally? We hear from institutions that being a certified institution is good business, but can we verify that claim?

  • What does responsible online credit look like?

Online credit is a new phenomenon—one that does not fall squarely in regulatory frameworks for the financial system. Given the rise in the use of online credit, the question of consumer protection in this space has become more critical. What are good practices to protect clients using online credit, and what recommendations for standards can be made for the financial services industry?

  • How do financial services providers address human capital challenges?

Particularly at this moment—when the industry is shifting toward digital financial services—financial services providers need staff with a wide range of skills and expertise (often on a shoestring budget). How are financial services providers coping with these human resource challenges, and where are the blind spots?

  • [YOUR QUESTION HERE]

Do any of these get you excited? More importantly, what have we left out? Give us some thoughts in the comments below.

P.S. If you would rather email us than leave your comment below, reach out to Sonja Kelly at skelly@accion.org.

Image credit: Accion

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