> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

I’m thrilled to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 2016-2017 CFI Fellows! Maybe this is your year to consider having a little funding and space to take on a big financial inclusion question that could have a major impact on the industry.

We’re looking for researchers who are willing to undertake ambitious work that will advance financial inclusion. We’ve assembled a set of five questions that we think represent some of the most pressing concerns facing the industry, and we will be funding the most promising proposals that set out a plan for answering these questions. The topics we selected are ones that have been well-vetted. They were sourced from an internal Accion-wide exercise, discussions with the CFI Advisory Council, consultation with our friends across the financial inclusion space, and the solicitation of your comments on our “shortlist” of questions here on the blog (thank you so much for your input!).

The research questions this year cover a range of topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age? Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still 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? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process? Who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others? And how should financial service providers build it into their process?

Are fintech startups leading to systemic change in the financial inclusion 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 systemic changes (positive or negative) have been brought on through fintech start-ups? Are direct-to-consumer fintech solutions more or less effective than fintech solutions helping to digitize larger financial service providers.

What is the business case for financial capability? Proponents of interventions to build customer financial capability report that institutions want to know about the business case before they pursue such initiatives. (See here for CFI’s definition and background work on financial capability.) Our hunch is that financially capable customers are more loyal and frequent users of products, but concrete evidence is still in short supply regarding the efficacy and cost effectiveness of financial capability interventions. Does the business case for capability interventions look different depending on the product (e.g. credit vs. savings vs. insurance)?

How can personal financial data be made portable? If customers could give their financial behavior data to a financial institution, they could be eligible for higher credit limits, lower interest rates, and better premiums. Who owns the data – the end consumers or the company creating it? What rights do end consumers have over that data? What needs to happen to make data portable? Is this a good idea? How are existing efforts working out?

What does responsible online credit look like? As the use of online credit rises, so do risks to consumers in this generally lightly regulated space. What are good practices to protect clients when they use online credit? What recommendations for standards can be made for the financial services industry?

If you enjoy thinking critically about financial inclusion, submit a proposal! If you have a strong track record of producing high quality work and need a little bit of funding for some intellectual independence, submit a proposal! If you are a researcher with a passion for making a difference in financial inclusion globally, submit a proposal! Or if you know someone who fits these criteria, feel free to send along the RFP.

We’re looking specifically for applicants who can demonstrate a thoughtful approach to the topic of their choice, are able to articulate a high quality and feasible research plan, and have prior related experience producing influential analytic work.

If you’re still unclear about whether you should apply, feel free to read on our website about the cohort of fellows who are just finishing up their work now.

See the full request for proposals here.

Looking forward to a great year of research!

Have you read?

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