> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

“It’s important to certify the practices of individual financial institutions, but we will not create wholesale, sustainable change until we galvanize the support of all the partners involved in serving low-income people, including regulators and new, technology-based service providers. We must also make a concerted effort to champion the client’s perspective,” said Isabelle Barrès, Director of the Smart Campaign.

In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, client protection is urgently needed and sorely lacking. Predatory providers, abusive practices, weak regulations and inappropriate products can create lasting and sometimes devastating harm. For example, our Client Voices research in Benin found that 13 percent of all the Beninois clients consulted for the project reported experiencing a client protection problem. Among the 16 percent of clients who reported ever having been late with a repayment, nearly one in three experienced problematic treatment.

While the Smart Campaign will continue to be a global effort, this partnership will focus work in five Sub-Saharan African countries: Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. “With more than 45 million people in these five countries using financial services – often for the first time – the imperative to fully and sustainably protect clients is clear. With generous support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign can help ensure more people are offered high quality financial services,” said Isabelle Barrès.

At the same time, digital financial services are sweeping the continent, raising brand new client protection issues. Here on the blog we recently spotlighted the increasing prevalence of digital credit on the continent, namely nano loans, and outlined the related client protection concerns of “pushy” sales and marketing, the growing pains of early-stage algorithms, and the potential for discrimination in big data.

The Smart Campaign’s work aligns directly with The MasterCard Foundation’s focus on responsible, client-centric financial services. In fact this isn’t the first time The MasterCard Foundation and the Smart Campaign have partnered in support of advancing client care in financial services. “Our approach is to build and leverage partnerships across the financial inclusion sector to ensure clients’ needs are met responsibly,” said Ann Miles, Director of Financial Inclusion and Youth Livelihoods at the Foundation. “The Smart Campaign’s ability to reach out directly to clients to build awareness of their rights and understand their feedback is at the very heart of this partnership. The Smart Campaign will carry out activities designed to raise clients’ voices and inform them about their rights and responsibilities as consumers.”

For more about The MasterCard Foundation, click here. And for more about the Smart Campaign, click here.

Image credit: Accion

Editor’s Note: Formerly, we erroneously referred to Opportunity International Cambodia, instead of Opportunity International Colombia. Opportunity International does not operate in Cambodia.

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