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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Director, the Smart Campaign

The merits and pitfalls of mobile credit continue to be debated hotly in financial inclusion circles. Mobile products are making credit more accessible through branchless banking and alternative underwriting and business models. But experimenting with new ways of lending when your borrowers include those at the base of the pyramid brings steep risks and some models can be downright reckless. Which side of the fence are you on?

The Smart Campaign is seeking to assist the sector to develop a consensus about responsible online credit practice, and the good news is that these questions have recently become top-of-mind for a range of stakeholders. Quona’s Johan Bosini and Positive Planet’s Bezant Chongo gamely volunteered for an Oxford-style debate on whether mobile credit is good for its clients at the 4th Annual Mondato Summit in Johannesburg back in May.

The convenience and ease-of-access of mobile credit products are immensely beneficial to the unbanked, according to Bosini, speaking for the pro side. When juxtaposed to traditional lending products that take, for instance, in Benin, an average of almost 5 weeks to access (involving multiple trips), mobile credit seems supersonic, he emphasized. Using alternative data and analytics, mobile credit unlocks access for individuals without credit history. The reality for the poor, as elucidated by the Financial Diaries and other research, is that incomes fluctuate widely. Now with mobile credit, a person in a pinch can help smooth the inevitable bumps in income with a few clicks on the phone.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath and Dennis Ferenzy, Analyst at CFI and Associate Economist at IIF

Contrary to popular rhetoric, banks do not view fintechs primarily as competitors. Increasingly, they seek them as partners. This is the message of How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlinesa new joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The report, launched today, finds that banks, insurers and payment companies don’t see fintechs as “little more than pinpricks for a banking mastodon with trillions in assets,” as The Economist colorfully described the fintech-bank relationship in 2015. The relationships between these players are more symbiotic than combative, because fintechs and mainstream financial institutions bring different strengths. With partnerships, fintechs get to scale their technology and access capital, while financial institutions gain assistance to improve product offerings, increase efficiency, and lower costs.

As it turns out, these are all goals with special relevance to low-income customers who look for products and services that are more convenient, less expensive, and higher quality. That makes financial institution-fintech partnerships a crucial strategy for meeting the financial needs of the unbanked and underbanked around the world. During our in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants, both mainstream financial institutions and fintechs, CFI and IIF identified dozens of effective bank-fintech partnerships working at the base of the pyramid in emerging markets. The report highlights 14 of them.
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> Posted by Chris Wolff

At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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> Posted by Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President, and Christian Loupeda, Senior Director Financial Inclusion, Grameen Foundation  

This is the second post in a three-part series that explores the role of digital financial services in expanding women’s control over their financial lives. You can read the first post here.

For poor, rural communities “field force” workers such as mobile money agents or government agricultural extension officers can be lifelines to services and information that bring rural residents greater control over their financial lives and help them increase their incomes and gain a connection to the larger world. But, for women, rather than a bridge, field force workers too often end up being one more hurdle on the way to access resources.

Across the developing world, almost all agricultural extension services lack female participation. Women, on average, comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers. Yet only 15 percent of the world’s agriculture extension agents are women, and only 5 percent of women farmers benefit from extension services–despite the fact that women play a significant role in farming activities from production all the way to commercialization. Similarly, for mobile money agents, GSMA reports that among its members that report on gender, only 23 percent of agents and 37 percent of customers are female.

As Lisa Kienzle mentioned in her post in this series on digital financial services for women, Grameen Foundation has found that a woman often benefits from being able to work with a trusted agent who can directly help her understand and use the services available. That’s why we have helped to develop women as banking agents in the Philippines. We created an independent network of female financial agents who work out of their neighborhood sari-sari (variety) shops. The all-female network now includes 862 trained agents, who bring digital financial services to more than 66,000 low-income clients. Recruiting female agents benefits the end clients, but also the female entreprenuers who become agents who typically see an increase in their own income of at least 20-to-30 percent.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Where were you in 2006? I was living with friends in a “beach house” in San Diego. Since then, I lived in China, went to grad school, shifted careers, married, and had two kids. So much has changed in my life over the past decade. The same cannot be said on the topic of valuing socially-focused financial institutions.

In 2006, Clay O’Brien wrote the first-of-its-kind paper on “Valuing Microfinance Institutions.” This paper surveyed members of the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) – which was then called the Council of Microfinance Equity Funds (CMEF) – and concluded that:

  • There was not enough transparency in terms of methodologies and benchmark data;
  • There was a need for a more robust, standardized valuation methodology; and
  • The social value of double-bottom line investments was not accounted for – or was accounted for negatively – in the valuation.

FIEC recently revisited the topic of valuing double-bottom line investments with its valuation working group to better understand how the topic has evolved over the past decade. What was found? Despite changes in the broader industry (new players, adjacent sector investments, etc.), very little has changed in terms of valuing financial inclusion investments. Our findings are compiled in a brief paper, Valuing Microfinance Institutions: Where Are We Now.

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> Posted by Saborni Poddar and Brett Hudson Matthews, Associate at MicroSave and Executive Director at My Oral Village

The financial inclusion industry often asks the question of how can we best configure mobile money products and services to support increased adoption and usage. But how about when prospective users are illiterate and innumerate (unable to decode large written numbers), as is the case for many unbanked individuals at the base of the pyramid?

In search of insights into designing mobile wallets for such illiterate and innumerate (oral) populations, we traveled through the Indian states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, interacting with potential users. As our conversations got underway, and we began to understand the implications of designing a mobile wallet that an oral individual can use with ease, we could visualize why a conventional mobile wallet design would not be as clear to a daily-wage unskilled laborer as it is to the readers of this blog.

To start with, almost everyone we talked to had a feature phone, but most used it only for voice calls and were unfamiliar with basic syntax and navigation rules. Most could not use an address book; each time they make a call, they dial numbers from scratch. This gave us a first-hand glimpse into the potential intimidation caused by technology.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

WeBank started piloting facial recognition for KYC (“know your customer”—verifying that a customer is who they say they are) last year—we heard about it when we talked with Jared Shu, a partner with McKinsey, as part of our deep dive about the different ways banks pursue financial inclusion. At that point, the technology was mere possibility, with some question about whether the regulator would allow it. Now, it seems, facial recognition is indeed serving as a form of identity in China. With the help of technology, customers can quite literally authorize a transaction using their face.

Alipay, a mobile payment app launched by Alibaba in 2004 and used by 120 million people in China, is partnering with Face++ (pronounced “face plus plus”) to allow people to use their face as a credential to make payments. The technology is a natural extension of using a fingerprint to verify a person’s identity, and it is far more secure than just comparing a signature on the back of a credit card to a signature on a receipt.

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> Posted by Shreya Chatterjee, Senior Research Associate and Misha Sharma, Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

Group of people waiting to make their transactions at Padma’s house

It was almost three in the afternoon when we arrived at Padma’s house in the sleepy village of Katpadi in Tamil Nadu. In a state where 55 percent of women in rural areas don’t participate in the labor force, Padma is the only business correspondent (BC) in her village, working for the sole bank in the area. In 2006, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) passed guidelines that allowed banks to employ third party agents, using decentralized technology to provide banking services in rural and remote areas.

Padma works 12 hours a day, providing localized basic banking services to her immediate community. As a business correspondent, she helps customers open bank accounts, deposit and withdraw cash often linked to government schemes, link Aadhaar IDs with banking accounts, and even pay utility bills.

As part of our CFI Fellowship study on effective human touch in India’s digital age, we made a visit to Padma’s village to understand her work process as a business correspondent, the challenges she faces in her work, and how she perceives her customers’ readiness to move from cash based to digital financial services channels. There are pockets in India of staggering innovation and adoption of digital financial services. But they aren’t widespread, and the optimal mix of human touch versus digitized customer experiences remains elusive. Our CFI Fellowship project aims to better understand the barriers impeding digital financial services and how human touch can help to overcome these obstacles and improve client outcomes more broadly.

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> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow and Independent Consultant

Building the right channels to serve the financially excluded is one of the most important (and daunting) challenges facing senior executives, boards and investors in the financial inclusion space. They are not alone. As digital technology disrupts a wide swath of industries, leading global consulting firms have engaged in research to understand how best to help companies configure and prioritize digital and human-based customer engagement channels. While affirming the importance of digital innovations and ongoing investment therein, Accenture also sees a need for curbed enthusiasm. “Customers aren’t as predictable as we like to think,” cautions a recent Accenture Strategy paper. “Profitability resides in the digital / physical blur.” Verint also commissioned research in twelve countries that found customers want “a human element” to remain part of customer service and that “those who receive more ‘human’ or traditional customer service display more positive behaviors toward brands.”

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CFI Fellow Patrick Traynor, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida, explains his research on the privacy and security of data in mobile lending applications.

We have all seen privacy policies before: sign up for a credit card and you receive a pamphlet with tiny print detailing your bank’s particular policy. Create an account at an online service and you will get a link to something similar from it, too.  These policies are supposed to provide consumers with detailed information about which pieces of their data will be stored, how they might be used, with whom they can be shared, and how they will be protected. Privacy policies are now mandatory for financial institutions in developed nations, and here in the United States we are provided protection by laws such as the “Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act” (also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999).

Unfortunately, the reality of such policies is often not so clear. Many of these policies are written by attorneys with the sole intention of being consumed later on by other attorneys. That means that, in some cases, even highly educated individuals without a degree in law may not be able to fully understand what they are reading. What chance does the common consumer have to understand such policies?

You would think that consumers would be up in arms. But, let’s be honest – most people have never actually read these privacy policies, yet alone tried to understand them. Have you?

So then why is it important to examine the state of privacy policies?

Let me offer first an insight into the role of studies like ours and then some comments on why privacy policies for digital credit matter.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.