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Former CFPB staffer endorses consumer protection and we couldn’t agree more.

> Posted by Beth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

Arjan Schutte, a venture capitalist and head of Core Innovation Capital, was recently asked to resign from his advisory role with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – as were all the other members. This prompted Schutte to make the following statement about his belief in the importance of consumer protection regulation:
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Demand for credit in Africa exceeds supply, despite the rise in mobile money. Yet start-ups, growing daily in number, are at risk of accelerating over-indebtedness, by supplying credit to clients without conducting appropriate repayment capacity analysis. Digital lenders need to understand the risks of over-indebtedness from a client perspective, and algorithms need to evolve to take this into account. Regulation also must guide good practice for fintech digital lenders.
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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, Managing Director and Director of Research, CFI

Where are we in achieving a financially inclusive world?

Financial inclusion momentum has slowed in the past three years, the 2017 Global Findex revealed. The financial inclusion community may wish to reflect on these results, recalibrate expectations, and then re-engage.

In a new report, the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion journeys through the 2017 Global Findex data recently released by the World Bank, which assess progress toward financial inclusion on the basis of a 150-country study conducted by Gallup. We examined the 2017 Findex data from our own perspective, and although we found some good news, there are also some concerning trends.

In recent years, the headline for financial inclusion has been the percentage of adults in the world with accounts (either financial institution or mobile-based). That number has grown since 2014 to 69 percent – good news. But we believe it is more relevant, if less encouraging, to focus on the number of adults with active accounts, that is, accounts they have used at least once in the past year. That number is 55 percent, representing a net gain of 280 million active accounts between 2014 and 2017, a much more modest gain than the nearly 700 million total new accounts added in the previous three years (2011-2014).

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> Posted by Sarah Samuels, Global Operations Manager, the Smart Campaign

This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring the impact of Smart Certification on the financial inclusion industry

When financial service providers approach Smart Certification, they often have a number of questions. Many want to know if certification is worth the investment in terms of their financial bottom line. The answer we’ve heard from Smart Certified institutions is an unequivocal “yes.” As the Smart Campaign celebrates the recent milestone of 100 Smart Certifications, we’d like to explore the value of certification as Smart Certified financial service providers see it.

In partnership with Deutsche Bank, the Smart Campaign recently conducted a survey of certified institutions to understand how they view their experience with Smart Certification. (You can find the full survey findings in the Consumer Protection Resources Kit.) In an affirmation of Smart Certification’s value, 82 percent of institutions surveyed believe the cost of certification (in terms of both the servicing fee and internal staff time) was compensated by the value the institution received in return. This finding aligns with research from the European Microfinance Platform, which determined that consumer protection practices, such as price transparency, respectful collection practices and effective complaint resolution, are linked to higher financial returns and have a positive impact on the provider’s bottom line.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

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Never before have issues of data privacy and security been more top of mind. In the United States this attention was on full display a few weeks ago when every media outlet was glued to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he fielded questions from Congress on how his company handles, and has mishandled, user data.

Europe begins a new era for data protection today as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, following its passage roughly two years ago. The law is being celebrated widely for its robust customer-centricity. The degree to which it succeeds, in Europe and globally, in enforcing a business environment that provides adequate safeguards for consumer data management remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: it has the potential to change the way we all interact with businesses, from internet platforms to banks.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following is part of a blog series spotlighting views from participants in the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF).

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Two experiences with interest rate caps – in Kenya and Zambia – demonstrate the power of political forces to shape financial inclusion policies and may hold lessons for MSME lenders in other countries.

In a recent unpublished study, the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (formerly the Microfinance CEO Working Group) examined commonalities in the origins of interest rate caps in these two countries. In both cases, signs were clear that the general public was upset about the current state of loans and interest rates. Approaching elections increased the will among political leaders to make regulatory changes that would appeal to the public.

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> Posted by Isabelle Barrès, Global Director, the Smart Campaign

This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the impact of Smart Certification on the financial inclusion industry.

The Smart Campaign is thrilled to announce that 100 financial service providers have been Smart Certified, extending fair treatment and respect to more than 42 million low-income financial clients around the world. One hundred Smart Certifications marks a major milestone for the advancement of pro-client practices in the financial inclusion industry. These 100 financial service providers have worked to achieve and demonstrate their commitment to protecting clients from harm and delivering responsible financial services.

The journey to 100 certifications began with the launch of the Smart Campaign in 2008, at a time when microfinance sector leaders recognized the need to ensure that consumers remained front and center to their operations as the sector underwent a period of rapid growth. The Smart Campaign went on to become an umbrella for financial inclusion sector cooperation, through the endorsement of thousands of stakeholders of the Client Protection Principles (CPPs) and accompanying standards. The CPPs offer a common framework for understanding client risks and improving practices, and form the bedrock of the Campaign’s Smart Certification program. The certification program was launched in 2013 as a tool to support and reward financial service providers that offer appropriate products and services and deliver them in a fair and respectful way.

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> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

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Building upon its e-commerce features for businesses, Instagram recently took another step into the digital finance space by rolling out a native (or in-app) payments feature to some of its users. After registering a debit or credit card and creating a security PIN number, users can make payments to a limited number of vendors directly within the Instagram app without being redirected to an external website. Beyond making your impulse buys a much more seamless experience, this native payments functionality can help online retailers and others sell and market their products directly to consumers without needing to build their own website or manage a physical retail location.

Given the intense scrutiny of Facebook’s data protection and privacy policies in recent weeks, it remains to be seen whether large numbers of users and businesses will actually entrust their financial data to Instagram, as, after all, Instagram is owned by Facebook. Instagram’s new payments feature is backed by Facebook’s Terms of Service for payments. However, with the volume of traffic that the platform generates for businesses and the ever-increasing smartphone ownership worldwide, adding this functionality is perhaps an opportunity that’s too good for Instagram to miss. It’s reported that 60 percent of Instagram users learn about new products through the platform, and over 200 million people visit at least one business profile on Instagram daily.

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That question is at the crux of a different kind of emergency savings fund. A “f*ck off fund” is savings you can leverage when you need to break away from your current situation – say, when you need to leave a harmful relationship or a problematic job. The term was coined a few years ago and has become popular, in recognition of its distinctiveness from other types of savings and its importance especially among women.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

Last week, Mick Mulvaney, interim director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said in reference to the CFPB’s consumer complaints database, “I don’t see anything in [the Dodd-Frank Act] that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government. I don’t see anything in here that says that I have to make all of those [complaints] public.”

Mulvaney’s comments refer to the complaints database CFPB has been running for several years, which allows anyone to view, sort, and filter complaints submitted by customers regarding their treatment by their financial service provider. Since the database was created, roughly 1.5 million complaints have been logged. This database has functioned as a tremendous resource for prospective customers who want to check out financial institutions, for analysts of consumer risks in the U.S. financial system, and for financial institutions who want to see how they stack up against others. Its publication may also induce financial service providers to be more vigilant in avoiding bad practices and handling customer complaints well.

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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.