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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects mini campaign. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

Digital credit is growing fast in developing markets, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lenders such as M-Shwari, Jumo, M-Pawa, Eazzy Loan, Branch, EcoCashLoan, Timiza, KCG M-Pesa and others are attracting interest and investment. They are seen as having the potential to improve financial access and to make banking with poor clients more feasible and sustainable through technology that reduces underwriting and infrastructure costs. They offer small or nano loans starting as low as $5 or $10 dollars, make use of simple mobile user interfaces, and provide funds in real-time.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

When my son Gordon went to the senior prom in his rented tuxedo, he and his girlfriend were a gorgeous sight (see photo). Next day, he was supposed to return the tuxedo, but he couldn’t find one of the patent leather shoes. On the day after that the rental shop called me to complain that the tuxedo was late. Gordon said he had already returned it. I told the shop there must be some mistake. This went on for several days, Gordon insisting he had returned the tux, while I defended him to an increasingly irate tux shop. After a week, I went looking and found the tux stuffed into the bottom of a backpack, along with the shoe.

I came down pretty hard on Gordon for that. Why would an intelligent young man lie repeatedly to his parents over a simple problem that was not going to disappear? Why didn’t he admit the problem on day one instead of digging himself into a deep hole? Why didn’t he take the obvious action of searching for the tux? He paid a big late fee, but the damage to our trust in him was far worse.

I’m telling this story because it reminds me of the executives at Wells Fargo Bank. The CFPB has just come down pretty hard on the bank for opening unauthorized bank and credit card accounts for 2 million customers in a practice involving over 5,000 members of its staff. As a result, the bank is now suffering a $185 million fine, the firing of thousands of staff, and, in all likelihood, a major loss of customer trust.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects mini campaign. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

Do you have a credit card you don’t know about? Last week, we learned that over 5,000 employees across Wells Fargo, the United States’ biggest home lender and one of the nation’s largest banks, had opened at least two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts in clients’ names. In an effort to meet high sales targets and earn bonuses, bank employees transferred funds from customers’ existing authorized accounts to unapproved accounts in customers’ names. Clients had not consented and were mostly unaware of this, despite incurring late fees and other charges on these new unapproved accounts. The widespread practice had somehow gone undetected for 5 years.

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> Posted by Vitas Argimon, Credit Suisse Global Citizen Volunteer

This post is part of a multi-post series focused on partnerships between commercial banks and financial technology startups.

(click to enlarge)

Today’s financial sector narrative pits the new guy against the old guy. In the case of financial services, this narrative, as it is often portrayed, places commercial banks, the legacy providers, in direct competition with startups, with both parties vying for customers in a game defined by technological advances. While this narrative sometimes plays out in real life, it leaves out the complex ecosystem of interaction between the old and the new. In fact, when it comes to reaching new customer segments, old players are increasingly turning to startups.

In The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, CFI and the Institute of International Finance reveal that commercial banks are partnering with fintech startups in their efforts to reach the unbanked and underbanked. As challenges by tech-enabled competition mount, banks are seeking to link-up with startups as they see opportunities to reach new markets, bring down costs, and/or enhance their service offerings. Startups offer agility, a proclivity for risk-taking, and a disruptive mindset. On the other hand, banks already have the customer scale, comprehensive product portfolio, robust infrastructure, deposit insurance, branding, and experience/expertise. (See a full list of the relative strengths of banks and startups at right.) The combination of these strengths can be especially enabling when seeking out previously unreached population segments because the business models for serving those segments often depend on technologies that bring down costs. Startups can offer banks the tools they need to serve lower-income customers that would be difficult to serve within the confines of their traditional banking models. At the same time, many startups need access to customers and financial resources that banks can provide.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

It is hard to imagine who would scam an older adult over their hard-earned savings. But the reality is that as many as 17 percent of Americans aged 65 or older report that they have been the victim of financial exploitation. What’s more, only one in 44 of these cases are ever brought to the attention of protective services. In total, billions of dollars are lost each year due to the financial abuse of older Americans. Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) adopted a novel approach to combatting this trend, intervening with financial education … over a meal.

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> Posted by a Nairobi-Based Consultant

Kenya and Nigeria are often heralded as two of the most dynamic economies in Africa. They could soon have something else in common: interest rate caps.

Banks in Kenya have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to dismiss a new bill which caps loan interest rates and provides for sanctions (fines and prison) directly to the CEOs of banks that fail to do so. This is not the first time such a proposal has come forward; the last one having come at a time the incumbent president was Minister for Finance. Should the President sign off on the bill it will become law, and lending rates will be capped at 400 basis points above the Central Bank discount rate which now stands at 10.5 percent.

Understandably, the prospect of such limits has caused anxiety amongst lenders. Through the Kenya Bankers Association, Kenya’s bankers immediately lodged appeals to the government arguing that capping interest rates is counterproductive and against the free market economy premises Kenya enjoys. We are yet to see how the financial markets react.

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> Posted by Kathleen Yaworsky, Lead Specialist, Channels & Technology, Accion, and Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director, the Smart Campaign

Hi, I’d like to send money to my mother in Bihar. Can you help me?

Sure, I’ll help you do that here. Here’s what you’ll need…

A similar scene unfolded across 80 small merchant agent locations (business correspondents or customer service points, as they’re called in India) as the Smart Campaign conducted mystery shopping research to uncover and understand the client protection risks in the provision of financial services at agent network outlets.

Agent networks play a critical role in increasing financial access by helping financial service providers broaden their reach beyond branches, but in order for an agent network to succeed, the client must trust the agent and be able to perform transactions with confidence. The current rapid growth in agent networks is driven by a push to build out the infrastructure and increase access points. Future growth will require quality from the services delivered through that infrastructure. That’s why it is critical to identify and address potential risks early on.

Complicating the identification and mitigation of client protection risks are several common characteristics of agent banking, including limited agent control over product design and pricing, and the part-time nature and lack of employee status of agents.

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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

La Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), the common central bank of eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) has prioritized financial inclusion in the region. A recently announced financial inclusion strategy led by BCEAO in partnership with the several national Ministries of Finance aims to include 70 percent of the adult population by the year 2020. Financial access rates range from 7 to 34 percent across the region, according to the Global Findex.

BCEAO is expanding its financial inclusion efforts, including in mobile and e-money, and financial inclusion is slowly progressing in the region, but the opportunities and challenges of the member countries vary significantly, and serious client protection issues remain, particularly among unregulated institutions and in countries with weak national supervision and enforcement. A recent IMF spotlight on Senegal calls for steps to strengthen the sector’s governance through technical assistance to improve supervisory capacities and training to improve reporting standards and practices.

Weak supervision can lead to problems like those the Smart Campaign uncovered during its Client Voice research in Benin, where illegal microfinance institutions collected and disappeared with clients’ savings.

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

#Allinforimpact was the hashtag at “Investing for Impact”, a socially responsible investing (SRI) conference in Boston. Maybe not “all” quite yet but certainly “more” investors are going in for impact, as indicated by the growth in attendance at the conference over the years. Investing for Impact was sponsored by socially responsible investors, such as Calvert Investment and Trillium Asset Management, who not only screen potential investee companies in terms of meeting certain environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria – but also serve as watchdogs for the sector and advocates for impactful companies.

A Few Top SRI Trends (from the conference)

Allowing Sinners to Repent: Some companies with bad names in the 1970’s such as General Electric and Ford have changed enough internally to now qualify within some investors’ ESG criteria. As one speaker put it, “What kind of church would we be if we didn’t allow sinners to repent?”

Shades of Grey: Tobacco, firearms, and carbon were across the board clear divestments. But the jury was still out on some companies and business models. For instance, Nestlé, which in the 1970’s came under fire for promoting baby formula in developing countries, has since done a lot to accelerate research on diabetes. Peapod, and other grocery delivery services, are making a pitch to be included as impact investments because the energy saved by not storing food, and the associated reduction in food waste, are positive externalities to consider.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Commercial banks that are pursuing financial inclusion strategies are increasingly focused on designing a positive customer experience when targeting underbanked customers in emerging markets. CFI’s most recent publication, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, a joint publication with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), illustrates how this aspect of bank activities has emerged.

Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report examines the challenges and opportunities banks face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. It shines a spotlight on banks as leaders in advancing financial inclusion and discusses specific strategies related to technology, data, partnerships, financial capability, and other key issues.

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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.