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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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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Financial Inclusion Consultant

If I ask you to picture an American who is financially vulnerable, what do you see? Do you see someone living from paycheck to paycheck? Someone who patronizes a payday lender or car title lender? Perhaps a family struggling to decide which bill to pay at the end of each month? Someone with a high school degree working a few part-time, low-wage jobs? And how many people do you think fit into this category in the U.S.? Twenty percent? Thirty percent?

What if I were to tell you that in fact nearly half of Americans report that they could not come up with $400 in an emergency? That’s about 150 million people – a number so large you’re bound to know at least one person in this group. Financial insecurity or vulnerability isn’t just a concept discussed among development professionals looking to support a microfinance institution in Kenya or India; in the U.S., it’s a reality for millions of our neighbors and friends. Those living in perilous economic existences are not just the people we imagined above. The financially vulnerable are hiding in plain sight.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

A recent Facebook promotion by a U.K. coffee shop offered,  “Like us on Facebook and get a free coffee!” This line would totally get me. Wait… all I have to do is click one little button, and I can save $2? Sign me up!

A free cup of coffee, however, was not the only thing that customers received when they liked the coffee shop’s Facebook page. They also got a very “personalized” experience, complete with the barista at the coffee shop rattling off their job, religion, birthdate, address, mother’s maiden name, and more.

Check out the video that documented the customers’ experiences here:

(My favorite part is when the barista says to the customer, “Oh, we know everything about you, Martin.”)

As part of the CFI Fellows Program one of our fellows, AJ Mowl, has been looking at some of the pros and cons of leveraging consumer data for financial inclusion. As she has relayed to me some of the basic facts about big data, I have become more and more aware of just how big big data is—and what the consequences are when I trade access to my data for services.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Last week the President of Mexico launched the country’s long-delayed National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The comprehensive plan engages the spheres of private banking, social welfare, public education, telecommunications, and more to extend quality financial services to the 56 percent of adults in the country who remain without a formal bank account. Although the plan was nearly full-formed three years ago and has since sat on the proverbial shelf, the enactment of the strategy represents a reaffirmed commitment to financial inclusion across the Mexican Government, including the Office of the President, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Public Education.

The national strategy is structured as a six-pillared plan. The Ministry of Public Education (Secretaria de Educacion Publica) will promote financial education starting with children and youth by incorporating related content into the curriculum of public education. Financial education will also be embedded in government programs like Prospera, Credito Joven, and Mujeres PYME. Prospera is Mexico’s conditional cash transfer program, which has 6.5 million beneficiaries. Credito Joven is a youth inclusion program introduced in February 2015 that aims to empower young people, in part by providing credit to those with no credit histories. Mujeres PYME offers finance and business development support to small businesses led by women.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

When most microfinance clients start out they’re first-timers at a formal financial institution. Like anything unfamiliar, a first foray with banks can be intimidating. You don’t want to be duped or make a mistake and lose precious savings. Peace of mind was granted to clients of two microfinance institutions, one in Paraguay and the other in the Dominican Republic recently as the first Smart Certifications in those countries were awarded. Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM were certified as meeting all the standards needed to treat their clients with adequate care. This certification demonstrates to prospective clients as well as investors and other industry stakeholders that their institutions are operating responsibly.

Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM are both market leaders in their own right. Banco ADOPEM is one of the largest microfinance institutions in the Dominican Republic. According to the MIX, 351,000 depositors in the Dominican Republic bank with Banco ADOPEM. When Banco ADOPEM pursues and achieves Smart Certification, that sends a message to MFIs and other stakeholders in the country that client protection is a key priority. In 2014 ADOPEM was named “Most Innovative Microfinance Institution of the Year” by Citi, in part because of ATA-Movil, a portable electronic application that allows credit advisers to assess customers in their businesses or in their homes. The mobile information system also allows for convenient and direct communication with clients.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

This morning I had the luxury of splitting an Uber with my girlfriend for our to-work transportation. Neither she nor I are affluent by United States standards, but I would say we’re relatively financially healthy. Most months, our expenses like rent, food, medical bills, and student loans are low enough compared to our incomes that we have money left over for things like Uber rides, dinners out, and the occasional vacation. We have formal financial products and understand them well. Financial health for us means the combination of our financial flows and our financial products positions us for financial stability in the immediate and long-term, even as we grow older and our financial demands dramatically change.

Building financial health, for me, requires attention to my day-to-day financial activities that help build my resilience and allow me to take advantage of opportunities. It’s having savings quietly accumulating for a rainy day or for that bicycle purchase. It’s having access to loans that help if I want to go back to school, buy a house, or start a business. It’s the ability to pay up when an emergency visit to the hospital is necessary, and it’s the confidence that if my house is broken into I can replace my possessions.

My own financial health is very much related to the unique day-to-day financial needs, opportunities, and emergencies that exist in my life. Someone who is unemployed, or older, or supporting a child, or enrolled in school would have a much different assessment of their own health. Similarly, someone in a low or middle income country—where the Center for Financial Inclusion focuses most of its attention—would have different financial needs and therefore different financial health. Despite these differences, however, the thing I’ve noticed is that many of the big financial issues around the world are the same. As part of the Center for Financial Service Innovation’s (CFSI) financial health blog contest, I wanted to offer some observations along these lines.

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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.
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