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> Posted by Rachel Morpeth, Analyst, CFI

People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey.

The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey colored headlines across the nation. Two weeks later, Houston, Texas remains partially submerged. The resulting financial damage will likely exceed that of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana coast in 2005. Harvey is taking Katrina’s title as the most catastrophic storm in America’s history. A Politico headline, however, poignantly suggests another message that perhaps we should all be taking away: “Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like.” Harvey is classified as a “500-year flood,” meaning a flood of this magnitude has a 1-in-500 probability of occurring in any given year. Yet this is Houston’s third 500-year flood in three years. Harvey’s successor, Hurricane Irma, has also caused death and devastation, while heavy flooding in South Asia has resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 people across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

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> Posted by Hannah McCandless, Program Support Associate, Village Enterprise

Through its one-year graduation program, Village Enterprise provides business and savings training, access to savings groups, seed capital, and mentoring to rural East Africans living in extreme poverty. The program combines these grassroots interventions with linkages to financial institutions, increasing the financial capability of the extreme poor. In the second part of this series, Village Enterprise reflects on some of the learning gained through these interventions, focusing on amplifying progress made at the grassroots level through linkages to formal institutions.

The adoption of attitudes, habits, and behaviors needed for healthy financial decision-making is an essential first step in preparing individuals to be consumers of financial services. But just because households regularly save money or understand the risks of microloans does not necessarily mean that they are ready to evaluate and take-up formal financial services on their own. To be effective, financial inclusion interventions for those living in extreme poverty, at the base of the pyramid, need to both foster financial capability and facilitate healthy linkages to financial institutions.

Recognizing this need, Village Enterprise is working to establish linkages between our Business Savings Groups (BSGs, our version of VSLAs) and formal financial institutions. However, as we have learned, linking our BSGs to the right financial institution is easier said than done. We have found that creating healthy linkages is a multi-step process, rather than a one-time event.

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> Posted by Hannah McCandless, Program Support Associate, Village Enterprise

Through its one-year graduation program, Village Enterprise provides business and savings training, access to savings groups, seed capital, and mentoring to rural East Africans living in extreme poverty. In part one of this series, Village Enterprise reflects on some of the learnings gained through these interventions, focusing on facilitating behavior and attitude change to increase financial capability.

In a recent CFI blog post, Robert Stone of Savings at the Frontier reflects that technology can serve as a valuable tool, but not a silver bullet, in the quest to improve well-being through expanding financial capability. As tech-thinker Kentaro Toyama notes, “Even in a world of abundant technology, there is no social change without change in people.” Toyama’s words resonate with Village Enterprise’s approach to financial inclusion for the extreme poor. Stone argues that effective change will occur when interventions that create change in people are connected to systems that amplify the effectiveness of these changes. This is a good description of what Village Enterprise is about.

Village Enterprise’s graduation program instills behavior change in people by providing a package of supports that enable them to move forward: access to savings networks, an asset transfer, skills training, and mentoring. Then, we capitalize on these changes by connecting participants to formal financial services. The combination of these services dramatically increases financial capability–the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed to facilitate healthy financial decision making–in the extreme poor.

Capitalizing on behaviorally informed practices

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> Posted by Pablo Antón Díaz, Research Manager, CFI

Leonardo Tibaquira Morales, Product Manager at Accion, leads a training for workshop participants who work with pensions

Traditional financial education programs have, at best, a minimal impact on the financial capability of recipients. At least that’s what the research tells us. Still, the vast majority of time and energy contributed towards improving financial capability around the world is channeled through traditional methods. I had the opportunity to take a closer look – and contribute to – one country that is energetically trying to improve financial capability: Colombia.

The Colombian government recognizes that the average level of financial literacy and financial capability in the country is low, especially among rural and low income communities (as a joint-study by CAF and others across several South American countries demonstrates) and that the programs implemented thus far have been insufficient to address the issue. But, the country is poised for change.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

UNLEASH Lab 2017 gets underway in Denmark

UNLEASH Lab 2017 gets underway in Denmark

This week and next, three Accion staff—myself, Pablo Antón Díaz, and Kathleen Yaworsky — are working with about a thousand other people to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during UNLEASH Lab 2017. As the website exclaims, “The first UNLEASH event is held when talents from all over the world come to Denmark for nine days to create real, scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals.” Before I left, a friend of mine asked what the goals have to do with my work, since they don’t explicitly include financial inclusion. The answer is quite simply that financial inclusion is an enabler of the SDGs. We encourage and advance financial inclusion so that people’s lives can be better in many of the ways the SDGs address – from education to health care to housing.

UNLEASH Lab 2017 is an audacious experiment that brings together people from 130 countries who work in academia, health, education, economic development, infrastructure development, city planning, and more. The idea is that with adequate brainpower and resources, a group of people like this can move the needle on the SDGs. The events team, with support from Deloitte, Dalberg, and others, and drawing on input from more than 200 “knowledge and talent partners”, has loaded the agenda with inspirational speeches, team-based design workshops, and competitions. At the end of the event, some of the better ideas that emerge will receive funding. And apparently Ashton Kutcher will be there too for a little extra star power.

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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 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 Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

At CFI we often talk about financial health as if it is a crisp, free-standing concept. Moreover, by connecting financial health to financial inclusion we imply – and hope – that we can affect financial health by offering the right kind of financial services and/or developing a person’s financial capabilities. However, while there is truth to this view, it is sometimes easy to overestimate the power of financial services. We need to think about how both financial and economic factors intertwine to create outcomes. If we compartmentalize financial actions, we ignore the very powerful economic factors that influence financial health.

As defined by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – and embraced by us at CFI – three elements must all be present to declare a person, family or microenterprise to be financially healthy:

  • Balanced day-to-day money management – outflows balanced with incomes over time.
  • Protection from shocks – ability to draw down, borrow or call upon resources to lessen the blow when bad things happen.
  • Pursuit of goals – ability to accumulate resources for medium to long-term purposes, whether personal or productive.

In speaking with low income people around the world, we find that many people intuitively define financial health in these terms, and nearly everyone tries to pursue financial health in their own lives. But achieving these three elements is not just a financial task. It requires both economic and financial actions. (It also hinges on personal choices and capabilities, but we will set these aside for now.)

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

If you’re based in the United States, you’ve likely heard about how student loan debt is problematic and has been for years. The growing volume of student debt that has become more and more the norm is so high, its effects can be overwhelming. But how bad is it? Is it just a matter of students needing to hunker down (a little longer) and pay their dues (a little more)?

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Last month CFI invited all of Accion’s staff, both inside and outside the U.S., to complete a questionnaire on their own financial health. Many of you have seen and even taken this survey (see blog post here). The survey is broadly based on the U.S. financial health framework developed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), which we believe is a better fit for Accion employees than the global financial health framework we developed with CFSI for base-of-the-pyramid markets. In this post we report on what we found when “Accionistas” took the survey.

It turns out that Accionistas are a pretty financially healthy bunch. Three quarters of the 122 people who took the survey scored in the good or excellent range. Given that Accion employees have steady employment with fringe benefits (pension savings plan, health insurance), this is not terribly surprising. As Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider show in The Financial Diaries, income volatility is one of the biggest causes of financial stress among American families. Thankfully, Accion employees, like most employees of international development non-profits, can count on the same paycheck week after week, and this makes the task of staying financially healthy much easier. Health insurance is also an essential source of financial protection, as is car insurance.

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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.