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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

I’m thrilled to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 2016-2017 CFI Fellows! Maybe this is your year to consider having a little funding and space to take on a big financial inclusion question that could have a major impact on the industry.

We’re looking for researchers who are willing to undertake ambitious work that will advance financial inclusion. We’ve assembled a set of five questions that we think represent some of the most pressing concerns facing the industry, and we will be funding the most promising proposals that set out a plan for answering these questions. The topics we selected are ones that have been well-vetted. They were sourced from an internal Accion-wide exercise, discussions with the CFI Advisory Council, consultation with our friends across the financial inclusion space, and the solicitation of your comments on our “shortlist” of questions here on the blog (thank you so much for your input!).

The research questions this year cover a range of topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age? Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process? Who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others? And how should financial service providers build it into their process?

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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 Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Last Thursday the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) launched The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets. Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report explores 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, and concludes with recommendations for action.

In the following video, the report’s primary author Susy Cheston interviews Dr. William Derban, Director of Inclusive Banking & Corporate Social Responsibility at Fidelity Bank Ghana and one of the 24 bankers interviewed for the report. In their informal and in-depth conversation, Ms. Cheston and Dr. Derban discuss, among other topics, why Fidelity Bank Ghana has decided to engage in financial inclusion (hint: it’s not just about CSR), their commitment to always putting the customer first, their plan to reach viability, and the benefits they have gained through technology and partnerships.

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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 Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

When it comes to financial inclusion, as is true in many sectors these days, sexy start-ups and disruptive innovators often occupy the spotlight. But away from the glare, traditional banks are getting on with the work and making an enormous difference. In The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, produced in a partnership between the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and CFI, we explore how banks are innovating to include new customers.

Given the headlines, it may be a surprise to hear that even today the overwhelming majority of new accounts are opened at formal financial institutions, not mobile money outlets. Thanks to the Global Findex, we know that over 720 million adults accessed formal financial services for the first time between 2011 and 2014, 90 percent of these new accounts were opened at formal financial institutions. Of the 720 million total new accounts, only 54 million used mobile money as their primary account.

How are banks expanding customer outreach?

Through in-depth interviews, leaders from 24 national, regional, and global banks told us about the opportunities and challenges they face while reaching the unbanked and underbanked. Each bank has its own particular story. In the aggregate, their stories give insight into how banks are evolving to meet people where they are and serve population segments that have been traditionally excluded.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

A financial shock can happen suddenly and at any time, and a single unexpected expense can push many American households into financial hardship. Something as straightforward as a car repair can have a snowball effect on a family’s finances if they are not prepared for it. A 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that in 2014, 60 percent of American households experienced a financial shock, and that the average household spent half a month of income on its most expensive shock.

While most households have at least a loose budget for recurring expenses like housing, food, and transportation, most are not prepared for additional unexpected expenses, a study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found. Consumers’ attitudes and behaviors are typically consistent with their financial health – i.e. those who are financially healthy are more likely to have recovery strategies available when setbacks strike.

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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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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

What are the biggest unanswered questions in financial inclusion? This isn’t rhetorical—we want your opinion.

In preparation for selecting three CFI Fellows for 2016-2017, we are developing a short list of questions whose answers would drive financial inclusion forward.

Our Research Fellows Program is an initiative intended to tackle the biggest questions in financial inclusion—in order for the industry to take action in new areas and in new ways. The current cohort of fellows is finalizing research ranging from big data to small enterprises to technology infrastructure to G2P payments.

The questions we put forward for this next cohort will only be relevant if they are essential to the financial inclusion community. So we’re coming to you (yes, you!) for your input.

To get the conversation started, here are some of the questions on our working list. Let us know below in the comments which you think are compelling, and please take the liberty of adding your own.
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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Over the past few decades, across demographics and regions, the proportion of people in the United States with bank accounts has increased steadily, a new report from the White House details. More specifically, the report found that between 1989 and 2013: the percentage of U.S. households with bank accounts increased from 86 percent to 93 percent; the percentage of households in the bottom income quintile with bank accounts increased from 56 percent to 79 percent; among racial minorities, the percentage of households with bank accounts increased from 65 percent to 87 percent; and regional disparities have diminished, with financial inclusion increasing across all geographies. All of this progress in financial services access warrants acknowledging, of course, yet there remain sizeable gaps toward financial inclusion that call for immediate action.

For example, like most countries that enjoy high access rates, many banked Americans remain underserved. Twenty percent of households in the U.S. with bank accounts also rely on alternative/informal financial services. In 2013, roughly 5 percent of unbanked or underbanked households turned to payday loans, the White House report found. Indeed a few weeks ago we spotlighted new proposed regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to rein in the growing high interest rate/fee-laden payday loan and short-term credit markets.

The United States also ranks dismally when it comes to financial literacy. In the S&P Global FinLit Survey, it was determined that 57 percent of the American population is financially literate, which puts the country at 14th globally, according to the S&P.

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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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