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> Posted by Kimberly Lei Pang, Digital Learning Specialist, UNICEF

In the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the magical word “sesame” was used to open the seal of a cave where Ali Baba found hidden treasure. In China today, the same word is connected to another kind of magic, one that reveals hidden identities of the socially and economically disadvantaged. Sesame Credit (“芝麻信用” in Mandarin) is a product launched by Alibaba that pulls from transaction records on e-commerce platforms to understand a person or company’s creditworthiness. Such innovation in credit scoring is part of the “social credit system” that the Chinese government is building to make up for the longstanding shortage of credit data.

Access to credit, a major indicator of financial inclusion, has gained increasing attention from Chinese policymakers in recent years. For a country experiencing an economic slowdown and widening income gap between the rich and the poor, credit accessibility has the potential to spur growth and level the playing field for the poor. However, despite China’s efforts to improve financial access, a large portion of its population neither uses nor has access to credit. Data from the World Bank’s Global Findex study showed that Chinese people (aged 15+) have relatively high levels of formal bank account ownership (79 percent, 2014) but low levels of credit usage (14 percent, 2014). In fact, China’s formal credit use is the lowest among the five BRICS economies. Aside from the rigidity and costliness of financial institutions, a significant barrier to borrowing is the lack of reliable credit scoring in China. Established just 11 years ago, China’s credit bureau CCRC covers credit profiles for only a quarter of China’s 1.4 billion population and shares that information only with selected banks. Lenders thus often have no access to borrowers’ financial histories and tend to make rather arbitrary decisions on borrowers’ creditworthiness. As a result, many individuals and microenterprises find it difficult to get a loan, as steady employment and collateral assets are commonly required for formal credit.

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> Posted by Robin Brazier, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

Every year on March 8th we honor women around the world by celebrating International Women’s Day. This international holiday not only recognizes women’s valuable achievements and contributions to society, it recognizes the work that still needs to be done to create a more inclusive, gender equal world.

This day resonates especially strongly this year, with the International Women’s Strike also taking place today. For the worldwide strike, women are encouraged to not participate in paid or unpaid work and to avoid spending money – with the aim of demonstrating women’s integral professional and economic role in society. Over 50 countries around the world are participating in the strike, from Canada to Cambodia.

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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 Center Staff

2015 was a year full of great reads (and listens). As we enter 2016, we wanted to take a look back at last year and what we were most excited to explore.  Through our work writing the FI2020 Progress Report, which assesses global progress in five key areas of financial inclusion, we benefited from important research from many in the financial inclusion field.  As part of this effort, we were eager to update our FI2020 Resource Library with the most informative reports and research outputs.  We encourage you to check it out – and in the meantime to review the highlights listed below.  The organizations responsible for these reports cover a wide array of stakeholder types, from support organizations, to telecommunication companies, to financial service providers – proof that progress in financial inclusion is being driven by many.

What Happens to Microfinance Clients Who Default? (January)
The Smart Campaign
Author: Jami Solli
This report looks in-depth at the enabling environment, the practices of providers, and customer experiences in Peru, India, and Uganda, to understand what happens when microfinance clients default on their loans. We were especially interested in the paper’s findings that demonstrate that effective credit bureaus give financial service providers the confidence to treat customers who default more humanely.

Money Resolutions: A Sketchbook (January)
CGAP
Author: Ignacio Mas 
This working paper explores the underlying logic for how people make money resolutions, including how people organize their money and make decisions about financial goals and spending. The paper focuses on peoples’ approaches to making financial decisions – rather than evaluating the decisions themselves – identifying the inner conflicts they face in the process.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Today the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) is proud to launch the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, an interactive website that portrays the recent progress and unmet challenges on the path to global financial inclusion.

When we began the FI2020 project in 2011, we hoped to create a sense of both urgency and possibility. We believed that enabling everyone in the world to gain access to quality financial services was a goal of major development significance. We also saw that with many active players and the promise that digitization would enable many more people to be reached at lower cost, it was no longer simply wishful thinking to call for full inclusion within a reasonable time frame. Global financial inclusion had entered the realm of the possible.

Today, in 2015, we are both astonished by the progress and daunted by the gaps that remain. Global Findex data shows 700 million new accounts in the three years from 2011 to 2014, reducing the number of unbanked worldwide from 2.5 to 2 billion. National governments have created ambitious financial inclusion strategies, the FinTech industry is exploding with $12 billion in global investments in 2014 alone, and the World Bank has a plan for reaching universal financial access to transaction accounts by 2020.

Our quantitative review, By the Numbersrevealed that if the current trajectory of expansion in accounts continues, many countries will achieve full account access by 2020. The rails are being laid at a rapid rate, and there is great momentum toward universal access. But access to an account is not the same thing as financial inclusion, and progress toward meaningful financial inclusion, in which people actively use a full range of services, is lagging. The passengers – customers – are often still waiting at the station for services that take them where they want to go.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

Tuesday marked a historic day for Peru: the country launched its National Financial Inclusion Strategy. While Peru has been lauded in the past for its environment for financial inclusion, its public-private sector partnerships, and its leadership in conversations on international banking standards, this national strategy elevates Peru’s commitment to financial inclusion to a new level. In particular, we want to celebrate the strategy’s commitments to consumer protection, financial literacy, and the inclusion of vulnerable people.

Analysis of the World Bank Global Findex this year revealed that countries that have a national strategy (not merely a commitment or stand-alone programs) for financial inclusion saw twice as much bank account access growth in the last three years compared to countries that did not have a national strategy. For Peru, this is great news, as according to the same data source, less than 30 percent of adults in the country had access to an account in 2014.

The path to financial inclusion articulated in the strategy, however, is not focused on access to accounts, making Peru an outlier among its peers that have implemented national strategies. Instead, Peru has oriented its strategy toward improving systems for accessing a range of products and promoting supportive consumer protection, financial education, and attention to the most vulnerable. The national strategy has seven different lines of action: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program recently released the report ‘Mobile Financial Services in Latin America & the Caribbean,’ spotlighting the region’s booming mobile money activity. I talked with the report’s authors, Mireya Almazán and Jennifer Frydrych, to learn more about the project. The first half of our conversation, published last week, is available here. The second half of our conversation follows.

An enabling regulatory environment, as identified in the report, is one where the regulator has taken a functional and proportional approach that allows banks and non-bank providers to compete, as well as establish different types of partnerships for the provision of mobile money services. What does this means in practical terms, and how has or hasn’t Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) met these conditions?

An open and level playing field that allows banks, mobile operators, and third parties to offer e-money is critical for mobile money to succeed. Anecdotal evidence, commercial lessons, and international regulatory principles all speak in favor of opening the market to providers with different value propositions and business models. Best practices are well established at both the regulatory and commercial level to guarantee the soundness of mobile money schemes, as well as the integrity and stability of the financial system.

As of April 2015, six of 19 (32 percent) mobile money markets in LAC have an enabling environment for mobile money, up from only two in 2012 (Nicaragua and Peru). These six include Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay also has enabling regulation for mobile money and in fact issued the nation’s first e-money license to Redpago in April 2015; however, as Redpago has not formally launched, Uruguay is not categorized as a “mobile money market” in this report’s analysis.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

Account Use (Developing Economies) - Click to Enlarge

Account Use (Developing Economies) – Click to Enlarge

Especially since the Global Findex report made headlines around the world with its finding that the number of financially excluded dropped from 2.5 billion to 2 billion during the period 2011-2014, I have been increasingly uneasy with equating account access as financial inclusion, and especially as equivalent to the essential concept of full financial inclusion as defined by CFI. The Center’s new publication “By the Numbers” does an excellent job helping people to digest all the publicly available data about financial inclusion, and make sense of them. It also reinforces my unease.

Despite the progress in account openings, the report makes it clear that the number of people actually using accounts is unfortunately not growing. Even more worrying, it argues that most accounts “are not really functioning as the hoped-for ‘on-ramp’ to financial inclusion.” The risk, as I see it, is that by adopting a stunted definition of financial inclusion that emphasizes account openings, we may be measuring and incentivizing the wrong things. The report wisely urges “caution regarding the value of mass drives for account opening, such as mandated no frills accounts…”

While the available data may overstate progress in some areas, the data may understate it in others due to the tendency to focus only on transactions at formal financial institutions. As the report notes, the percentage of people in low and middle income countries who save increased from 31 percent to 54 percent — quite a jump! — over three years, but this “is not reflected in a commensurate increase in saving in financial institutions.” Global surveys tend to miss savings groups and microfinance institutions, which in many markets play important roles. The alarming gaps in data related to access among vulnerable populations are also noted.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts highlighting India’s financial inclusion progress and persisting gaps, how the deployment of digital financial systems requires strategic human capital management, and the state of the mobile money industry in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The proportion of adults in India with a bank account increased from 35 to 53 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to the recently-released Global Findex data. A new post on the IFMR LEAD blog shares the Findex findings for India, and outlines the ways in which financial inclusion in the country is still far from achieved. The post affirms that account ownership is just the first step towards inclusion, discussing account usage, gender disparity, and uptake of mobile services, among other topics.

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> Posted by Leora Klapper, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, the World Bank

Eroll Asuncion runs a grocery store on the remote Philippine island of Rapu-Rapu. It’s a three-hour boat ride to the nearest bank. Fortunately, that’s no longer a problem – thanks to the mobile phone revolution and new regulations that make it easier for people to open and use an account.

Eroll’s customers now pay bills and send and receive remittances through a mobile money account they access via mobile phones. Eroll’s SuperStore has become something of a bank for islanders using these mobile accounts, allowing them to send and receive cash at the store.

“My husband sends (me) money twice a month, on the 15th and 30th,” Yolanda, a customer, explains.

Hundreds of millions of others like Yolanda are opening new accounts through their phone or at a bank or similar institution. It’s part of a financial revolution that’s sweeping the developing world. Since 2011, 245 million more people in East Asia and the Pacific have become part of the formal financial system by opening an account.

The World Bank has just released our much-anticipated second edition of the Global Findex, the world’s only comprehensive gauge of global progress on “financial inclusion”—how people save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk. The data give us insight into account ownership around the world, and how people are using – or not using – those accounts.

The Global Findex offers good news. As of 2014, 62 percent of adults around the world had access to a bank account. Put another way, the number of people who are “unbanked” has tumbled to 2.0 billion from 2.5 billion in 2011, when the Global Findex was first released.

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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.