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> Posted by Center Staff

banana.skins.coverWhat do industry leaders feel is the biggest risk facing their institutions in 2016? This question is the focus of the latest Banana Skins report for the financial inclusion sector, Financial Services for All: It’s All about Strategy. The report ranks the top perceived risks facing those providing financial services to un/under-served people in emerging markets. Produced by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI), and sponsored by Citi and CFI, the study examines the rapidly changing and expanding financial inclusion landscape to better understand how providers view challenges like new technologies, new market entrants, client repayment capacity, and macro-economic risks.

This year’s report, the sixth in the series surveying risks facing the inclusive finance industry, embraces a broader scope than previous editions, which focused exclusively on microfinance institutions. The new report reflects the advances in the provision of financial services to the base of the economic pyramid and encompasses both established providers and newer entrants like commercial banks, technology companies, and telephone and communication companies. A survey with respondents spanning practitioners, investors, regulators, and other industry stakeholders comprise the report’s findings. It’s important to note that in addition to the Banana Skins report series on inclusive finance, there is also a Banana skins report series on insurance and on banking.

So, what were the results?

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

Organizational change doesn’t always start from the top, but if it originates elsewhere, and the change is to last, it’s essential that leadership and management eventually get on board. For years, most of us in financial inclusion have advocated client centricity. If previously unserved client segments are to take up and use products and services for the first time, it’s essential that these products and services meet their needs. But how do institution leaders look at client centricity? I attended the recent Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) seminars in Cape Town, South Africa and joined discussions among financial inclusion CEOs and board members on this topic.

The CEOs and board members participating in the ABF program are from financial service providers offering a range of products and services in countries ranging from Kenya to Burundi to Tunisia and Uganda. On our first day, we discussed client centricity, a trending topic and one of interest to me as a manager of the Smart Campaign. The fellows’ varied experiences and ideas led us to some takeaways:

  • Board members and CEOs see a clear business case for client centricity. Participating leaders viewed actively listening to their clients and mapping customer preferences and journeys as imperative for designing better products, building customer loyalty, fostering referrals, and developing competitive advantages.

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> Posted by Bruce MacDonald, Vice President, Communications and Operations, CFI

We go to a lot of conferences in this business – some good, some less so. AFSIC, the Africa Financial Services Investment Conference, definitely falls into the former category.

The 3-year-old brainchild of former Botswana Stock Exchange boss Rupert McCammon, the London event draws a mix of debt and equity investors, insurers, quants, fintech angels, consumer lenders, policy mavens, IFIs, MFIs, and other NGOs of various stripe. If your appetite runs to Africa, it’s a generous smorgasbord.

McCammon framed the challenge neatly in his opening remarks: Africa suffers from investment shortfalls of $110 billion annually.  He was followed at the podium by Mohamed Kalif, head of financial intermediation at the African Development Bank, who pitched an appealing prospect.  Showing images of a drab and undeveloped Shanghai and Dubai in 1990 and comparing them with photos taken last year, each chock-a-block with glittering skyscrapers, he posed the question, “Why not Africa?”

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

If you’re plugged into the world of online marketplace lending then you heard this week’s news about Lending Club’s internal scandal which culminated in the resignation of its founder, chairman, and chief executive, Renaud Laplanche. Lending Club, a U.S.-based company, is the first billion dollar online lending marketplace, and Laplanche was viewed by many as the industry’s biggest advocate and one of its pioneers. Accordingly, industry participants and followers are wondering what Lending Club’s news means for the future of the company and the industry. Is this a sign that the promise of marketplace lending is too good to be true?

For dramatic pause, and context, a few facts on what happened. On Monday, after an internal review, Lending Club announced that $22 million in subprime loans sold in March and April of this year to a single investor went against the investor’s expressed terms. Furthermore, certain staff members, including Laplanche, were aware that the loans did not meet the investor’s criteria, and during the review process there was less than full disclosure by staff including Laplanche, which the board deemed unacceptable.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, CFI Analyst

Africa Board Fellows at the HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. Pictured left to right: Felix Achibiri, Fortis Microfinance Bank, Nigeria; Titos Macie, Socremo, Mozambique; Elijah Chol, South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility; Charles Njuguna, Faulu Microfinance Bank, Kenya

It seems almost commonplace for financial institutions across sub-Saharan Africa to be confronted with currency devaluation, interest rate caps, political conflicts, increasing capital requirements, and disruptive technologies – not to mention the impact of wars, disease, climate change, and natural disasters. With all these complications and risks, I am left to wonder how can boards of financial institutions in Africa focus on anything other than constantly extinguishing crises?

In March, alumni of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) attended the HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. During the weeklong executive education program, CFI staff had the opportunity to sit down with the four fellows pictured above to discuss some of the challenges they are facing.

A common challenge was the hardship caused by currency devaluations. MFIs often receive loans in U.S. dollars, and so as the value of local currency diminishes, squaring their balance sheets becomes increasingly tough. Elijah Chol of South Sudan reported that the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning announced a 500 percent devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound last December. At the South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility’s annual meeting a day later, the board was unable to take immediate action because the devaluation was so unexpected. Though prices in South Sudan’s market have since improved slightly, the impact of such extreme devaluation has posed great challenges across the microfinance sector.

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

In recent months several prominent banks in Kenya have collapsed, with Chase Bank (no relation to JPMorgan Chase) most recently placed under receivership by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) earlier this month. Additionally, this month it was announced that three majority government owned banks will be consolidated, and that voluntary mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry will be encouraged as a way to strengthen institutions. To better understand what this all means, I sat down with John Lwande, Director of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program.  

DP: From your perspective, can you update us on what is happening?

JL: It appears that following an extended audit tussle last month, Chase Bank, which had established itself as the jewel among small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) lenders in the market, and attracted funding from big name international investors, collapsed on the 7th of April. While Chase pushed the blame towards the accounting surrounding the bank’s Islamic banking assets, more serious implications point towards governance problems. To illustrate the severity of these governance issues, for instance, we are told that the bank made a staggeringly large amount of loans to its directors, an average of KES 1.35 billion per director (USD 13.5 million). This is not a routine staff and associate loan. Actually, Chase had a loan program for staff. Its average loan size was KES 1.9 million (USD 19,000). How could an SME bank, a financial inclusion flag bearer, allow its directors to lend tens of millions of dollars to themselves?! In a recent interview, three leading Kenya bank executives decried the lack of governance and fiduciary responsibility of bank directors in the country and called upon auditors to be firm in their opinions to mitigate the risk of bank failures and avoid panic.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, CFI Analyst, with contributions from Alex Silva, Calmeadow Foundation

Are you a microfinance institution in the Middle East or North Africa (MENA) region? Would you like to improve your bottom-line and attract more investors? Here is one simple trick: improve your governance! A recent International Finance Corporation (IFC) paper focusing on MENA, Corporate Governance Success Stories, concludes that “good corporate governance can help companies improve their [financial] performance and gain access to capital,” and various stakeholders, such as institutes and regulators have been actively promoting strong corporate governance in the MENA region. As a result many MFIs in MENA have experienced an increase in access to finance, higher profitability, a reduction in organizational inefficiencies, and an increase in impact on sustainability, among other important growth factors.

One such MFI is the Pakistan-based NRSP Microfinance Bank, which went through a rigorous transformation in 2007 and set goals to improve corporate governance. NRSP focused on restructuring board and management roles, establishing board committees and governance policies, and developing a risk management framework with internal audit functions. Within two years of implementing these governance changes, NRSP saw a $1.7 million profit in the first year, a credit rating improvement from “stable” to “positive”,  and an increase in board effectiveness with the inclusion of women and independent directors. At the same time its ability to leverage equity increased. Access to finance grew to four times equity.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

India has received much fanfare for its financial inclusion efforts in recent years. A few weeks ago we declared it our Financial Inclusion Country of the Year for 2015 in recognition of the major steps it took, which resulted in achieving the greatest improvement in its Global Microscope score between 2014 and 2015. It recently granted new bank licenses that dramatically diversify and grow the country’s services landscape, widely applied new cost-saving technologies like biometric identification, and rolled-out historically ambitious public programs like PMJDY that dramatically reduce the portion of the population that is unbanked.

“Never waste a good crisis” said Royston Braganza, CEO of Grameen Capital India, at the Inclusive Finance Summit in Delhi last month, referring to the Andhra Pradesh crisis of 2010. The recently-released Responsible Finance India 2015 analyses the current state of practice on responsible finance and social performance management in India. In light of that report, Braganza questioned, “Have we learned from our mistakes?”

Responsible finance centers on client protection and market conduct, and has been extended in recent years to include many other good corporate citizenship issues such as employee management, governance, and social performance monitoring.

By way of context, here are a few numbers on the present-day BoP Indian finance landscape:

  • Across MFIs in India’s MFIN network, which represent roughly 90 percent of MFIs in the country, loan books grew by 64 percent in the last fiscal year, compared with 43 percent in the year prior and 4 percent in the year before that.
  • In total, MFI outreach in the country accounts for about 100 million clients.
  • Reportedly, through PMJDY 180 million new bank accounts have been opened over the past year, and adjacent schemes covering insurance, pensions, and credit have been implemented, as well.
  • For the first time in a decade, the RBI granted new bank licenses last year – to Bandhan Bank and IDFC. Bandhan now has 500 branches and over 2,000 service centers across 24 states. Sixty-five percent of IDFC’s first 23 branches are located in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Under the RBI’s newly created categories of payment banks and small finance banks, 11 and 10 providers, respectively, have received new licenses, further expanding the network of providers serving the poor.

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> Posted by Hatem Mahbouli, Investment Officer, FMO

Social Impact Bonds

A lot has been said on social or development impact bonds (SIBs), and the instrument evidently has acquired enough vintage to be subjected to an insightful review by the Brookings Institute on the promises and limitations of its applications.

To give a short description, SIBs are not bonds (too late to change the name apparently), but sort of a public-private partnership, where investors are only repaid by the donors or government commissioners if and when pre-agreed social outcomes are achieved, transferring the risk of failure from donors/government (outcome payers) to investors.

SIBs can change perspectives where social issues move from being budget issues to business cases. The proposal is very appealing for impact investors as it offers new opportunities to deploy capital for social impact, with a strong focus on accountability and credible measurement of the achieved impact.

Applicability to the financial inclusion space

To date, very few SIBs have been launched in low income countries, despite many parties closely watching deployments elsewhere. Issues range from legal constraints to high transaction costs, but let’s assume for a moment that there is enough will, incentives, and capacity to overcome those limitations and launch a SIB in financial inclusion. What would this look like?

For a SIB to work, it needs to tackle what we call a “SIB friendly” issue or segment. You cannot apply it to any problem. The intervention – to put it very shortly – needs to be limited in time, have a specific scope, and an output (or outcome) that is relatively easy to measure and to value. Of course, for the whole structure to make sense, there needs to be an outcome payer who is willing to buy those outcomes, and an investor willing to take the risk.

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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.