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> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

sewingLimited access to credit in the developing world is often exacerbated by conflict, which presents a strong demand for microfinance. In Iraq, for example, only 11 percent of adults hold an account at a formal financial institution, according to the 2014 Global Findex. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, is helping to build a more inclusive financial sector in Iraq through its partnership with Vitas Iraq, a subsidiary of Global Communities, which is a non-profit development organization that partners with local stakeholders across a range of topic areas. Vitas Iraq established Al Tamweel Al Saree LLC (ATAS) as the financing vehicle to support expansion of its operations. In 2012, OPIC provided ATAS with a direct loan to enable the expansion of Vitas Iraq’s portfolio of loans to individuals and to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME), thereby expanding financial access in Iraq.

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> Posted by Ram Narayanan, Market Research Analyst, Symbiotics

Microfinance, a lead sector within the larger impact investing spectrum, has gained prominence from development-minded investors over the past decades. Initially, international funding in microfinance was generated largely from donor organizations, including public development agencies and private foundations. As the market gained traction, the role of private capital grew in importance as not only a means for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to reach scale, but also to increase their social outreach beyond what was possible with donor money.

Private investors and donor agencies thus joined efforts in creating microfinance investment vehicles, better known in the industry jargon as “MIVs” or more simply “microfinance funds.” MIVs act as the main link between MFIs and the capital markets and usually provide debt financing, equity financing or a combination of both to MFIs located in emerging and frontier markets.

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) began to take interest in MIVs in 2003, a time where several of these vehicles saw the light, and before the investment boom which was witnessed by the sector with the announcement of the United Nations “2005 International Year of Microcredit.” However, the industry was still lacking common definitions, terminology and performance standards. In order to bring forward improved transparency on MIVs’ financial and social performances, a first market report on microfinance funds was produced in 2007 by CGAP, in collaboration with Symbiotics. The inaugural MIV benchmarking tool was thus born – based on a market survey containing a common set of definitions and reporting standards – a landmark that set the stage for regular, annual surveys carried out every year since then.

Fast forward 10 years, Symbiotics and CGAP have yet again partnered to develop a new extensive report (white paper) reflecting back on a decade of MIV operations, shedding light on their progress during the period 2006-2015. The recently released white paper co-authored by both organizations and entitled “Microfinance Funds: 10 Years of Research & Practice” carefully details major market trends.

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> Posted by Center Staff

MeetingRoom_MENA.pngYou’d be hard-pressed to list all the ways corporate governance can make (or break!) an organization. In the financial inclusion sector, strong boards ensure effective strategic planning, manage sustainable growth, bolster attractiveness to investors, balance risks, develop client centric products and delivery channels, and, increasingly, act as “strong digital sparring partners for management.”  Yet, a recent study sponsored by the Sanabel Network and the IFC that inspected risks confronting the microfinance sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) found that half of their interviewees perceived corporate governance risk as “high” or “very high.”

Being a board member or CEO of a financial inclusion institution is a great responsibility, and can also be a complex task. All boards have different dynamics and governance best practices can sometimes be nebulous. To address these challenges, Calmeadow, FMO, Sanabel and the CFI are hosting a “Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar” this March in Amman. This seminar brings together CEOs and board members of leading financial institutions serving the financially excluded in the MENA region to strengthen board capacity through peer learning and exchange. If you’re a leader in MENA’s inclusive finance sector, please consider attending this seminar to contribute your unique experiences and perspectives, and also to learn from the experiences of your peers.

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> Posted by Alex Counts

During my final years as President of Grameen Foundation and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG), I advocated that two papers be written that I had neither the time nor the expertise to do justice to myself.

The first paper was a distillation of lessons for practice from recent studies on the impact of microcredit and microfinance. Many papers that set out to determine whether microfinance worked stumbled on important insights about how it could work better. Unfortunately, those discoveries were buried in papers that people barely read beyond summaries and extracts. A paper that presented these “lessons for practice” in a form that was accessible to busy practitioners could make a big impact, by removing friction from the maddeningly difficult process of using research to positively influence policy and practice.

The second paper I advocated for was one that made the case for how philanthropy and social/impact investing, and more broadly, subsidy, could play a positive role in the microfinance industry today. Such a paper would need to start with making the case that such social investments had any role to play, as the conventional wisdom was settling on the idea that it did not have any.

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> Posted by Vitas Argimon, Credit Suisse Global Citizen Volunteer

With financial technology disrupting the industry, banks are turning to startups to help them innovate, and startups are turning to banks to help them scale. Banks are increasingly connecting with financial technology startups to reach the unbanked and underbanked. In the report, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, CFI and the Institute of International Finance (IIF) found that many banks are building a vast ecosystem of partnerships to expand their reach and service offerings and to improve internal processes. This growing interaction between legacy providers and new providers is taking a variety of forms. Many larger banks are engaging with startups in multiple ways, from partnering with the firms to providing support to incubate new firms. In my deep-dive into the ecosystem of this engagement, I discovered three primary types of interaction.

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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 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 Bruce MacDonald, Vice President, Communications and Operations, CFI

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

In part one of this post, Bruce discussed the potential impact of ASEAN Integration on banks in the Philippines, informed by his recent visit to the country. In part two below, he continues exploring the challenges and opportunities facing one of these institutions, 1st Valley Bank in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao. 

Though national bank liberalization has led commercial Philippine banks to acquire more rural and thrift banks, potentially increasing competition for 1st Valley, it has also provided the bank with a unique advantage. A 2013 amendment to the Rural Banking Act allowed foreign investment in Philippine banks which, in turn, permitted a new company called Bridge, led by American Paul Kocourek and Englishman Gus Poston, to invest in 1st Valley. Kocourek and Poston, both with deep regional banking experience, founded Bridge in order to help build a strong network of provincial Philippine banks committed to social impact. Identifying rural finance as the “missing component of inclusive banking,” their aim is to provide critical capital for growth, but also assistance in product design, risk management and more. 

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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 Julia Arnold, Financial Inclusion Consultant and Sarah Willis, MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation’s goal is to improve financial inclusion across its footprint, which includes economically and geographically diverse markets. Ensuring that low- and moderate-income families in these markets can acquire and successfully use the products and services they need to build a better, more secure life is complex and therefore requires innovative solutions that reach different consumers in different ways.

In China, our newest approach to improving the financial health of everyday consumers is through harnessing the power of social entrepreneurs. As part of a broader global push to strengthen ventures and organizations working in the area of financial inclusion, we’ve teamed up with Verb to run a series of competitions, called Inclusion Plus. Beginning on May 19, 2016 we will invite social enterprises (nonprofit and for-profit alike) throughout China that are focused on increasing access and use of financial services among low- to moderate-income people to enter their products, services, or programs for the chance to win grant capital and mentoring from MetLife advisors.

Opening a competition in China meant we needed to better understand the local financial inclusion landscape. We know that the rapid economic growth in China over the past 20 years has been the envy of the world. More surprisingly, however, is that between 2011 and 2014 China made significant strides toward financial inclusion adding around 180 million adult account holders, bringing the number of adult account holders to 79 percent of the population. According to the 2014 Global Findex, these account holders include marginalized groups such as women and poorer rural households, though the bulk of China’s unbanked population resides in rural areas, and over half of whom are women. As such, the Foundation’s focus for the Inclusion Plus competition is on ensuring the unbanked or underserved populations, such as low-wage workers, smallholder farmers, small business owners, and migrant workers have access to affordable and convenient financial services and products which focus on day-to-day financial well-being.

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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.