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> Posted by Daniel Rozas and Sam Mendelson

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

For most, socially responsible investing means just that – investing in a manner that not only generates financial returns but also produces positive social value. But what does it mean for an investor to be “responsible” when selling their holdings? How does one stay responsible at the very moment when one ceases to be an investor?

This is a basic challenge facing investors seeking to “exit,” i.e. sell their equity stakes to a new buyer. The issue isn’t entirely new. It first emerged in the mid-2010s, when several microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) were starting to reach the end of their 10-year terms and were seeking to divest their assets. This issue was first addressed in the financial inclusion sector by a 2014 paper commissioned by CGAP and CFI, which first defined many of the key questions that socially responsible investors need to address when selling their equity stakes.

With another four years of multiple exits under the sector’s belt, NpM, Netherlands Platform for Inclusive Finance, along with the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) and the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) asked us to take a closer look at one particularly tricky part of the exit process – selecting a buyer that is suitable for the microfinance institution (MFI), its staff and ultimately its clients. The result is Caveat Venditor: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Buyer Selection in Responsible Microfinance Exits – a new paper that goes beyond raising questions, and seeks to provide a template to help investors navigate the complex terrain of “responsible exits.”

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Why we’re investing in Pula to support agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia

> Posted by Rob Stevens and Amee Parbhoo, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog

Smallholder farmers are the bedrock of sub-Saharan Africa’s and Asia’s agricultural markets, providing over 80 percent of the food supply, but they are growing increasingly vulnerable. Climate scientists estimate that over the next few decades, droughts will frequently affect Africa and Asia as a result of climate change. As weather conditions cause decreased stability for family farms, there is an increased need for risk mitigation solutions that can add security to the lives of those most affected.

Pula, one of Accion Venture Lab’s latest investments, provides insurance to smallholder farmers across Africa and India, enabling income security for a population whose livelihoods depend on climate patterns. Pula uses cutting-edge technology coupled with expansive distribution partners to make large-scale agricultural insurance feasible for rural farmers.

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A responsible exit lays the foundation for long-term impact, and requires considerations as early as due diligence 

> Posted by Hannah Dithrich, Research Associate, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)

Impact investors are motivated by two primary objectives: to generate a financial return and to create positive social or environmental impact. But how do they balance these dual goals throughout the investment process, and specifically at exit? It’s no easy feat.

Investors must consider what happens to impact when they exit an investment. For example, if a company received critical capital and resources from an investor, will it still be equipped to succeed and continue its mission when that investor exits? What if an investor sells her shares to a more commercially-minded buyer who deprioritizes the company’s impactful or sustainable practices?

In financial inclusion investments, the possibility of mission drift after exit can have real implications for impact. For example, if a microfinance institution is acquired by a firm with little experience with underbanked customers, it could increase loan sizes beyond what clients are able to pay back, ultimately leading them into cycles of debt. Impact investors seek to mitigate such risks by exiting their investments responsibly.

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We hope reading this post is just one of many activities you undertake today that acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women. This International Women’s Day, we turned to a few of the women of CFI to share their thoughts on the gender gap facing lower income women around the world and ways to shift the balance in their favor.
 

Deborah Drake

Deborah Drake says, “International Women’s Day gives us a chance to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice women make every day for their families. It also highlights the challenges involved in giving women the opportunity for economic empowerment and the ability to make choices, including financial decisions for themselves and their families.” (As Vice President of CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance Program, Deborah leads the Africa Board Fellowship Program and the Financial Inclusion Equity Council.)
 
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More investor types, more ways to invest, more emphasis on impact

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

The future of impact investing was the hottest topic on my recent tour of the Boston impact investing conference circuit, which included the New England Impact Investing Initiative/Building a Sustainable Investment Community (BASIC), Boston’s Net Impact Summit, and the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference. My list of all the 2018 trends discussed at these events, has 20 trends on it! Wow, that’s a busy year. This blog post is my attempt to distill these trends into four buckets (many of which are linked) and see whether CFI readers agree with this general direction for impact investing in the year ahead.

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A breakdown on gender diversity in the digital currency industry

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

Embed from Getty Images

Is cryptocurrency a household word now? How about blockchain or Bitcoin? You don’t have to be immersed in financial services to regularly hear about the soaring values of digital currencies, the launch of new products and systems, and other industry developments. Just last week, for example, the Government of Venezuela announced that it was launching a national cryptocurrency backed by its petrol supply. Switzerland is doing the same. And they’re only two of a growing list of countries actively exploring alternative digital currencies.

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A high-level business case for financial inclusion constructed using data on the impact of M-PESA on poverty in Kenya

> Posted by Ethan Loufield, Director of Strategy and Operations, CFI

Embed from Getty Images

In making the case for financial inclusion, advocates often try to appeal to our business sense, rather than just speak to how it can improve people’s lives. In so doing, they often refer to the “business case,” which in some ways feels like an attempt to convince the disinterested or the skeptics. It’s an acknowledgement that in order to muster the resources needed to make the financial system work better for lower income market segments, there has to be a payoff for those who provide the services. The fact is that the future of financial inclusion depends greatly on there being a payoff. And when you stop and think about it, it shouldn’t be that hard to show that there is one.

As the title to this post suggests, the value that financial inclusion can help to unlock could very well be measured in the trillions of dollars. So, what we see is an enormous asset (arguably with the potential to surpass the value of all the gold in the world, for example), and it behooves those of us in the financial inclusion community to capitalize on this to expand our influence in the market.

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CEO of the largest investment firm asserts understanding social impact among most pressing issues facing investors today

> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

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Just prior to the global elite gathering at Davos, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock investment firm wrote a letter to CEOs about the importance of long-term, sustainable strategy and understanding the social impact of the companies BlackRock and others invest in. He emphasizes that “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.” As the largest investment firm, managing $6.3 trillion in assets, BlackRock’s message represents a social shift that blends the lines between impact investing and the profit-driven investment space. The letter sparked conversation and debate last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos where leaders across the investment, political, academic and public spheres met to discuss key global issues.

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Microfinance institutions are uniquely positioned to benefit from emerging technologies but one key input remains largely missing

> Posted by Jacqueline Urquizo, Principal, Sygoes

When most people talk about digital finance, they are referring to business-to-customer (B2C) solutions like mobile banking products and other digital payment mechanisms. E-payments undoubtedly have the potential to reach and benefit remote populations, but there are other fintech solutions that make me even more enthusiastic. Though perhaps less developed, innovative business-to-business (B2B) solutions represent a tremendous boon for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and other institutions looking to advance financial inclusion. Among their many benefits, new B2B solutions have the potential to improve internal operational efficiencies drastically, lowering the cost of doing business, which in turn supports lower prices for financial services and expanded access to excluded populations.

A few examples of B2B fintech applications are: artificial intelligence (AI) that provides cognitive analysis and advice to credit officers evaluating the creditworthiness of previously-unbanked individuals; distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) that enable the viability of new forms of collateral that wouldn’t be otherwise trusted or usable without digitizing them in a ledger of value; and data analytics to better predict risks such as liquidity issues, client desertion, or loan default.

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Insights from a global seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved

> Posted by Amee Parbhoo, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog.

We’re in the middle of a fintech boom that could change the world. As a seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved, Accion Venture Lab continues to see innovative startups increasing access to, reducing the cost of, or improving the quality of financial services for underserved individuals and small businesses around the world.

As we kick off a new year, we’re particularly excited about seven areas of startup-led innovation.

Digital neobanks

SmartMEI is a digital neobank serving small businesses in Brazil

In the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of a number of digital neobanks. Neobanks offer a user-friendly digital interface and a platform for financial services without maintaining their own banking licenses. With a focus on user experience and digital applications, neobanks stand to offer faster and better service to the underserved. Moving forward, neobanks will need to provide both a compelling product for a targeted customer segment and a suite of offerings that go beyond basic accounts or credit cards to retain customers and improve unit economics. Innovators in this space include NOW Money, which offers migrant workers in the UAE a platform to more efficiently transfer remittances and access to other products and services over time, and SmartMEI, which offers small businesses in Brazil a free tax tool and access to a broader set of financial services.

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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.