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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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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, around the world individuals, governments, and organizations are celebrating women and calling for increased action towards gender parity, including in the financial services arena. And for good reason. Research indicates that when women control finances, they’re more likely to be spent on household necessities, like food, water, and children’s education and healthcare. In recognition of International Women’s Day, we compiled some of our favorite recent industry efforts to further financial inclusion for women. But first, here’s a quick run-down of where inclusion for women stands.

The Global Findex tells us that there is a gender gap in access to accounts at seven percentage points globally (65 percent vs. 58 percent), and across developing countries it’s nine percentage points. In some regions, this gap is significantly more severe – 18 percent in South Asia, for example. Gender gaps exist in other areas, too. GSMA estimates that in developing countries there are 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone. And as one example of the gap in financial capability, in the World Bank Group’s 2014 Financial Capability Survey in Morocco women scored significantly lower than men.

Prioritizing financial inclusion for women is not only the right thing to do, it benefits everyone. In addition to benefitting women and women’s households, financial inclusion of women augments economies writ large. About half of women worldwide are missing from the workforce. In Egypt, for example, the IMF estimates that achieving equal labor participation among men and women would increase GDP by 34 percent. The IFC estimates that women-owned businesses have an unmet financing need of $320 billion worldwide.

Many organizations are working to close the gap:

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> Posted by Center Staff

vkast_album_coverDo you want to know about the coolest financial inclusion startups in the world and how they work? Or the entrepreneurs behind these startups and how they got off the ground? VentureKast, or VKast, is a new podcast series from Accion’s Venture Lab that takes you directly to the entrepreneurs, offering a window into the converging worlds of impact investing, startups, fintech, and financial inclusion.

As you’re probably familiar, Venture Lab, or VLab, is an Accion investment initiative that provides patient seed capital and support to pioneering financial inclusion startups. What you may not know are all the innovations in business and technology that Venture Lab investees harness to provide customers with better, cheaper, and more appropriate financial services. VKast spotlights how these startups break new ground in the financial inclusion landscape, from the unique perspectives of the entrepreneurs that lead them.

The VLab team writes, “We want to celebrate our entrepreneurs’ journeys and let their voices be heard to inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs, to draw in investors and potential clients to their businesses, and to let the world know how cool financial inclusion entrepreneurship really is.”

The inaugural episode of VentureKast features Ranjit Punja, CEO and Co-Founder of CreditMantri, a Venture Lab portfolio company based in Chennai, India that offers financial advisory services to consumers that are underbanked, credit negative, or new to formal financial services. CreditMantri uses an automated web platform and call center to help consumers access their credit reports, understand their credit scores, improve their creditworthiness, restructure outstanding debt, and get access to relevant financial services. Check out the first VKast episode to hear Ranjit discuss, among other things, how he came up with the idea for CreditMantri, how he assembled his team of co-founders, and his vision for the company.

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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

West Africa is the second-fastest growing regional economy in Africa. Its GDP is more than double that of East Africa. However, its impact investing landscape doesn’t reflect this.

There are currently 45 impact investors active in the region, including 14 development finance institutions (DFIs) and 31 non-DFIs. Direct impact investments deployed in the region totaled $6.8 billion between 2005 and 2015. This is small relative to East Africa, which has over 150 investors and $9.3 billion in deployments on the books for roughly that same time period. Nevertheless, the investing trends in West Africa are encouraging, according to The Landscape for Impact Investing in West Africa, the third in a series of regional market landscaping studies published by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

The main barriers to impact investment in the region, according to the GIIN, include a lack of investment readiness among entrepreneurs and investees (in part due to difficulty obtaining bank financing), unpredictable policy environments, difficulty raising capital locally (among fund managers) compared to global standards, few exit examples, and macroeconomic and political instability. That is a truly daunting array of challenges. While in recent years there has been strong growth and investment in ecosystem actors such as incubators, accelerators, associations, and technical assistance providers, the ecosystem is not at sufficient scale to service the needs of the region.

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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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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.