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> Posted by Philip Brown, CFI Advisory Council Member and Managing Director Risk, Citi Inclusive Finance

As new opportunities for inclusive financial services continue to grow, they are accompanied by an array of risks, many of which are not fully evident today. Since 2008, the Banana Skins surveys have charted both known risks and those that have previously been overlooked or underrated. The recently released report “It’s all about strategy” is no exception — it surveys a spectrum of participants and gathers their perceptions of the risk in the provision of inclusive financial services.

What does this year’s survey tell us?

Continuous progressive change in service provider business models is not new. But the accelerated pace and diversity of change, coupled with extent of the redesign and transformation process across all aspects of the business model, are shifting inclusive financial service provision. There are changes across the creation and delivery of services, business economics and processes, delivery infrastructure, such as payment systems, mobile networks and agent networks, and strategies for customer acquisition and the targeted customer base. The inclusive finance sector is no longer defined around segment-specific institutions but around the end clients, services provided and the now diverse and growing universe of service providers.

Digital transformation is a pervasive theme in this year’s Banana Skins report, which is a call to recognise the risk of not thinking strategically about all aspects of financial service provision. Across the globe, mobile applications are adding millions of clients versus thousands for established models. Both non-credit products and new forms of credit such as instant nano-credit for pre-paid mobile phone users continue to grow. Rather than viewing disrupters as a threat, one cited respondent positively describes new competitors as facilitators of market development, improving the quality of services and creating pressure to reduce interest rates.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Are interest rates necessary for loans? What about strict repayment structures? Recently, a colleague emailed me about Zidisha, an online lending platform that’s harnessing expanding internet penetration rates to offer lower-cost peer-to-peer loans. Zidisha adopts a handful of approaches that depart from how loans are typically served to the base of the economic pyramid, including in terms of interest rates and repayment structures. I wanted to learn more, so I reached out to Julia Kurnia, Founder and Director of Zidisha, for a quick conversation. The following is an edited version of our exchanges.

First off, I’d like to say congratulations on all of Zidisha’s success. I understand that in its six years, Zidisha has disbursed roughly $6 million in loans to 40,000 people. By way of background, maybe you could start by offering a quick description of Zidisha?

Zidisha is a peer-to-peer (P2P) microloan crowdfunding platform that lets ordinary people like you and me send zero-interest microloans directly to lower-income people in developing countries.

What makes Zidisha unique is that we don’t work through local banks or other intermediaries. Instead, we target today’s generation of internet-capable microfinance borrowers, and connect them with the lenders directly. Borrowers post their own stories and loan proposals, and dialogue directly with their lenders via our website.

Eliminating local intermediaries allows us to provide loans at far lower cost to the borrower than traditional microloans. This amplifies the social impact of the loans, as borrowers keep the profits they generate instead of paying high interest rates to cover local banks’ operating expenses.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

With their soaring ubiquity and utility, mobile phones are revolutionizing disaster and crisis relief, as recent experiences have shown. From Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to Ebola in West Africa, we’ve seen mobile networks help provide critical financial services, information, and communication – in every stage of a crisis. And all signs point to this support expanding.

A few weeks ago GSMA spotlighted a growing collective of mobile network operators (MNOs) working together to aid those hit by crisis. The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative launched by GSMA in 2015, aims to unite the industry under a set of principles for harnessing mobile technology to support people affected by humanitarian emergencies. GSMA recognized four new member MNOs that signed onto the Charter, joining more than 60 other MNOs from around the world. By signing the Charter, MNOs commit to a common set of principles designed to enhance coordination, standardize preparedness and response activities, and strengthen partnerships between industry, government, and humanitarian organizations.

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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 Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

La Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), the common central bank of eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) has prioritized financial inclusion in the region. A recently announced financial inclusion strategy led by BCEAO in partnership with the several national Ministries of Finance aims to include 70 percent of the adult population by the year 2020. Financial access rates range from 7 to 34 percent across the region, according to the Global Findex.

BCEAO is expanding its financial inclusion efforts, including in mobile and e-money, and financial inclusion is slowly progressing in the region, but the opportunities and challenges of the member countries vary significantly, and serious client protection issues remain, particularly among unregulated institutions and in countries with weak national supervision and enforcement. A recent IMF spotlight on Senegal calls for steps to strengthen the sector’s governance through technical assistance to improve supervisory capacities and training to improve reporting standards and practices.

Weak supervision can lead to problems like those the Smart Campaign uncovered during its Client Voice research in Benin, where illegal microfinance institutions collected and disappeared with clients’ savings.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

I’m thrilled to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 2016-2017 CFI Fellows! Maybe this is your year to consider having a little funding and space to take on a big financial inclusion question that could have a major impact on the industry.

We’re looking for researchers who are willing to undertake ambitious work that will advance financial inclusion. We’ve assembled a set of five questions that we think represent some of the most pressing concerns facing the industry, and we will be funding the most promising proposals that set out a plan for answering these questions. The topics we selected are ones that have been well-vetted. They were sourced from an internal Accion-wide exercise, discussions with the CFI Advisory Council, consultation with our friends across the financial inclusion space, and the solicitation of your comments on our “shortlist” of questions here on the blog (thank you so much for your input!).

The research questions this year cover a range of topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age? Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process? Who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others? And how should financial service providers build it into their process?

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

In a world of rapid change, few organizations have all the capabilities needed to accomplish every aspect of their business. This is true for commercial banks, which often find success in adapting to new opportunities through partnering. CFI’s most recent publication, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, a joint publication with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), illustrates how banks use partners to adopt new technologies and reach previously underserved markets.

The report, based on interviews with the financial inclusion leads at 24 banks, shines a spotlight on the role of banks as leaders in financial inclusion and discusses their specific strategies related to technology, data, financial capability, partnerships, and other issues.

The report found that banks create a variety of partnerships. The banks in our survey partner with telcos, payments companies, insurance companies, microfinance institutions, retailers, and consumer-goods companies. They work closely with governments for G2P payments and with international development agencies and donors that provide start-up capital for new financial inclusion initiatives. They also contract with digital technology providers such as data analytics companies, back-office systems providers, digital channel providers, financial capability providers, and other fintech firms.

Among many other areas, banks often use partnerships to improve on the following:
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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 Michael Schlein, President and CEO, Accion

Over the last few years, we’ve made great progress in expanding financial access for those left out of the economic mainstream. From 2011-2014, more than 700 million people gained access to new financial accounts. If you’ve just been reading the headlines, you might assume that telcos and fintech start-ups are the primary forces driving that progress.

But the newest study from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, “The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets”, found that of the 721 million adults who gained access to new financial accounts between 2011-2014, 90 percent of them did so at more traditional financial institutions.

Telcos and fintech start-ups have been getting the headlines; the banks have been getting the job done. That’s important, exciting news.

This report shows that, for the first time, banks, all around the world, are seeing financial inclusion as a core business function. The Business of Financial Inclusion report shows that banks are creating lean, viable business models to reach customers they have never reached before. Digital payments are the main gateway for commercial banks to reach underbanked customers. They take many forms – transactional accounts, salaries and bill payments, G2P, and P2P. This means cheaper, more secure, and more convenient payments. Instead of spending hours traveling to make a single utility payment, mobile money allows you to push a button.

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> Posted by Deborah Drake, Vice President, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Declare victory and go home. How often do you get to say that? But that’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago when we celebrated the closing down of the Accion Bridge Fund. Why a celebration? As the first guarantee fund to support the growth of microfinance institutions, it achieved its objective which was to open doors to private bank funding. This was 1984; microfinance was in its early days and was the purview of small NGOs which had little to no experience with banks. What they did have was deep experience with microlending and bold ambitions to scale this lending. Funding above and beyond grants would be needed.

The Bridge Fund – originally called the Latin America Bridge Fund – was a pioneering breakthrough for Accion and for the industry. By providing a partial guarantee in the form of a letter of credit to local financial institutions, Accion’s network partners were able to grow their portfolios and establish relationships with the formal financial sector of their respective countries. As they gained experience and credibility, MFIs were able to leverage the guarantees to achieve funding multiple times the nominal amount of the guarantee.

Such well known leaders in financial inclusion as Bancosol and Mibanco received early support from the Bridge Fund. Accion’s partners in Paraguay and Chile were able to grow and thrive because Bridge Fund guarantees facilitated funding that they could not obtain from multilateral sources due to their political regimes. Over time the Bridge Fund grew to approximately US $6 million and provided guarantees to 40 MFIs in 15 countries around the world.

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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.
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