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

Board members and CEOs of MFIs in the MENA region met at the MENA Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar hosted by CFI, Calmeadow and the Sanabel Network, in Jordan this March

Over the past few years, the financial inclusion landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has rapidly evolved with new market entrants, changing regulations and increased financial risks. The industry aims to expand access to formal financial services and achieve much needed economic stability, and yet the financial inclusion ecosystem in MENA has experienced slower growth over the last 10 years compared to their peers in other parts of the developing world. According to reports by the World Bank and CGAP, microfinance institutions (MFIs) in MENA are currently reaching approximately 3 million borrowers, with a loan portfolio of over $2 billion — far below the market potential estimated at 56 million borrowers. The stakes are getting higher and MFIs need to reconsider their strategic directions in order to reach the unmet clients at the base of the economic pyramid.

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This post originally appeared on the IFMR Trust Blog and is re-posted with permission.

By Bindu Ananth

I was at an excellent behavioral finance conference organized by the Michigan University’s Centre on Finance, Law & Policy last week. One of the panels on investor protection debated issues including the impacts of disclosures, choice architecture and social norms marketing on investor behavior. There was also an interesting discussion on role of advice and advisors in de-biasing investors or exacerbating weaknesses.

In the audience Q & A, in response to a question on the role of financial advice for low-income investors, one of the panelists responded that failures in the market for advice were less of an issue here since by and large, the right answer in most cases is just “save more for the future.” I found myself disagreeing with this notion strongly and one more reminder that the field of household finance has failed to examine the financial lives of low-income families in sufficient detail. In this post, I attempt to share from our KGFS work what are some of the other important aspects where advice seems to matter.

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> Posted by Akhand Tiwari, Bhavana Srivastava, and Vijay Ravi, MicroSave

Loyalty Programs

In today’s world, loyalty programs are a dime a dozen, with everyone from retail stores to luxury hotels offering membership for even the smallest of transactions. A publication from Smith School of Business suggests that the average Canadian household is enrolled in no less than eight loyalty programs. In this context, it is pertinent to examine if loyalty programs actually serve their intended purpose. If yes, how specifically do they impact a company’s business?

The premise of all loyalty programs is that they promote continued patronage. In a world where there is often little variation between competitors’ offerings, a well-designed loyalty program could make all the difference for your business. After all, a good loyalty program could very well decide which airline you choose for your next business trip!

We make an important distinction here – between loyalty programs and rewards. While loyalty programs aim to instill continuous engagement, the focus of rewards is on pushing specific action. Rewards are target-oriented and last only for a limited period. To illustrate this, think of offers, such as zero-processing fees, which are designed to increase adoption of a credit product, and higher interest rates on term deposits, which promote savings.

Based on MicroSave’s experience on how low-income households exhibit loyalty towards their financial service providers – we have some useful insights.

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> Posted by Rachel Morpeth, Analyst, CFI

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People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey.

The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey colored headlines across the nation. Two weeks later, Houston, Texas remains partially submerged. The resulting financial damage will likely exceed that of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana coast in 2005. Harvey is taking Katrina’s title as the most catastrophic storm in America’s history. A Politico headline, however, poignantly suggests another message that perhaps we should all be taking away: “Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like.” Harvey is classified as a “500-year flood,” meaning a flood of this magnitude has a 1-in-500 probability of occurring in any given year. Yet this is Houston’s third 500-year flood in three years. Harvey’s successor, Hurricane Irma, has also caused death and devastation, while heavy flooding in South Asia has resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 people across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

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> Posted by Pablo Antón Díaz, Research Manager, CFI

Leonardo Tibaquira Morales, Product Manager at Accion, leads a training for workshop participants who work with pensions

Traditional financial education programs have, at best, a minimal impact on the financial capability of recipients. At least that’s what the research tells us. Still, the vast majority of time and energy contributed towards improving financial capability around the world is channeled through traditional methods. I had the opportunity to take a closer look – and contribute to – one country that is energetically trying to improve financial capability: Colombia.

The Colombian government recognizes that the average level of financial literacy and financial capability in the country is low, especially among rural and low income communities (as a joint-study by CAF and others across several South American countries demonstrates) and that the programs implemented thus far have been insufficient to address the issue. But, the country is poised for change.

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

(click to enlarge)

What’s been happening with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG)? We’re glad you asked. Fresh-off-the-press is a new annual report from the MCWG, detailing the Working Group’s key accomplishments and activities of the past year. Consumer protection is among the standout areas for the MCWG for 2016. Over the course of the year, 14 local partners belonging to the MCWG network achieved Smart Certification, including BRAC Bangladesh, the first microfinance provider in the country and the largest in the world to reach the consumer protection milestone. In total, 21.9 million clients are served by 39 MCWG network Smart Certified institutions.

The MCWG is comprised of the leaders of 10 global microfinance organizations: Accion; Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance; BRAC; CARE; FINCA; Grameen Foundation; Opportunity International; Pro Mujer; VisionFund International; and Women’s World Banking. The newest member, added in 2016, is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and its General Manager Jesse Fripp. The MCWG also harnesses the expertise of more than 40 senior staffers across the member organizations, who meet regularly across seven Peer Groups focused on specific areas of microfinance, from digital financial services, to social performance, to communications, taxation, and others. Members and local partners work with more than 89 million clients in 87 countries, providing them with financial services as well as other support to help them succeed and lift their families out of poverty.

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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Director, the Smart Campaign

The merits and pitfalls of mobile credit continue to be debated hotly in financial inclusion circles. Mobile products are making credit more accessible through branchless banking and alternative underwriting and business models. But experimenting with new ways of lending when your borrowers include those at the base of the pyramid brings steep risks and some models can be downright reckless. Which side of the fence are you on?

The Smart Campaign is seeking to assist the sector to develop a consensus about responsible online credit practice, and the good news is that these questions have recently become top-of-mind for a range of stakeholders. Quona’s Johan Bosini and Positive Planet’s Bezant Chongo gamely volunteered for an Oxford-style debate on whether mobile credit is good for its clients at the 4th Annual Mondato Summit in Johannesburg back in May.

The convenience and ease-of-access of mobile credit products are immensely beneficial to the unbanked, according to Bosini, speaking for the pro side. When juxtaposed to traditional lending products that take, for instance, in Benin, an average of almost 5 weeks to access (involving multiple trips), mobile credit seems supersonic, he emphasized. Using alternative data and analytics, mobile credit unlocks access for individuals without credit history. The reality for the poor, as elucidated by the Financial Diaries and other research, is that incomes fluctuate widely. Now with mobile credit, a person in a pinch can help smooth the inevitable bumps in income with a few clicks on the phone.

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> Posted by Chris Wolff

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At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

Outside the Tosh Hovli Stone Palace of Khiva, an Uzbek lady practices her craft, knitting.

At the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), we spend a lot of time thinking of ways economically marginalized people can gain access to the capital they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Through our work, we’ve repeatedly seen that, while talent is universal, opportunity is not. Large swathes of the population across the developing world have limited access to the formal financial system and are stuck managing money in ways that are often inconvenient, inefficient, and sometimes even involve humiliation and abuse.

Focusing on places where economically vulnerable people are at risk, however instructive, risks obscuring the fact that great divides exist across gender in many diverse geographies. In developed countries as in the developing nations, women lag behind men in indicators that measure entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. Their societies are poorer for it. In the U.K., women-led businesses are far less likely to secure financing; 91 percent of investment was directed to companies without even one female founder. In the U.S., women make up half the labor force but own just a third of all companies.

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

Where were you in 2006? I was living with friends in a “beach house” in San Diego. Since then, I lived in China, went to grad school, shifted careers, married, and had two kids. So much has changed in my life over the past decade. The same cannot be said on the topic of valuing socially-focused financial institutions.

In 2006, Clay O’Brien wrote the first-of-its-kind paper on “Valuing Microfinance Institutions.” This paper surveyed members of the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) – which was then called the Council of Microfinance Equity Funds (CMEF) – and concluded that:

  • There was not enough transparency in terms of methodologies and benchmark data;
  • There was a need for a more robust, standardized valuation methodology; and
  • The social value of double-bottom line investments was not accounted for – or was accounted for negatively – in the valuation.

FIEC recently revisited the topic of valuing double-bottom line investments with its valuation working group to better understand how the topic has evolved over the past decade. What was found? Despite changes in the broader industry (new players, adjacent sector investments, etc.), very little has changed in terms of valuing financial inclusion investments. Our findings are compiled in a brief paper, Valuing Microfinance Institutions: Where Are We Now.

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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.