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> Posted by Center Staff

We’ve written about the unfolding demonetization situation in India a few times now (here and here). Demonetization, the government declaration on November 8, 2016 that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes would become void on midnight of the same day, aims to curb black money and corruption, and support the uptake of digital financial services. However, demonetization has caused a range of harms. These consequences should have been foreseeable because: the declaration was massive in scope, affecting 86 percent of the country’s currency in circulation; the country’s banking industry was given no time to prepare, as the plan was kept secret until November 8; and the vast majority of the country’s labor force works in the informal sector, dealing almost exclusively in cash.

Our previous posts focused on the financial inclusion implications of demonetization and how the government’s move affects Indians’ ability to conduct their finances. But our posts haven’t discussed the non-economic ways that demonetization is affecting citizens. Let us be clear, with the massive population in India living at or below the poverty line, the financial shock caused by demonetization has meant life or death for many. Here is a list of some of the ways demonetization is causing more than economic harm:
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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

A customer waits to collect money at the Juba Express money transfer company in Mogadishu, Somalia. 

This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

This is not a rhetorical question—I really do want to know. As we’ve put out a modest blog series about de-risking, I’ve been thinking about regulations on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Are stringent regulations and dramatic consequences for non-compliance really necessary? Is it fair to expect the financial system to bear so large a burden? Would it be better for everyone if the onus were on law enforcement to detect and eliminate illicit activity and financial institutions just had to cooperate where necessary?

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> Posted by Jayshree Venkatesan, Financial Inclusion Consultant

On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister of India made an announcement that notes of denominations Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 would become illegal tender overnight in a move that was termed demonetization. In turn, the government would issue a note valued at Rs. 2000, which would replace the notes taken out of circulation. According to the RBI’s most recent annual report, the total currency in circulation in India was INR 16634.63 billion (~USD 256 billion). The withdrawn notes constituted nearly 85 percent of this currency.

Phasing out old notes and replacing them with new ones is a standard practice followed by central banks globally. In the Indian context, however, there were two factors that contributed to this standard practice resulting in chaos and an economic shock on the poor.

The first was the short span of time given to react. The announcement was made on television after business hours on November 8, and the affected tender was rendered illegal by midnight of the same day. As a result there is enormous pressure on the banking system, and a frenzy of citizens trying to make the necessary adjustments. The second factor was the disproportionately small share of Rs. 2000 notes ready to replace the phased out currency. While the short span of time resulted in an instant shock to several segments of the population that predominantly operate in the cash economy, the limited Rs. 2000 notes translated into a cash crunch that has brought large parts of the economy to a grinding halt.

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> Posted by Misha Sharma, Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

Last week was a rather challenging one for the Indian economy. On November 8, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a dramatic demonetization exercise that rendered all Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes void starting November 9, with the objective of curbing black money, corruption, counterfeit notes, and the financing of terrorism – all of which has leveraged these larger currency notes (with values equivalent to about US$7.50 and $15.00).

The next morning saw newspapers flooded with advertisements by e-wallet companies thanking the Indian Government for its visionary move and congratulating the Prime Minister on “taking the boldest decision in the financial history of Independent India.” They even claimed Indians to be the biggest beneficiaries in this exercise, indicating this was a positive step towards solving the problem of financial inclusion and encouraging more and more people to transition to the digital world. Several banks printed front page advertisements praising this move as progress towards a cashless India. A full-fledged commercial bank endorsed the move with the tag line –Who says you need cash to get by in life?

All I could think while reading these advertisements and endorsements is that we couldn’t be any more oblivious, as we are forgetting the plight of those who remain excluded from the formal economy.

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

This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.

Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.

It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.

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> Posted by Ellen Metzger, CFI

Community savings groups are at the heart of successful rural banking

Before joining the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, I spent four years in rural East Africa managing an ultra-poor graduation program. At Village Enterprise, we focused on savings group creation and distributed conditional cash transfers rather than livestock (as is customary with graduation programs) in order to empower choice and facilitate ownership among our participants. Over years of traveling the bumpy back roads of Uganda and Western Kenya meeting with hundreds of savings group members, I met very few participants who went beyond their local savings groups to take loans from financial institutions such as MFIs. Those few who did created great success stories. In light of the recent article “Your Inflexible Friend” in The Economist, which offers a review of microlending’s history, I reflect on why we don’t see microlending in the rural areas of Uganda and Western Kenya and how that can change.

A good reputation is critical. In these areas, tragic stories of delinquencies and defaults travel faster and are remembered longer than stories of success. In Kenya especially, where there is more competition in rural areas among financial institutions than in Uganda, reputation precedes the products and services. These reputations can vary dramatically every 5 kilometers you travel. When groups are asked about being linked to a particular financial institution, one community will trust the organization, the next community a few kilometers away will cringe at the name. Microfinance institutions are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in trust, so it’s imperative for them to design trustworthy products and ensure adequate follow-through on their services every time.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2017 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place April 17 – 21, 2017 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2017 HBS-Accion Program builds on 11 successful years and over 700 alumni – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming.

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  • Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and East and South Asia have the most conducive environments for financial inclusion. India stands out for the most progress in the last three years and is now ranked third
  • Further policy changes are needed if financial inclusion is to play the role envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals
  • The digitization of financial services is key to increasing access to finance

The 2016 Global Microscope on Financial Inclusion shows that essential policies for bringing financial services to low-income groups are now widespread in the developing world. Nine of the 12 financial inclusion indicators covered in the benchmarking index improved globally in 2016, building on gains which have been made during the last decade. Even so, many countries have not moved significantly beyond basic policies, and greater focus is needed if financial inclusion is to play the critical role envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Global Microscope is produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), with policy guidance and financial support from leading organisations in the field including the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. Now in its 10th year, the Microscope is the global standard for financial inclusion policy in developing economies.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme was keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants shared their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts.

Well, that’s a wrap. Last week, the global financial inclusion community came together to explore the key actions needed to keep clients first in a digital world. Over 45 partner and contributing organizations in 19 countries drove the conversation through events, and on social media hundreds shared insights with the hashtag #FinclusionWeek.

While October 21st marked the official end of Financial Inclusion Week 2016, there are still a few Financial Inclusion Week events happening this week, including a webinar on G2P payments and an exploration of the challenges to women entrepreneurs in India. Stay tuned for event recap pages on each of the Week’s events as well as an electronic magazine highlighting the insights shared throughout the week. Additionally, visit the Financial Inclusion Week website for a full rundown of partners, events, and a social media feed.

We would like to thank all of the Financial Inclusion Week partners and contributors. You came together to make this Week a success, and we are all inspired by your commitment to advancing financial inclusion. For a full list of partners, visit the Financial Inclusion Week homepage. We hope that all who participated will continue to explore how to protect and empower clients in an increasingly digital financial ecosystem.

Here is a recap of day five. If you missed any of the other recap blog posts, you can find them all here on the CFI blog, as well as a number of thought pieces from Tilman Ehrbeck of Omidyar Network, Elisabeth Rhyne of CFI, and John Hartman of Equifax.
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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.