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It’s not just social media. We need a fresh look at how financial data is protected, too.

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

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Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s handling of customer data yesterday before the U.S. Senate, and many of us at Accion and the Center for Financial Inclusion were riveted. Not that the testimony was especially compelling as television spectacle, but because the issues at stake are so important both for our own lives and for our work.

I did a quick scan of the staff here in our Washington, D.C. office, and would like to share some of their thoughts.

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Organizations that collectively serve 80% of Australia’s population are working together to advance financial resilience 

> Posted by Good Shepherd Microfinance

If financial inclusion is looked at as a problem of access, Australia is doing very well. Over 98 percent of the adult population has access to at least one financial service. By comparison, the average level across high-income countries is 91 percent, and the average across low-income countries is 28 percent, according to the Global Findex. But scratching the surface finds many people who are struggling with financial hardship.

3.3 million Australian adults (almost 18 percent of the population) lack access to financial products and services that are considered safe, affordable and appropriate for their needs, and 2.4 million experience severe financial vulnerability, based on research on financial resilience conducted by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI).

Recognizing that collaborative action is needed to improve financial inclusion and resilience for the millions of Australians who are left behind, 30 organizations have joined forces to co-design the Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) program. Led by Good Shepherd Microfinance on behalf of the Australian Government in partnership with EY and CSI, this program helps participating organizations (Trailblazers) understand their role in advancing financial inclusion and resilience, and take practical actions to realize this potential, for their own clients, employees, suppliers and community partners.

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Recommendations for how Colombia’s banks, fintechs, telcos, and government can better harness technology to boost inclusion

> Posted by Miriam Freeman

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In Colombia, where institutional factors favor technology as a tool for development, fintech has proven helpful in promoting financial inclusion, but only through a narrow definition of inclusion—more access. If we broaden our definition of financial inclusion, the country’s progress in leveraging fintech is less substantial. What can the business community and policymakers do to advance fintech for financial inclusion in Colombia?

First, let’s take a step back. In terms of financial inclusion broadly, how does Colombia measure up?

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How the government of India, Swiss Re, and others are collaboratively combating climate change-related risk

This post is adapted from the recently-released publication “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

As many know too painfully well, catastrophic events like climate change-related disasters can cause financial stress long after they have occurred. In fact, less than 30 percent of losses from catastrophic events are covered by insurance, which means the remaining 70 percent of the burden is carried by individuals, firms, and the “insurer of last resort,” governments. According to the Insurance Development Forum, a 1 percent increase in insurance penetration could reduce the disaster-recovery burden on taxpayers by 22 percent.

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The U.S. bail bonds system raises serious consumer protection concerns

> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Specialist, CFI

In a criminal justice system that accepts cash in exchange for temporary freedom, a predatory financial service has taken root and become yet another barrier. In the United States, bail bondsman and global insurance companies are netting between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion annually from vulnerable people who are unable to pay the bail they need to remain out of custody before they are tried. This is not a new problem. It’s been going on since the early days of the modern U.S. criminal justice system.

Those accused of crimes are given an option to stay in jail or put up an amount of money (bail) for their release prior to trial. (It is important to note that people at this stage are presumed innocent under law.) The bail acts as a commitment device for people to show up to their court hearing. The bail amount is returned if the defendant shows up. If they do not, the court keeps it. Bail amounts vary greatly based on the severity of the crime in question as well as the potential flight risk of the accused party. The average bail amount for a felony arrest is about $10,000, roughly two months’ worth of the median annual income in the United States. In a study of nearly 30,000 cases where bail was set in New York City, only 37 percent of defendants could afford to pay bail.

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Country-specific scores across regulations that enable, promote, and prevent financial inclusion

> Posted by Liliana Rojas-Suarez and Lucía Pacheco

The following post was originally published on the Center for Global Development’s blog and has been republished with permission.

The most recent World Bank data on financial inclusion shows that by 2014, only 54 percent of the adult population in Latin America had an account at a financial institution. This compares to an average of 62 percent of adults worldwide and 70.5 percent for those countries with a similar level of income per capita (the region’s peers). In developed economies, 94 percent of adults have an account at a financial institution.

Many factors could be cited for the low ratios of financial inclusion in Latin America, but in a recent paper published at BBVA Research, that also came as a CGD working paper, we focus on the potential role of financial regulation. We assessed and compared the quality of the policies and regulations that impinge on financial inclusion in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay). Peru and Mexico came out on top, with what appear to be the best regulatory frameworks for promoting financial inclusion. But even in these top performers, there is room for improvement.

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Consumer protection is a driver of revenue, and not a regulated compliance cost

> Posted by Dylan Lennox, Partner, MFX

Educating digital financial services (DFS) providers to understand that consumer protection is a core business strategy is as important – if not more important – than consumer protection regulation supervision if we hope to ensure that vulnerable consumers are well protected. For this reason, as I articulated in my last post, I would like to see DFS providers and their managers take the lead when it comes to driving consumer protection, and that consumer advocates and regulators’ efforts are aligned to make sure this happens.

There are many possible reasons why DFS managers are not taking the lead, however, beyond a general lack of awareness of consumer protection and its importance:

  • They might be driven to achieve short-term targets with limited resources, prioritizing their time, budgets and activities to meet high ROI expectations. Or they might be under pressure to launch innovations and take advantage of the “next big thing” like digital credit or data monetization.
  • They could lack the necessary knowledge and experience in their teams to properly address consumer protection. Such know-how involves truly understanding customers’ needs, developing intuitive user interfaces, designing appropriate sales incentive structures, assessing customers’ loan affordability, and implementing effective internal control frameworks to address security, loss of privacy, or fraud risks.
  • Or perhaps the technology they have implemented does not have the required functionality to properly implement basic consumer protection requirements – like those of data security, for example. In such a case, it is left up to the individual DFS managers to make specific technical developments to address consumer risks. Such an institution-by-institution approach increases the overall cost of consumer protection to the industry and decreases the likelihood that it will be implemented as these measures compete with other priorities.

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> Posted by Dylan Lennox, Partner, MFX

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After launching and operating mobile money businesses in a number of markets over the last ten years, I was aware of the necessity of protecting consumers. I knew it was a regulatory priority alongside important issues such as AML and interoperability, but that’s where I left it: in the compliance box, while I waited to be told what to do. All the consumer protection literature I read gave me the same heavy feeling, laden as it is with long lists of requirements: protect customer’s funds from loss and fraud, ensure proper disclosure and transparency, keep their data private, make sure customers can have their complaints resolved, and so forth. These looked like the core business processes I needed to implement anyway, so I felt we would be in fine shape if we were ever to have a supervisory inspection. I never looked any deeper.

In the days when enabling regulation meant “Please leave us alone to grow,” I kept my head turned firmly in the direction of my business goals, growing a base of active customers to reach scale, and then taking advantage of those network effects. After all, financial inclusion was also an objective we shared with the regulator, and as long as we were growing they maintained a light touch.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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As we have watched events unfold in Iran, it has become increasingly clear that major problems with stability and security of funds in the financial system is a driver of civil unrest and political instability.

Over the last few weeks more than a dozen people have been killed and thousands have been arrested in demonstrations across the country. These demonstrations have involved tens of thousands of people in the most significant public display of opposition that the government has seen in a decade. The magnitude of this unrest is significant, and global concern is growing.

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New data from InterMedia breaks down the impact of demonetization on financial inclusion across gender, locality, income levels, account types, and more. 

> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Research Manager, Financial Inclusion Insights, InterMedia

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Demonetization had a strongly positive effect on financial inclusion, leading to increases in account registration and active and advanced use of registered accounts, according to our data. Perhaps surprisingly, given some of the discussion in the financial inclusion community over the last year predicting demonetization increasing electronic payments, these account registration increases were mostly among bank accounts rather than mobile wallets.

InterMedia’s fourth annual Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) survey was underway on November 9, 2016 when approximately 85 percent of the banknotes in circulation in India were invalidated by the policy known as demonetization. The invalid notes had to be deposited in a bank or exchanged for new ones at banks and other financial institutions. The timing of demonetization in relation to InterMedia’s activities presented an opportunity for us to measure the impact on financial inclusion using a panel survey of 1,600 randomly selected individuals in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. These respondents were first interviewed for the FII survey roughly one month prior to Nov. 9, and then re-interviewed seven months later.

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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.