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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

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Never before have issues of data privacy and security been more top of mind. In the United States this attention was on full display a few weeks ago when every media outlet was glued to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he fielded questions from Congress on how his company handles, and has mishandled, user data.

Europe begins a new era for data protection today as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, following its passage roughly two years ago. The law is being celebrated widely for its robust customer-centricity. The degree to which it succeeds, in Europe and globally, in enforcing a business environment that provides adequate safeguards for consumer data management remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: it has the potential to change the way we all interact with businesses, from internet platforms to banks.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following is part of a blog series spotlighting views from participants in the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF).

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Two experiences with interest rate caps – in Kenya and Zambia – demonstrate the power of political forces to shape financial inclusion policies and may hold lessons for MSME lenders in other countries.

In a recent unpublished study, the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (formerly the Microfinance CEO Working Group) examined commonalities in the origins of interest rate caps in these two countries. In both cases, signs were clear that the general public was upset about the current state of loans and interest rates. Approaching elections increased the will among political leaders to make regulatory changes that would appeal to the public.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

Last week, Mick Mulvaney, interim director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said in reference to the CFPB’s consumer complaints database, “I don’t see anything in [the Dodd-Frank Act] that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government. I don’t see anything in here that says that I have to make all of those [complaints] public.”

Mulvaney’s comments refer to the complaints database CFPB has been running for several years, which allows anyone to view, sort, and filter complaints submitted by customers regarding their treatment by their financial service provider. Since the database was created, roughly 1.5 million complaints have been logged. This database has functioned as a tremendous resource for prospective customers who want to check out financial institutions, for analysts of consumer risks in the U.S. financial system, and for financial institutions who want to see how they stack up against others. Its publication may also induce financial service providers to be more vigilant in avoiding bad practices and handling customer complaints well.

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On a daily basis, consumers fall victim to issues like lack of grievance redressal, misleading ads, and outright frauds and scams

> Posted by Sola Salako Ajulo, President and Founder, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON)

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In fewer than twenty years, our concept of a market has evolved from a strictly physical location of commercial activity, to also include intangible, real-time e-locations. Research shows that up to 12 percent of all global commercial transactions now take place on the Internet – within and between countries, often across multiple currencies, and with little or no physical contact between seller and consumer.

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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

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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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.