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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 The withdrawn notes constituted nearly 85 percent of this currency.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 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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

In the Delhi area, nearly 2,000 schools experienced multiple-day closures; construction and demolition was halted; almost 10 percent of workers called in sick; the government advised individuals to stay indoors as much as possible; and shops ran out of masks. India’s capital is reportedly experiencing its worst smog pollution in 17 years. This isn’t a mere inconvenience in terms of visibility or quality of life. This is an enormous threat to the health of the nearly 22 million people who live in the Delhi metropolitan area.

Air pollution levels are currently at 30-times the acceptable level set by the World Health Organization (WHO). And in India, air pollution is the leading cause of premature death, with about 620,000 people perishing each year from pollution-related diseases. Globally, among children under five years of age, nearly one million die from pneumonia each year and roughly half of these deaths are directly linked with air pollution.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

After decades of directing financial services to micro-enterprise owners, many microfinance institutions are finding that some of these enterprises have grown and that they’re now serving an expanding number of small business owners. With increasing global attention being directed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it is fitting to look more deeply at what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses started as microenterprises, grew, and can now be classified as SMEs – with a substantial number of employees. More specifically: Who are these entrepreneurs? What kinds of businesses do they operate? What have been their growth patterns and hurdles? And how have they utilized financial services to further their growth aspirations?

These are the questions that guided my research fellowship for the Center for Financial Inclusion. As part of my study I gathered institutional data and conducted in-depth interviews with clients of three leading microfinance institutions in Latin America: MiBanco, Banco ADOPEM, and Banco Solidario. The clients I focused on had all experienced significant loan size growth over several years.

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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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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director of the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects series. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

In financial inclusion circles there is palpable excitement around the promise of digital financial services (DFS) – most recently quantified by the McKinsey Global Institute as the potential for 1.6 billion individuals becoming banked, $2.1 trillion in loans disbursed, and 95 million new jobs. Yet, in order for this potential to be achieved, customers must trust the service. For instance, India-based MicroSave conducted research showing that while 85 percent of DFS customers said they would recommend DFS to others, they thought of it as a Plan B due to lack of trust. Issues that can erode or prevent trust from building include gaps in data protection and security, service downtime, insufficient transparency, agent misconduct and unauthorized fees, among others. As Graham Wright of MicroSave writes, “It is clear that there are immediate potential wins for DFS providers who address consumer protection issues.”

In this post the Smart Campaign spotlights a fast-growing fintech company, JUMO, that is helping to define what responsible digital finance means.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Financial Inclusion Week is fast approaching! From October 17-21, 2016 partners all around the globe will hold conversations focused on advancing financial inclusion, and more specifically, this year’s theme: keeping clients first in a digital world.  So far over 30 organizations have signed on to participate in the week, including BRAC, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Here is a rundown of the ways that you can get involved.

Hold a Conversation: We encourage organizations to gather internal or external stakeholders to discuss the theme in any conversation format that works for them. The link to register as a Financial Inclusion Week partner can be found here and you can check out a full list of this year’s events on the Financial Inclusion Week Website.

Talk to a Client: Given this year’s theme of keeping clients first, we are also doing a call for client visits. We encourage you to organize client visits for you and your staff, donors, or other partners – either in addition to or instead of hosting an event. This will provide an opportunity for you to hear directly from your clients on how they are engaging with digital financial services, and what they need from providers and support organizations.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

After decades of directing financial services to owners of micro-enterprises, many microfinance institutions are now finding themselves serving a growing population of small business owners.  Thus, with increasing global attention directed to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their potential contribution to economic growth, it seems fitting to look more deeply into microfinance portfolios, and discover what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses have arisen out of poverty and marginalization into what can be classified as emerging SMEs. My recent research as a CFI Research Fellow led me to delve deeply into the stories of entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses from micro-enterprises into SMEs.

As someone who has focused much of her career on pushing microfinance downward, towards smaller enterprises and those earning lower incomes, this focus on emerging SMEs both inspired and taught me a great deal. While the analysis of these stories is the focus of my report coming out next month, I’d like to share here two stories that inform our understanding of the nature, growth trajectories, and financial service usage of SMEs arising from within microfinance portfolios. They describe the experiences of two clients of Banco ADOPEM in the Dominican Republic – one of three microfinance banks I visited as part of this study. (All names have been changed to protect identities.) While these two stories may resemble the classic “client story” in that they show how people have moved up the economic ladder, pay attention to the markers of success – both financial and non-financial – that distinguish these clients from those that may have not grown.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI, and Michael Mori, Senior Designer, Dalberg Design Impact Group

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

From a mathematical point of view, borrowing and saving are mirror images. In both cases many small payments allow for one or more large payouts. Only the sequence differs. Stuart Rutherford’s classic description involves “saving up” (saving) and “saving down” (borrowing), both for the purpose of assembling “usefully large sums.” When viewed in this way it is clear that saving and borrowing can serve much the same purpose, and at times can even substitute for each other.

This is true, as far as it goes, and it underscores the importance of disciplined payments of small amounts as a path to obtaining the lump sums needed for major purchases.

We recently traveled to India (Mumbai and rural Maharashtra) and Kenya (Nairobi and farming villages outside of Nyahururu) as part of a research project led by the Center for Financial Services Innovation and the Center for Financial Inclusion, and conducted by Dalberg. In speaking with a variety of residents, we were struck by vast differences in the way people make borrowing and savings decisions.

The people we talked with carried out most of their financial actions through informal instruments, though many were members of cooperatives and some did have (largely inactive) bank accounts. Instead of using these formal options, they borrowed mostly from friends, family and moneylenders. They saved in cash stashed at home, livestock, land and gold, amongst other assets. We asked how they decided where and how to save and borrow. They very willingly described their thought processes and the considerations that guide them in making decisions. As it turns out, their decisions about borrowing hang on surprisingly different criteria from those about saving, bearing on very different realms of their lives.

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> Posted by Brian Kuwik, Chief Regional Officer, Africa, Accion

Today around the world, we celebrate our youth and their achievements and reflect on the goals of “eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production” for the youth of this generation. To achieve these goals, a culture of saving money consistently over time will be important.

How can financial institutions, policy makers, and parents encourage the youth to save? A six-year project (2010-2015) across four countries, YouthSave, led by Save the Children and Washington University examined this question. Recently, I attended the project’s dissemination event in Accra, Ghana and learned about how, as part of the project, a bank partnered with middle and secondary schools to offer formal savings accounts to students 12-18 years of age.

Many Ghanaian students are saving money informally in their schools because they either lack national identification documents or cannot find an adult whom they trust to be the primary signatory to a bank account.  Some entrepreneurial students act as “susus” collecting cash from their classmates on a daily basis and safe-guarding it. Since they often keep one day of savings as a fee for this service, this can be a costly way of saving.

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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.