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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 Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President, and Christian Loupeda, Senior Director Financial Inclusion, Grameen Foundation  

This is the second post in a three-part series that explores the role of digital financial services in expanding women’s control over their financial lives. You can read the first post here.

For poor, rural communities “field force” workers such as mobile money agents or government agricultural extension officers can be lifelines to services and information that bring rural residents greater control over their financial lives and help them increase their incomes and gain a connection to the larger world. But, for women, rather than a bridge, field force workers too often end up being one more hurdle on the way to access resources.

Across the developing world, almost all agricultural extension services lack female participation. Women, on average, comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers. Yet only 15 percent of the world’s agriculture extension agents are women, and only 5 percent of women farmers benefit from extension services–despite the fact that women play a significant role in farming activities from production all the way to commercialization. Similarly, for mobile money agents, GSMA reports that among its members that report on gender, only 23 percent of agents and 37 percent of customers are female.

As Lisa Kienzle mentioned in her post in this series on digital financial services for women, Grameen Foundation has found that a woman often benefits from being able to work with a trusted agent who can directly help her understand and use the services available. That’s why we have helped to develop women as banking agents in the Philippines. We created an independent network of female financial agents who work out of their neighborhood sari-sari (variety) shops. The all-female network now includes 862 trained agents, who bring digital financial services to more than 66,000 low-income clients. Recruiting female agents benefits the end clients, but also the female entreprenuers who become agents who typically see an increase in their own income of at least 20-to-30 percent.

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> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow and Independent Consultant

Building the right channels to serve the financially excluded is one of the most important (and daunting) challenges facing senior executives, boards and investors in the financial inclusion space. They are not alone. As digital technology disrupts a wide swath of industries, leading global consulting firms have engaged in research to understand how best to help companies configure and prioritize digital and human-based customer engagement channels. While affirming the importance of digital innovations and ongoing investment therein, Accenture also sees a need for curbed enthusiasm. “Customers aren’t as predictable as we like to think,” cautions a recent Accenture Strategy paper. “Profitability resides in the digital / physical blur.” Verint also commissioned research in twelve countries that found customers want “a human element” to remain part of customer service and that “those who receive more ‘human’ or traditional customer service display more positive behaviors toward brands.”

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

At CFI we often talk about financial health as if it is a crisp, free-standing concept. Moreover, by connecting financial health to financial inclusion we imply – and hope – that we can affect financial health by offering the right kind of financial services and/or developing a person’s financial capabilities. However, while there is truth to this view, it is sometimes easy to overestimate the power of financial services. We need to think about how both financial and economic factors intertwine to create outcomes. If we compartmentalize financial actions, we ignore the very powerful economic factors that influence financial health.

As defined by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – and embraced by us at CFI – three elements must all be present to declare a person, family or microenterprise to be financially healthy:

  • Balanced day-to-day money management – outflows balanced with incomes over time.
  • Protection from shocks – ability to draw down, borrow or call upon resources to lessen the blow when bad things happen.
  • Pursuit of goals – ability to accumulate resources for medium to long-term purposes, whether personal or productive.

In speaking with low income people around the world, we find that many people intuitively define financial health in these terms, and nearly everyone tries to pursue financial health in their own lives. But achieving these three elements is not just a financial task. It requires both economic and financial actions. (It also hinges on personal choices and capabilities, but we will set these aside for now.)

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

If you’re based in the United States, you’ve likely heard about how student loan debt is problematic and has been for years. The growing volume of student debt that has become more and more the norm is so high, its effects can be overwhelming. But how bad is it? Is it just a matter of students needing to hunker down (a little longer) and pay their dues (a little more)?

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

A record number of people, more than ever in our lifetimes, are fleeing their homes due to wars, persecution, and disasters. Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute, amounting to 28,300 people each day. Roughly 65 million people are currently displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. This figure is about the size of the population of France or the United Kingdom. About 22 million of the displaced are refugees (displaced across country borders). And more than half of whom are under the age of 18.

Today on World Refugee Day, we call on the international community to provide compassion for the displaced and support and solidarity for those working tirelessly to help them. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we can do to overcome inaction, indifference, and fear.

Two areas in need of attention, as today’s news has so painfully affirmed, are enhanced water rescue operations and more viable and safer alternatives for those in need of international protection. Today we learned that several ships that disembarked from the coast of Libya over the weekend sank and more than 120 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

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> Posted by Ross Tasker, COO, Nobuntu

A worker prunes trees

A worker prunes trees

Imagine an elderly lady in her late seventies, who lives in a township in South Africa. Her income is very little, some US$120 a month in assistance from the government, and her body is old and sore – she is now too old to work. With no savings to draw upon, and no other sources of income, she struggles to afford medication for her chronic ailments. Two of her three children are unemployed, and her grandchildren are hungry and unable to pay the taxi fare to get to their school. This position isn’t atypical in South Africa. There are hundreds of thousands of older adults in the country (8 percent of the total population). Making matters worse, there is a distinct lack of a formal savings culture in the country. Imagine the impossible financial decisions faced by so many elderly South Africans on a daily basis.

There are various reasons for the shortage of savings in South Africa. One of which is the legacy of structural exclusion along racial lines that the pre-democratic regime left behind. During this time, a large part of the population was denied access to basic services and human rights, let alone access to any meaningful financial services.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Last month CFI invited all of Accion’s staff, both inside and outside the U.S., to complete a questionnaire on their own financial health. Many of you have seen and even taken this survey (see blog post here). The survey is broadly based on the U.S. financial health framework developed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), which we believe is a better fit for Accion employees than the global financial health framework we developed with CFSI for base-of-the-pyramid markets. In this post we report on what we found when “Accionistas” took the survey.

It turns out that Accionistas are a pretty financially healthy bunch. Three quarters of the 122 people who took the survey scored in the good or excellent range. Given that Accion employees have steady employment with fringe benefits (pension savings plan, health insurance), this is not terribly surprising. As Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider show in The Financial Diaries, income volatility is one of the biggest causes of financial stress among American families. Thankfully, Accion employees, like most employees of international development non-profits, can count on the same paycheck week after week, and this makes the task of staying financially healthy much easier. Health insurance is also an essential source of financial protection, as is car insurance.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

In 2014, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA), the country’s central bank, made a commitment under the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Maya Declaration to develop a national financial inclusion strategy. It backed the overall pledge with specific commitments detailing the main pieces of the strategy. Since then, it has diligently put these pieces into place. Over the past three years, the RMA created regulations for microfinance organizations (deposit-taking and non-deposit taking) and agent banking. It set up a mobile payments system, a credit bureau and a collateral registry. This is an impressive set of accomplishments for a country starting from a relatively blank slate in these areas.

But is it enough? I wonder whether these initiatives will spark the provision of financial services that contribute to the inclusive economic growth Bhutan is seeking.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Specialist, CFI

How financially healthy are you? Financial health is a relatively new term in the financial inclusion community, and aims to provide a model for assessing how well one’s daily financial systems enable a person or household to build resilience to shocks and pursue opportunities and dreams. Last month, CFI in collaboration with The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and Dalberg’s Design Impact Group (DIG) launched the results of a year-long study into how to adapt CFSI’s U.S.-based financial health framework to a developing country, BoP context. The study found that the concept of financial health can be applied to lower-income people in emerging markets, though the indicators and measures of financial health in this context were different. We encourage you to check out the full report, Beyond Financial Inclusion: Financial Health as a Global Framework, to learn more about our financial health framework for the developing world.

We also encourage you to engage with your own financial health in order to get a better grasp on the concept. To better understand the concept ourselves, CFI and Accion staff (building on the work of our year-long study and on the U.S. Financial Health Framework of CFSI) recently participated in an organization-wide financial health survey. Over 120 Accionistas took the survey and received assessments of their financial health. After reviewing the responses, we have uncovered some interesting insights into how people’s debts evolve as they age and the diverse set of tools they are using to manage their financial lives.

As a next step in the process of understanding, we want to share this survey with you. We hope it will help you both engage with the concept of financial health and potentially improve your own financial health. We also hope your feedback will help us strengthen our framework and this tool.  Finally, we look forward to reporting back soon on the financial health of CFI’s (anonymous) blog readers!

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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.