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> Posted by Center Staff
Last week the Kenyan government officially kicked-off Huduma cards, a fintech initiative aimed at bolstering government services in the country and digital financial inclusion. The program leverages partnerships with Mastercard and a handful of prominent banks. If successful, the new cards will simultaneously improve the government’s functioning, enroll more citizens in key government services like health insurance and social security, and provide digital financial services to many unbanked Kenyans.
> Posted by Vinita Godinho, General Manager – Advisory, Good Shepherd Microfinance
You might not know it, but one in every five Australian adults (3.3 million people) is financially excluded, unable to access safe, affordable, and appropriate financial products and services when they need them. This increases their likelihood of experiencing financial hardship and poverty. Two million people in the country also experience high to severe financial stress, reducing their resilience or ability to recover from financial shocks. Those impacted, particularly women, also experience poorer socioeconomic and health outcomes, especially lower education, employment, and income status. Whose problem is this to solve?
Against the backdrop of ongoing global financial and political uncertainty, financial inclusion challenges exacerbate the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. In Australia for example, those holding the top 20 percent of wealth have around 70 times more than those in the bottom 20 percent. The country’s growing income inequality does not reflect changes in household characteristics, rather changes in the size of persistent and transitory income shocks. Lack of inclusion and resilience via insurance, savings, credit, and payments therefore compound the impacts of growing inequalities of opportunity, stifling upward mobility between generations, increasing social tensions, and reducing economic growth.
So who’s best placed to respond to this growing problem – the government with its policy vision for financial well-being and capability; business which designs product offerings and offers employment; researchers who study inequality, gather evidence and create theories; or the community sector, which is usually the first line of defense for excluded and vulnerable Australians?
> Posted by Ram Narayanan, Market Research Analyst, Symbiotics
Microfinance, a lead sector within the larger impact investing spectrum, has gained prominence from development-minded investors over the past decades. Initially, international funding in microfinance was generated largely from donor organizations, including public development agencies and private foundations. As the market gained traction, the role of private capital grew in importance as not only a means for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to reach scale, but also to increase their social outreach beyond what was possible with donor money.
Private investors and donor agencies thus joined efforts in creating microfinance investment vehicles, better known in the industry jargon as “MIVs” or more simply “microfinance funds.” MIVs act as the main link between MFIs and the capital markets and usually provide debt financing, equity financing or a combination of both to MFIs located in emerging and frontier markets.
The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) began to take interest in MIVs in 2003, a time where several of these vehicles saw the light, and before the investment boom which was witnessed by the sector with the announcement of the United Nations “2005 International Year of Microcredit.” However, the industry was still lacking common definitions, terminology and performance standards. In order to bring forward improved transparency on MIVs’ financial and social performances, a first market report on microfinance funds was produced in 2007 by CGAP, in collaboration with Symbiotics. The inaugural MIV benchmarking tool was thus born – based on a market survey containing a common set of definitions and reporting standards – a landmark that set the stage for regular, annual surveys carried out every year since then.
Fast forward 10 years, Symbiotics and CGAP have yet again partnered to develop a new extensive report (white paper) reflecting back on a decade of MIV operations, shedding light on their progress during the period 2006-2015. The recently released white paper co-authored by both organizations and entitled “Microfinance Funds: 10 Years of Research & Practice” carefully details major market trends.
> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI
Those who work in the financial inclusion space need a deep understanding of how low income people manage their money, and there is no better guide to develop this understanding than Ignacio Mas, who recently spoke at the Africa Board Fellows seminar in Cape Town. Here are some of his insights.
Unused money is vulnerable if you are poor. You have to protect it from a lot of things – theft, friends and family, and, also, your future self… (Let’s not underestimate the threat of the future you as someone who has the most access to, and authority over, those funds.) And there is no saying how resolved you will stay toward your savings goals. One way to protect any unused money against these threats is to make it less liquid. For example, you could convert your savings into a goat. In many countries, a goat can be sold if an emergency should arise, but you certainly wouldn’t sell or trade it to make an impulse purchase. Or as the vendor I just bought holiday jam from put it: “Making jam is like forced savings for me. I spend it in the summer on jars and sugar and fruit and get it back in December for Christmas shopping money!” These are examples of self-nudges that enable clients to better stick to their goals – one of the seven behaviorally-informed practices for financial capability. These approaches create behavioral roadblocks, so that individuals are able to save with less effort.
> 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.
> Posted by Ellen Metzger, CFI
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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.