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Customer research offers insights into the drop in financial product usage in Mexico.

> Posted by Pablo Antón-Diaz, Research Manager, CFI

Man sells fish at a stall in an outdoor market

Fish market on San Gregario Street in Xochimilco, a southeastern municipality of Mexico City, one of the places we visited for our user research.

According to the Global Findex, the percentage of adults in Mexico who are saving money at a formal institution plunged from 15 percent to 10 percent in just the past three years—despite financial inclusion strategies enacted by the government. This steep decline in usage of savings accounts came as a surprise, and hit close to home for me as a Mexican. This trend is a cause for concern, and it’s also a call to action. At Accion, we took this as an opportunity to listen to the people we’d like to see benefit from financial services. With support of MetLife Foundation, we wanted to understand why fewer people were saving in banks, what products and services people were using, and who was providing those services if it wasn’t formal institutions.

To get answers about what people in Mexico want from their financial service providers, I recently traveled home to Mexico City as part of a team of researchers. We listened to small merchants map out their entire financial lives—their motivations, goals and aspirations, how they feel about various types of financial services, the strategies they use to stay financially healthy, and more.

Our biggest surprise? The individuals we talked with know about and can access a lot of financial products—they just aren’t using them.

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What if we opened millions of bank accounts but nobody used them? That is one of several conundrums raised by the recently released Global Findex data for 2017.

> By Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja Kelly, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion
This post originally appeared on Next Billion’s blog and is reposted here with permission.

geographic distribution of 3 billion people without active accounts, 2017
About 3 billion people in the world either have no account or have an account that sits unused. The countries with the largest number of financially excluded people are also the highest population countries: India and China. This picture has changed little in the past three years.

The Global Financial Inclusion Database (Findex) is a survey of the financial habits of adults in 144 countries with data from 2011, 2014 and now (2017). Governments, foundations, big financial companies and fintechs alike rely on the Findex to understand how people are using (or not using) financial services. It is the best available yardstick through which we measure global progress toward financial inclusion.
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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, Managing Director and Director of Research, CFI

Where are we in achieving a financially inclusive world?

Financial inclusion momentum has slowed in the past three years, the 2017 Global Findex revealed. The financial inclusion community may wish to reflect on these results, recalibrate expectations, and then re-engage.

In a new report, the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion journeys through the 2017 Global Findex data recently released by the World Bank, which assess progress toward financial inclusion on the basis of a 150-country study conducted by Gallup. We examined the 2017 Findex data from our own perspective, and although we found some good news, there are also some concerning trends.

In recent years, the headline for financial inclusion has been the percentage of adults in the world with accounts (either financial institution or mobile-based). That number has grown since 2014 to 69 percent – good news. But we believe it is more relevant, if less encouraging, to focus on the number of adults with active accounts, that is, accounts they have used at least once in the past year. That number is 55 percent, representing a net gain of 393 million active accounts between 2014 and 2017, a much more modest gain than the nearly 700 million total new accounts added in the previous three years (2011-2014).

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That question is at the crux of a different kind of emergency savings fund. A “f*ck off fund” is savings you can leverage when you need to break away from your current situation – say, when you need to leave a harmful relationship or a problematic job. The term was coined a few years ago and has become popular, in recognition of its distinctiveness from other types of savings and its importance especially among women.

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A look at why #FinHealthMatters in the region

> Posted by Allyse McGrath and Jeffrey Riecke, CFI

This year on Financial Health Matters Day, we at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion are taking a look at the new Global Findex data and what it says about the financial health of respondents around the world. Because of our recent work on financial health in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we decided to take a closer look at the Findex numbers from the region.

The 2017 Global Findex shows a substantial increase in account ownership between 2014 and 2017, from 62 percent to 69 percent of adults. However, one indicator that has decreased across this same period is the Findex’s proxy for financial health – the resilience question. This metric measures a person’s ability to come up with emergency funds in the amount of 1/20 GNI per capita in the next month (for reference, this is a little less than $3,000 in the U.S. context, and a little less than 700 dinar in Serbia). Isolating Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the percentage of people who said they could come up with this amount actually decreased slightly from 64 percent in 2014 to 61 percent in 2017.

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More investor types, more ways to invest, more emphasis on impact

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The future of impact investing was the hottest topic on my recent tour of the Boston impact investing conference circuit, which included the New England Impact Investing Initiative/Building a Sustainable Investment Community (BASIC), Boston’s Net Impact Summit, and the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference. My list of all the 2018 trends discussed at these events, has 20 trends on it! Wow, that’s a busy year. This blog post is my attempt to distill these trends into four buckets (many of which are linked) and see whether CFI readers agree with this general direction for impact investing in the year ahead.

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

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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If digital financial services are so convenient and affordable, why are uptake and usage rates among individuals with lower incomes so low? Monique Cohen explores the mismatch between products and money management needs.

> Posted by Monique Cohen

This maxim governs much of our financial lives, rich or poor. Yet, we offer financial services to the unbanked and underbanked, largely ignoring it. The thinking around customer centrality as it affects financial services for the poor emphasizes appropriately responding to people’s needs and wants for financial services. But, as Kim Wilson pointed out, this is still not happening:

We have an agenda, which is this: please be our customer, have your needs, express them so long as they are about digital payments or failing that, using a bank account – a lot – and preferably, digitally. Else, we don’t give a damn. We don’t care about your archaic methods… We desperately want and need you to modernize, to become just like us. Otherwise we have no justification for all the work we do and all the money we spend.

Until now the perceived drivers of uptake of digital financial services (DFS) have been their assumed attributes of convenience, timeliness and affordability, relative to current formal and informal financial service offerings. However, with uptake and usage levels of only 30 percent for digital financial services, it is clear that this rationale falls short. Impediments to high usage continue to be overlooked.

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Insights from new CFI Fellows research on integrating human touch in Kenya’s digital financial services landscape.

> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow

Mbugua, owner of a restaurant, a butchery, and a dry goods store in Nairobi, Kenya has actively used financial services to grow his businesses from the meager beginnings of a small stall selling boiled cow heads. He is currently juggling four digital loans and two microfinance loans. Whenever possible, Mbugua prefers to interact with his financers digitally to save time. Yet, like most of the Kenyans my research associate and I spoke with as part of our CFI Fellows research project, Mbugua considers in-person interaction to be critical at certain stages. “Face-to-face is tiresome. There’s a time factor,” he said. “But it’s 100 percent perfect. Your questions will be exhausted. And you can’t negotiate with the phone.”

Our research seeks to understand when and why customers prefer human over digital interfaces across their financial services customer journeys – and vice versa. We focused on value-added financial services, including loans, savings, and insurance, and we chose Kenya because of the country’s deep penetration and market maturity of mobile phone-based financial services. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 104 respondents.

We discovered that a “centaur” solution—one that unites the strengths of both tech and human touch—offers the most promise for both customers and financial service providers (FSPs) targeting the base of the pyramid.

Digital interfaces outperform human interaction in a number of areas: digital services are often more convenient (once you learn how to use them), more predictable and consistent (with the exception of loan approvals and rejections, which are often opaque), and less stressful for customers during collections. However, most Kenyans – even those who already use low-touch digital products – prefer to interact with a person face-to-face at key stages in their customer journey. We found that while Kenyans are very comfortable conducting transactions digitally, other key aspects of the financial service customer journey are not adequately handled by digital means alone.

Like most of our respondents, Mbugua wants to interact directly with a person to accomplish three critical tasks:

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AXA shares insights on and solutions to women’s unmet insurance needs in emerging economies.

By Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of Emerging Customers, AXA Group

Women-focused insurance solutions are a central part of AXA’s Emerging Customers work. In our SHEforSHIELD report, launched with the International Finance Corporation in 2015, we found that the market is growing quickly, as women become more risk-aware and willing to invest in protection. We conducted focus groups with women in Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and learned that women have very specific, yet unmet needs when it comes to insurance. I am happy to share the stories of three of the women we met on our customer insights journey, diving into their fears and desires and the role that inclusive, women-focused insurance solutions could play.

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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.