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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

If someone asked you, “In the past 12 months, have you ever been afraid of your spouse?” how do you think you’d respond? I would personally hope you’d be able to say “never”. I wouldn’t want to hear you say, “often” or even “sometimes”.

A few years back, I wrote a blog post about domestic violence and microfinance. This topic came out of the 2014 Microcredit Summit in Mexico where we were talking about health indicators. Carmen Velasco suggested we’d forgotten to add an indicator related to domestic violence to the list, since conceptually it feels that if we don’t include domestic violence under the theme of health, it might continue to not get covered anywhere.

Since the Summit, Freedom from Hunger has had a chance to ask the question I asked you above in three countries. While most demographic and health surveys and other standardized surveys on domestic violence may go through a series of questions about whether a person has experienced physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or other types of abuse, we were looking for something less invasive, if that’s possible. When I found the above question in an Indian survey, it felt right. I actually had a personal reaction to it. At one point in my life, if someone had asked me this question, I might have said “sometimes” or even “often.”

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Last Thursday the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) launched The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets. Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report explores the challenges and opportunities banks face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. It shines a spotlight on banks as leaders in advancing financial inclusion and discusses specific strategies related to technology, data, partnerships, financial capability, and other key issues, and concludes with recommendations for action.

In the following video, the report’s primary author Susy Cheston interviews Dr. William Derban, Director of Inclusive Banking & Corporate Social Responsibility at Fidelity Bank Ghana and one of the 24 bankers interviewed for the report. In their informal and in-depth conversation, Ms. Cheston and Dr. Derban discuss, among other topics, why Fidelity Bank Ghana has decided to engage in financial inclusion (hint: it’s not just about CSR), their commitment to always putting the customer first, their plan to reach viability, and the benefits they have gained through technology and partnerships.

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> Posted by Saquiba Aziz, Social Responsibility Associate, Pakistan Microfinance Network

Loan officers, who form the base of organizational hierarchy of a typical microfinance organization, are instrumental in expanding the outreach of microfinance and building goodwill with microfinance clients. Hence it is extremely important that the right kind of social and financial message is conveyed through them. However, despite the critical role that loan officers play in an organization, their voices and their challenges in the field are largely ignored when it comes to literature on microfinance.

Realizing the need to study and document the ground realities and perspectives of this fundamental human capital of microfinance providers, the Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN), with financial support from the State Bank of Pakistan and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, recently undertook a qualitative study on loan officers, titled, “Loan Officers’ Voices: Perspectives and Lessons from the Foot Soldiers“. For the research, PMN conducted focus group discussions and in depth interviews with loan officers from 10 institutions that volunteered to participate.

Some very interesting findings emerged from the study. Most of the loan officers were found to be aware of the vital role that they were entrusted with, i.e. the growth and risk management of their institutions. Their work, primarily based in the field, is premised upon assumptions of self-surveillance, monitoring, and discipline to achieve the targets set for them. Loan officers shared diverse visions about the job at hand: responses differed from helping the underprivileged to seeking experience in client handling. Another group viewed their jobs in terms of the authority and social power it brings to them as they monitor clients’ usage of loans. This improves their self-esteem as they feel good about the fact that they are in a position to oversee and help people.

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> Posted by Ben Mandell, International Programs Manager, Water.orgAccess to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation are true necessities for healthy families. Yet, access rates for water and sanitation remain stubbornly low in most low-income countries. The negative health implications can be dire and include diarrheal disease which can result in premature mortality and childhood malnutrition and stunting.  From an economic perspective, “The health consequences of poor sanitation are substantial and contribute to over US$50 billion in GDP loss annually,” according to a new India focused learning note jointly developed by Water.org and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).

In the learning note, Water.org and WSP, both active globally in working to expand access to water and sanitation, collaborate to share their research and findings on how household lending can help drive improved water and sanitation uptake as well as provide economic and social benefits to local financial organizations.

Water.org, through its WaterCredit program, provides capacity-building grants and technical assistance to create, pilot, and scale water and sanitation financing. Currently, WaterCredit provides funding to microfinance providers and NGOs to support the creation of programs and these partners then leverage funding from banks and capital markets to disburse loans to people in need. Accordingly, “Water.org has provided US$11.3 million in subsidies to financial institutions and NGO partners worldwide, which in turn have disbursed over US$120 million in loans reaching 2.4 million people.”

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Smart CampaignToday, the Smart Campaign released for public comment new draft Client Protection Standards – which will be the basis for what we term Certification 2.0. The new standards streamline the previous Client Protection Standards, and reflect the evolving financial inclusion industry. They incorporate client risks pertaining to insurance, savings, and digital financial services. The standards operationalize where the financial inclusion industry sets the bar in terms of the minimum behaviors clients should expect from their financial service providers. Now open, the public comment period extends through November 30, 2015.

We’d love your feedback!

The new standards build off of the first set of Client Protection Standards, released in January 2013, as the basis for the introduction of Smart Certification. The standards and their corresponding indicators, which put the Client Protection Principles into practice, are used to benchmark institutions seeking Smart Certification.

Like the first iteration, the development of Certification 2.0 standards has been a highly collaborative process. Over the past 18 months, the campaign consulted a wide array of stakeholders and up to 30 experts to strengthen and update the standards and indicators.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

In three days the Center for Financial Inclusion will unveil the FI2020 Progress Report. In it, we define progress made toward financial inclusion and make predictions about the most critical issues facing the industry.

This web-based report has been a year in the making, the result of FI2020’s monitoring of industry trends, interviews with experts, and an analysis of financial inclusion data from both the supply and demand side. We organized the report around the five areas identified in the 2013 Roadmap to Financial Inclusion: Addressing Customer Needs, Client Protection, Credit Reporting & Data, Financial Capability, and Technology.

Perhaps the most fun—and most debatable—aspect of the report is the rating we will reveal for each area, marking where we are on the road to financial inclusion along these five dimensions. The financial inclusion community around the world will have the opportunity to weigh in with their vote – and we expect there will be some disagreement with our opinions. We hope you will not only mark your own rating, but also leave comments with your views. Most of all, we hope this thought exercise will help focus all of our attention on how to close the gaps to get to a 10 in each area.

To offer a sneak preview of the content, I thought I would reveal how we rated progress made on client protection:

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Three questions every ‘pro-poor’ group needs to ask themselves

> Posted by Chris Dunford and Carmen Velasco

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

This month, the United Nations will celebrate achievement of Millennium Development Goal No. 1. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. How did this happen? Is it because of targeted anti-poverty programs, or is it due to broad-based economic growth, especially in China and India? If economic growth is the main cause, as it seems to be, further progress may be doubtful. Economic growth alone is unlikely to reach the residual hundreds of millions still living in extreme poverty.

Nor is it likely that anti-poverty programs, whether public or private, will lift this “bottom billion” from extreme poverty. For example, the U.S. poverty rate hovers around 15 percent of the population, nearly unchanged for decades, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on U.S. anti-poverty programs. For another example, in poorer countries, microfinance was billed as a self-financing solution to deep poverty and became a darling of international development donors in the 1990s and “social investors” in the 2000s. Then smart social scientists tested the claims with sound field research and found little to no impact on poverty.

Is it reasonable, however, to expect anti-poverty programs, by themselves, to lift large numbers of people above an arbitrary poverty line? Given that the poor must overcome many burdens before they can seize whatever economic opportunities are available, perhaps we should ask a different question:

Do anti-poverty programs ease the burdens of poverty?

While the recent research into microfinance shows little to no increase of annual household income, on average, the same studies very often show that the burden of poverty is alleviated by giving microfinance participants access to money when they really need it during the year. Economists call this impact “consumption smoothing.” In plain terms, it means people get enough to eat throughout the year instead of going without adequate food for a day, a week, or even months at a time. If so, this is an impact worth celebrating, is it not?

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group

At a time when microfinance has fallen out of favor in mainstream development circles and when investors are asking to see metrics showing the impact of their funding, it is especially important to base our discussions of poverty outreach on empirical research. Grameen Foundation and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) recently published a study that does just this. Factors Influencing Poverty Outreach Among Microfinance Institutions in Latin America (available in English and Spanish) takes a close look at poverty outreach data from 14 microfinance institutions (MFIs) across six Latin American countries and is the first study of its kind in the region. The information analyzed includes data from Progress out of Poverty Index® (PPI®) surveys and a range of other relevant client profile variables such as socio-demographics and credit disbursement details.

The findings are important. In-depth interviews with the MFIs surfaced an interesting hypothesis that was supported by the data. High levels of competition and over-indebtedness of clients, two interlinked factors, seemed to be driving MFIs to pursue poorer clients. In regions where wealthier clients are already served by commercial banks (e.g., urban areas), MFIs service poorer clients, likely in order to avoid the pitfalls of over-indebtedness and to seek untapped markets. However, the MFIs service relatively wealthier clients in regions that have a higher rate of unbanked (e.g., rural areas). It seems, in others words, that MFIs tend to focus first on whomever is excluded regardless of poverty level, but some will extend their poverty outreach when there is greater penetration among the formerly excluded.

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> Posted by Carol Caruso, Senior Vice President, Channels & Technology, Accion

Providing micro financial services is often a costly endeavor. As practiced in most places today, it involves many manual processes which limit the potential for scaling up and expose vulnerability to poor service, errors, and fraud. Furthermore, as telco operators and fintech companies bring services to customers through new distribution mechanisms, microfinance banks (MFBs) need to explore innovative ways to competitively deliver their services. Hence, it is promising to see a rise in the use of tablets, smartphones, and other devices housing applications that digitize field operations. Digital field applications (DFAs) offer MFBs a way to take advantage of technology to solve some of these challenges. Globally MFBs have deployed DFAs in a wide variety of ways. For example, loan officers equipped with DFAs can process loan applications and answer client inquiries in the field, eliminating paper forms, digitizing data, and saving time and money for organizations and their clients. Bringing financial services out to clients can achieve a much-needed personal touch and can even increase the richness of the client interaction. For example, client education and consumer protection awareness can be more effective when digital messages are delivered by a field staff member. DFAs can also improve credit operations. When assessing loan applications and risks, field officers can operate more efficiently if digitally equipped.

In order for MFBs to successfully leverage these tools, both for their and their clients’ benefit, they must understand their business case, and incorporate best practices for implementation that have been derived from lessons learned by others. There is no shortage of pilots that have been halted due to challenges arising from lack of experience and understanding – despite hardware availability or subsidies.

With this in mind, Accion’s Channels & Technology group have published a case study aiming to provide some clarity on the impact of DFA use by examining the business case, implementation process, and effects for three MFBs: Ujjivan Financial Services in India, Musoni Kenya, and Opportunity Bank Serbia (OBS). Our case study presents a consolidated review of the findings from the three MFBs, with an accompanying Excel-based business case toolkit, available for MFBs to examine the potential impact a DFA might have on their business. Individual cases presenting the findings from each institution are also available – here, here, and here.

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> Posted by Kevin Fryatt, Director, Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM)

“We do not engage in risk management because our CEO tells us that every department should be a profit center.” “Risk management seems useful, but how can we afford to pay for it?” Such industry sentiments have been the norm, I’ve found, in my work at the Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM). These statements and many others like them reflect the reality that the value of risk management and its role within microfinance institutions (MFIs) have not yet fully been realized. As the microfinance industry matures and reaching scale through growth continues to drive the strategies of inclusive financial service providers, ways to create sustained value for their clients and shareholders will be increasingly sought after and explored. Finding ways to create sustained value, however, can often be challenging.

Risk management, if carried out effectively, is one important aspect in creating sustained value. Well-executed risk management derives organizational value by ensuring decision-making is carried out within an agreed-upon acceptable level of risk, ultimately providing greater certainty about returns against double-bottom line objectives through reducing volatility of net income and strengthening its ability to meet necessary social returns. For example, decisions on the acceptable amount of credit risk to accept may impact the amount of future financial losses an institution may suffer (financial return) while potentially impacting the type of clients it is able to serve (social return). If risk management has such a high potential to create sustained value, what then has been standing in the way of MFIs effectively implementing it to date?

Many factors explain the challenges in realizing the full value risk management can provide, and much of which point back to the lack of an appropriate risk management framework. Consider the following key framework characteristics:
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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.
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