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> Posted by Sarah Samuels, Global Operations Manager, the Smart Campaign

This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring the impact of Smart Certification on the financial inclusion industry

When financial service providers approach Smart Certification, they often have a number of questions. Many want to know if certification is worth the investment in terms of their financial bottom line. The answer we’ve heard from Smart Certified institutions is an unequivocal “yes.” As the Smart Campaign celebrates the recent milestone of 100 Smart Certifications, we’d like to explore the value of certification as Smart Certified financial service providers see it.

In partnership with Deutsche Bank, the Smart Campaign recently conducted a survey of certified institutions to understand how they view their experience with Smart Certification. (You can find the full survey findings in the Consumer Protection Resources Kit.) In an affirmation of Smart Certification’s value, 82 percent of institutions surveyed believe the cost of certification (in terms of both the servicing fee and internal staff time) was compensated by the value the institution received in return. This finding aligns with research from the European Microfinance Platform, which determined that consumer protection practices, such as price transparency, respectful collection practices and effective complaint resolution, are linked to higher financial returns and have a positive impact on the provider’s bottom line.

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> Posted by Isabelle Barrès, Global Director, the Smart Campaign

This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the impact of Smart Certification on the financial inclusion industry.

The Smart Campaign is thrilled to announce that 100 financial service providers have been Smart Certified, extending fair treatment and respect to more than 42 million low-income financial clients around the world. One hundred Smart Certifications marks a major milestone for the advancement of pro-client practices in the financial inclusion industry. These 100 financial service providers have worked to achieve and demonstrate their commitment to protecting clients from harm and delivering responsible financial services.

The journey to 100 certifications began with the launch of the Smart Campaign in 2008, at a time when microfinance sector leaders recognized the need to ensure that consumers remained front and center to their operations as the sector underwent a period of rapid growth. The Smart Campaign went on to become an umbrella for financial inclusion sector cooperation, through the endorsement of thousands of stakeholders of the Client Protection Principles (CPPs) and accompanying standards. The CPPs offer a common framework for understanding client risks and improving practices, and form the bedrock of the Campaign’s Smart Certification program. The certification program was launched in 2013 as a tool to support and reward financial service providers that offer appropriate products and services and deliver them in a fair and respectful way.

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> Posted by Daniel Rozas and Sam Mendelson

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

For most, socially responsible investing means just that – investing in a manner that not only generates financial returns but also produces positive social value. But what does it mean for an investor to be “responsible” when selling their holdings? How does one stay responsible at the very moment when one ceases to be an investor?

This is a basic challenge facing investors seeking to “exit,” i.e. sell their equity stakes to a new buyer. The issue isn’t entirely new. It first emerged in the mid-2010s, when several microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) were starting to reach the end of their 10-year terms and were seeking to divest their assets. This issue was first addressed in the financial inclusion sector by a 2014 paper commissioned by CGAP and CFI, which first defined many of the key questions that socially responsible investors need to address when selling their equity stakes.

With another four years of multiple exits under the sector’s belt, NpM, Netherlands Platform for Inclusive Finance, along with the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) and the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) asked us to take a closer look at one particularly tricky part of the exit process – selecting a buyer that is suitable for the microfinance institution (MFI), its staff and ultimately its clients. The result is Caveat Venditor: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Buyer Selection in Responsible Microfinance Exits – a new paper that goes beyond raising questions, and seeks to provide a template to help investors navigate the complex terrain of “responsible exits.”

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From pay-as-you-go models to products that do away with exclusions, the rules of inclusive insurance are changing 

This post is adapted from the recently-released publication “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

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With digital channels and effective aggregators, it becomes possible to offer insurance to lower-income segments. But the products themselves must also be designed with both cost control and the needs of the client segment in mind. After all, the financial margins for inclusive insurance are smaller, and the value proposition of insurance is typically tough to sell to customers.

Drawing on insights from our recently-released report Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers, here are a few of the key approaches for building inclusive insurance products that work for the insurer and the customer.

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A high-level business case for financial inclusion constructed using data on the impact of M-PESA on poverty in Kenya

> Posted by Ethan Loufield, Director of Strategy and Operations, CFI

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In making the case for financial inclusion, advocates often try to appeal to our business sense, rather than just speak to how it can improve people’s lives. In so doing, they often refer to the “business case,” which in some ways feels like an attempt to convince the disinterested or the skeptics. It’s an acknowledgement that in order to muster the resources needed to make the financial system work better for lower income market segments, there has to be a payoff for those who provide the services. The fact is that the future of financial inclusion depends greatly on there being a payoff. And when you stop and think about it, it shouldn’t be that hard to show that there is one.

As the title to this post suggests, the value that financial inclusion can help to unlock could very well be measured in the trillions of dollars. So, what we see is an enormous asset (arguably with the potential to surpass the value of all the gold in the world, for example), and it behooves those of us in the financial inclusion community to capitalize on this to expand our influence in the market.

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CEO of the largest investment firm asserts understanding social impact among most pressing issues facing investors today

> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

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Just prior to the global elite gathering at Davos, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock investment firm wrote a letter to CEOs about the importance of long-term, sustainable strategy and understanding the social impact of the companies BlackRock and others invest in. He emphasizes that “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.” As the largest investment firm, managing $6.3 trillion in assets, BlackRock’s message represents a social shift that blends the lines between impact investing and the profit-driven investment space. The letter sparked conversation and debate last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos where leaders across the investment, political, academic and public spheres met to discuss key global issues.

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> Posted by Dylan Lennox, Partner, MFX

After launching and operating mobile money businesses in a number of markets over the last ten years, I was aware of the necessity of protecting consumers. I knew it was a regulatory priority alongside important issues such as AML and interoperability, but that’s where I left it: in the compliance box, while I waited to be told what to do. All the consumer protection literature I read gave me the same heavy feeling, laden as it is with long lists of requirements: protect customer’s funds from loss and fraud, ensure proper disclosure and transparency, keep their data private, make sure customers can have their complaints resolved, and so forth. These looked like the core business processes I needed to implement anyway, so I felt we would be in fine shape if we were ever to have a supervisory inspection. I never looked any deeper.

In the days when enabling regulation meant “Please leave us alone to grow,” I kept my head turned firmly in the direction of my business goals, growing a base of active customers to reach scale, and then taking advantage of those network effects. After all, financial inclusion was also an objective we shared with the regulator, and as long as we were growing they maintained a light touch.

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

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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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> Posted by Carmen Paraison, Senior Program Associate, Africa, the Smart Campaign

Nigeria has an ambitious target of including 70 percent of its population in the formal financial services fold by 2020, from a baseline of 44 percent with access to an account in 2014. But financial inclusion involves a lot more than account access. The Center for Financial Inclusion defines financial inclusion as a state in which all people who can use them have access to a full suite of quality financial services at affordable prices delivered by a range of providers in a competitive market with convenience, dignity and consumer protections, to financially capable clients. Protection for consumers is an important part of that definition, and I recently had the opportunity to visit Lagos to learn more about consumer protection challenges in the country. In particular, I wanted to see how Smart Certification can help Nigeria reach its financial inclusion goals in a way that provides benefits to customers.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Are you working to expand quality financial services access? The 2018 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place March 25-30, 2018 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll join us!

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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.