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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

When most microfinance clients start out they’re first-timers at a formal financial institution. Like anything unfamiliar, a first foray with banks can be intimidating. You don’t want to be duped or make a mistake and lose precious savings. Peace of mind was granted to clients of two microfinance institutions, one in Paraguay and the other in the Dominican Republic recently as the first Smart Certifications in those countries were awarded. Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM were certified as meeting all the standards needed to treat their clients with adequate care. This certification demonstrates to prospective clients as well as investors and other industry stakeholders that their institutions are operating responsibly.

Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM are both market leaders in their own right. Banco ADOPEM is one of the largest microfinance institutions in the Dominican Republic. According to the MIX, 351,000 depositors in the Dominican Republic bank with Banco ADOPEM. When Banco ADOPEM pursues and achieves Smart Certification, that sends a message to MFIs and other stakeholders in the country that client protection is a key priority. In 2014 ADOPEM was named “Most Innovative Microfinance Institution of the Year” by Citi, in part because of ATA-Movil, a portable electronic application that allows credit advisers to assess customers in their businesses or in their homes. The mobile information system also allows for convenient and direct communication with clients.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Over the past few decades, across demographics and regions, the proportion of people in the United States with bank accounts has increased steadily, a new report from the White House details. More specifically, the report found that between 1989 and 2013: the percentage of U.S. households with bank accounts increased from 86 percent to 93 percent; the percentage of households in the bottom income quintile with bank accounts increased from 56 percent to 79 percent; among racial minorities, the percentage of households with bank accounts increased from 65 percent to 87 percent; and regional disparities have diminished, with financial inclusion increasing across all geographies. All of this progress in financial services access warrants acknowledging, of course, yet there remain sizeable gaps toward financial inclusion that call for immediate action.

For example, like most countries that enjoy high access rates, many banked Americans remain underserved. Twenty percent of households in the U.S. with bank accounts also rely on alternative/informal financial services. In 2013, roughly 5 percent of unbanked or underbanked households turned to payday loans, the White House report found. Indeed a few weeks ago we spotlighted new proposed regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to rein in the growing high interest rate/fee-laden payday loan and short-term credit markets.

The United States also ranks dismally when it comes to financial literacy. In the S&P Global FinLit Survey, it was determined that 57 percent of the American population is financially literate, which puts the country at 14th globally, according to the S&P.

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> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Positive Planet Co-Country Director (China)

Through the support of Diageo’s Plan W initiative, Positive Planet’s three-year women’s empowerment project Banking on Women has provided financial education to more than 8,000 women across Huimin Dongfang Microcredit Company‘s client network in Ningxia Autonomous Region, China. The project’s curriculum, which is based in the core financial concepts of savings, risk protection, and digital finance, is intended to empower women in the household and community through increased financial decision-making power. With the project more than two-thirds completed, Positive Planet has just published a case study that explores the project team’s experience in working to build the financial capability of rural Chinese women.

As written here before, China’s rural women stand to greatly benefit by being introduced to financial concepts and related services. However, China’s government has yet to establish a national strategy for financial education that clearly looks beyond urban residents’ financial capability needs. (Current efforts mostly cover security precautions for traditional banking, anti-fraud measures, counterfeit currency awareness, and illegal investment prevention.) Serving rural residents and their unique set of circumstances and needs will require a greatly expanded financial capability-building offering. For such an expansion to work well, it will need to include programming that looks at the rural population separately. Further, implementation for rural programming should lean on the experience and opinions of diverse local groups and township government offices. Unique cultures, language dialects, and market distinctions across China’s many regions make one-size-fits-all financial educational content less effective. Central planning and support play a crucial role, but resource design must allow for calculated flexibility per the local settings.

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> Posted by Guy Stuart, Ph.D., Executive Director, Microfinance Opportunities

Can government-to-person (G2P) payments to low-income beneficiaries translate into their financial inclusion? One way this might happen is if those beneficiaries can gain experience in dealing with a formal financial service provider (FSP) when they go to pick up their payments. This is especially the case where the government pays the beneficiaries of the program through a digital channel, such as a debit card or mobile money, and the payment pick up process gives beneficiaries the chance to interact directly with this new technology. Furthermore, given that G2P programs are often targeted at women, there is the potential for these programs to increase the inclusion of the half of the population traditionally more excluded from formal financial services.

As part of the Center for Financial Inclusion Fellows Program, Microfinance Opportunities, in partnership with the Pakistan Microfinance Network and Centro de Formación Empresarial de la Fundación de Mario Santo Domingo, looked at this issue as part of a larger project on the relationship between G2P payments and financial inclusion. For this project we analyzed global survey data as well as conducted field research in Colombia and Pakistan—two countries with large, well-established G2P programs called Familias en Acción (Familias) and the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) respectively. The field research involved focus group discussions with the beneficiaries of the programs and, in Pakistan, a series of observations of transactions at the shops of agents of one of the commercial banks distributing payments to the beneficiaries of BISP.

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> Posted by Beth Porter, Financial Inclusion Policy Advisor for the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Better Than Cash Alliance

The following post was originally published on the Better Than Cash Alliance blog and has been re-published with permission. 

Did you ever wonder why there is not International Men’s Day? There actually is such a day, by the way—it’s on November 19th, but there aren’t too many people marking it with a night off from cooking or cleaning or childcare for the guys!

The reason we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th each year is that the other 364 days look quite a bit like men’s days. In fact, globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend less than half that much time—and the unpaid labor gap is particularly large in developing countries. We are a long way from Planet 50:50 or gender parity. Indeed, the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap will not be closed until 2133.

This lack of parity manifests itself in many ways, including gaps in education, employment, and wages, and in the board room and public high office. And access to finance is no different.

While globally ownership of accounts is on the rise, the gender gap persists in developing countries, with the majority of the 2 billion globally without access to finance being women. We should not simply conclude that women do not want accounts—just as we cannot suppose that they do not want more education, the opportunity for gainful employment, or equal wages for equal work. We know that women living in a cash-only economy do not have adequate control over their finances, do not have the confidentiality they need to save and borrow and can only make or receive payments at others’ convenience, not their own. Wouldn’t a more plausible conclusion regarding the gender gap in financial inclusion be that women face barriers that men do not encounter in accessing financial services? Let’s explore this idea a bit further.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, around the world individuals, governments, and organizations are celebrating women and calling for increased action towards gender parity, including in the financial services arena. And for good reason. Research indicates that when women control finances, they’re more likely to be spent on household necessities, like food, water, and children’s education and healthcare. In recognition of International Women’s Day, we compiled some of our favorite recent industry efforts to further financial inclusion for women. But first, here’s a quick run-down of where inclusion for women stands.

The Global Findex tells us that there is a gender gap in access to accounts at seven percentage points globally (65 percent vs. 58 percent), and across developing countries it’s nine percentage points. In some regions, this gap is significantly more severe – 18 percent in South Asia, for example. Gender gaps exist in other areas, too. GSMA estimates that in developing countries there are 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone. And as one example of the gap in financial capability, in the World Bank Group’s 2014 Financial Capability Survey in Morocco women scored significantly lower than men.

Prioritizing financial inclusion for women is not only the right thing to do, it benefits everyone. In addition to benefitting women and women’s households, financial inclusion of women augments economies writ large. About half of women worldwide are missing from the workforce. In Egypt, for example, the IMF estimates that achieving equal labor participation among men and women would increase GDP by 34 percent. The IFC estimates that women-owned businesses have an unmet financing need of $320 billion worldwide.

Many organizations are working to close the gap:

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> Posted by Center Staff

“We would not be here without the visionary work of the pioneers who came before us, especially the women leaders who fought to build the very first banks for women in countries with seemingly insurmountable barriers,” writes Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking in the forward of a new online book, Celebrating Women Leaders: Profiles of Financial Inclusion Pioneers. The book shares the stories of 31 women leaders from around the world who made the financial inclusion landscape what it is today.

Those recognized in the book include practitioners, academics, researchers, regulators, thought leaders, financiers, and more. Among them, the industry’s earliest pioneers, like Ela Bhatt, founder of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), as well as those who joined more recently, like Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the Better Than Cash Alliance, and Jennifer Riria, CEO of Kenya Women Holding. Full disclosure: of the 31 included in the book are also CFI leaders and partners, including Anne Hastings, Elisabeth Rhyne, Essma Ben Hamida, and Jayshree Vyas.

The book was the idea of Samit Ghosh, CEO and Founder of Ujjivan. Ujjivan and Women’s World Banking worked together on the project, with young women working in the sector researching, conducting interviews, and writing the leader profiles.

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> Posted by Alvina Zafar, Deputy Manager, Microfinance, BRAC, and Monirul Hoque, Management Professional, Microfinance, BRAC

“I can’t thank BRAC enough for standing beside me when I needed help the most,” Rahela, 24, a microfinance borrower and recipient of BRAC’s credit shield insurance, tells us. She borrowed US$385 in January 2015 to invest in a small clothing business. Recalling her experience, she reveals “My husband was not interested initially in having a joint insurance policy, but when the customer service assistant explained it in detail, we decided that we should pay the small premium.”

Just a few months later, Rahela’s husband suffered a fatal cardiac arrest, leaving her to care for and support their child on her own. Her first step was to claim the insurance that they had wisely bought. Within two weeks, Rahela received the claim, of US$135, alongside an additional US$64 benefit provided as standard to cover funeral costs. She chose not to withdraw any of her savings of US$63.

In Bangladesh many people with low incomes are reluctant to take insurance products, like Rahela’s husband, due in large part to the lack of transparency in, and lack of understanding of many insurance products. There are no standards for how much insurers can charge and often the premium rates contain hidden charges. Project features can be rigid, making some features mandatory for the user, which reflect their typical supply side origins (i.e. convenient for providers but not necessarily for clients). Moreover, there are cases where clients complain about not receiving promised services, breaking the clients’ trust and generating healthy skepticism towards any promises of future benefits that have to be paid for in advance.

Most successful microinsurance schemes in Bangladesh, therefore, are involuntary – being provided alongside other services, such as telecommunications. In light of the seemingly low demand for microinsurance in the country, then, BRAC’s pilot experiment with credit shield insurance has been uniquely successful.
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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) released the 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum Report, distilling the happenings of the network’s largest and most diverse forum to date; new startup PayJoy is attempting to solve the financing problem surrounding the 2 billion individuals globally who have access to the internet but can’t afford a smartphone; The Guardian spotlights how mobile money supported healthcare workers during the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. Here are a few more details:

  • The 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum brought together over 500 senior financial inclusion policymakers, regulators, international organizations, and private sector partners in Maputo, Mozambique. Highlights from the forum include the adoption of the Maputo Accord, making SME finance a larger priority for the network, and sessions on green finance and gender.
  • PayJoy, beginning an initial roll-out in California, is offering an alternative to the tech industry’s equivalent of payday lenders who charge upwards of 500 percent interest on loans to buy smartphones. PayJoy covers 80 percent of the cost of a phone at 50 to 100 percent interest, and if individuals aren’t able to make their monthly installments, the phone locks until the payment is received.
  • In Sierra Leone, payment to healthcare workers combating Ebola was originally largely disbursed inefficiently in the form of cash, resulting in incidences of workers not being paid for months at a time, which caused disruptions to both healthcare and public trust in the system. NetHope, a consortium of NGOs working in IT, enrolled workers into an automated mobile money-based payment system using an open source facial recognition software.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here. This is the final issue of the News Feed. Though if you have any stories or initiatives that you think we should cover on the blog or via our other social media channels, email your ideas to Jeffrey Riecke at jriecke@accion.org.

> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: Omidyar Network investing in eCurrency Mint, a company that has developed a new technology that enables central banks to issue digital fiat currency; FMO, the Dutch development bank, providing a five-year US$10 million loan to benefit VisionFund International’s MFIs in rural Africa; Tyler Wry, a professor of management at Wharton, discussing his research on how patriarchal power manifests itself in microfinance. Here are a few more details:

  • Omidyar’s investment in eCurrency Mint was made through the firm’s Financial Inclusion Initiative. The digital fiat currency, called eCurrency, is issued by a central bank and has the same legal and monetary status as notes and coins – differentiating it from the various forms of private sector digital value available today.
  • FMO’s investment in VisionFund International’s African MFI network will help support the growth of these institutions via debt capital. Additionally, FMO provided a US$275,000 capacity development grant to support VisionFund in creating an innovative approach to disaster resilient microfinance.
  • In a video interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Wry discusses findings on gender and microfinance from his recent paper “Bringing Societal Institutions Back In: How Patriarchy Affects Social Outreach”. The baseline finding from the research is that when you have a high level of patriarchy in the state, in religion, in the professions, and in the family, it makes it harder for microfinance organizations to lend to them for a number of different reasons.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to Jeffrey Riecke at jriecke@accion.org.

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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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