Consumer protection is a driver of revenue, and not a regulated compliance cost

> Posted by Dylan Lennox, Partner, MFX

Educating digital financial services (DFS) providers to understand that consumer protection is a core business strategy is as important – if not more important – than consumer protection regulation supervision if we hope to ensure that vulnerable consumers are well protected. For this reason, as I articulated in my last post, I would like to see DFS providers and their managers take the lead when it comes to driving consumer protection, and that consumer advocates and regulators’ efforts are aligned to make sure this happens.

There are many possible reasons why DFS managers are not taking the lead, however, beyond a general lack of awareness of consumer protection and its importance:

  • They might be driven to achieve short-term targets with limited resources, prioritizing their time, budgets and activities to meet high ROI expectations. Or they might be under pressure to launch innovations and take advantage of the “next big thing” like digital credit or data monetization.
  • They could lack the necessary knowledge and experience in their teams to properly address consumer protection. Such know-how involves truly understanding customers’ needs, developing intuitive user interfaces, designing appropriate sales incentive structures, assessing customers’ loan affordability, and implementing effective internal control frameworks to address security, loss of privacy, or fraud risks.
  • Or perhaps the technology they have implemented does not have the required functionality to properly implement basic consumer protection requirements – like those of data security, for example. In such a case, it is left up to the individual DFS managers to make specific technical developments to address consumer risks. Such an institution-by-institution approach increases the overall cost of consumer protection to the industry and decreases the likelihood that it will be implemented as these measures compete with other priorities.

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Microfinance institutions are uniquely positioned to benefit from emerging technologies but one key input remains largely missing

> Posted by Jacqueline Urquizo, Principal, Sygoes

When most people talk about digital finance, they are referring to business-to-customer (B2C) solutions like mobile banking products and other digital payment mechanisms. E-payments undoubtedly have the potential to reach and benefit remote populations, but there are other fintech solutions that make me even more enthusiastic. Though perhaps less developed, innovative business-to-business (B2B) solutions represent a tremendous boon for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and other institutions looking to advance financial inclusion. Among their many benefits, new B2B solutions have the potential to improve internal operational efficiencies drastically, lowering the cost of doing business, which in turn supports lower prices for financial services and expanded access to excluded populations.

A few examples of B2B fintech applications are: artificial intelligence (AI) that provides cognitive analysis and advice to credit officers evaluating the creditworthiness of previously-unbanked individuals; distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) that enable the viability of new forms of collateral that wouldn’t be otherwise trusted or usable without digitizing them in a ledger of value; and data analytics to better predict risks such as liquidity issues, client desertion, or loan default.

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Insights from a global seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved

> Posted by Amee Parbhoo, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog.

We’re in the middle of a fintech boom that could change the world. As a seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved, Accion Venture Lab continues to see innovative startups increasing access to, reducing the cost of, or improving the quality of financial services for underserved individuals and small businesses around the world.

As we kick off a new year, we’re particularly excited about seven areas of startup-led innovation.

Digital neobanks

SmartMEI is a digital neobank serving small businesses in Brazil

In the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of a number of digital neobanks. Neobanks offer a user-friendly digital interface and a platform for financial services without maintaining their own banking licenses. With a focus on user experience and digital applications, neobanks stand to offer faster and better service to the underserved. Moving forward, neobanks will need to provide both a compelling product for a targeted customer segment and a suite of offerings that go beyond basic accounts or credit cards to retain customers and improve unit economics. Innovators in this space include NOW Money, which offers migrant workers in the UAE a platform to more efficiently transfer remittances and access to other products and services over time, and SmartMEI, which offers small businesses in Brazil a free tax tool and access to a broader set of financial services.

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Insurers are increasingly deploying “insurtech” innovations to connect with and serve lower-income customers

> Posted by Center Staff

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.

New technologies are dramatically changing the landscape for insurance around the world and enabling insurers to reach new mass market segments. New data sources and analytical tools are changing risk models by enabling new ways to create, capture, and analyze valuable information that can help insurers better calculate and manage the risk associated with customers. Machine learning applied to satellite imagery is changing agricultural and disaster insurance, allowing for more sophisticated claims management, even facilitating pre-loss payments that can help minimize the cost of a disaster before it is full-blown. The expansion of identity solutions and onboarding options is lowering operations costs and enhancing convenience. These innovations are helping the global insurance industry transform from a passive risk-transmission industry into an active risk mitigation and advisory partner for individuals, businesses, and governments.

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> Posted by Anisha Singh and Suraj Nair, Senior Research Associate and Research Manager, IFMR LEAD

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Patel, 62, father of two, spends an hour learning how to use mobile money wallet A from his daughter. The interface, navigations and services offered are all quite new to him. The next day, he tries to pay for a taxi but finds the taxi provider only accepts mobile money wallet B. He’s quite confident he should be able to use wallet B as the knowledge of how to use A is still fresh in his mind. However, he struggles with navigating the new platform and is unable to locate certain payment options. He’s also apprehensive to try out different keys as he wants to be careful not to transfer money incorrectly. Giving up, Patel pays in cash and waits for his daughter to return home to teach him how to use mobile money wallet B.

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> Posted by Dylan Lennox, Partner, MFX

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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 Susy Cheston, Financial Inclusion Consultant

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

I have been an inclusive insurance enthusiast ever since I worked for Opportunity International and witnessed the experiments that later became MicroEnsure. In those early days, Richard Leftley framed insurance as the missing piece in the game of Chutes & Ladders (Snakes & Ladders for those outside the U.S.). He likened credit and savings to ladders that could provide a way up for those with lower incomes –but without insurance, each borrower or saver was just one disaster away from slipping back down into destitution. I remember his—at the time—revolutionary concept of paying insurance claims within 10 days or less. He would say that days-to-payout was the only report he wanted on his desk every morning. (Today, of course, payouts can be automatic or even come pre-loss.)

As is often the case with breakthroughs, Richard, of course, was not alone. Thanks to many innovators, an entire industry has emerged with profitable models reaching millions of people, and there is a growing understanding around the world, across social strata of the impact that insurance can have for families, communities and societies. The NGOs that pioneered microinsurance spurred the interest of commercial giants such as Allianz, AXA, MetLife, Swiss Re and Zurich, which have lent their considerable weight to solving the business challenges of extending insurance to underserved and unserved customers. Market catalysts such as A2ii, MicroInsurance Centre, MicroInsurance Network, ILO’s Impact Insurance Facility, and Cenfri have offered insights on everything from the customer experience, to good product design, to proving the business case, to creating an enabling regulatory environment for reaching new insurance markets.

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> Posted by Amanda Epting, Independent Consultant

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Lately it seems that everyone wants in on sustainable, responsible impact investing (SRI). Encapsulating a broad swath of investment styles, from environmental, social, and governance (ESG) screening to shareholder resolutions and community investing, SRI has become the darling of the social impact community.

In the U.S. alone, over one-fifth of professionally-managed funds (held by institutional investors, money managers, and community investment institutions), or a total of $8.7 trillion, consider ESG factors. This figure is up from $6.57 trillion in 2014 according to the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (USSIF)’s 2016 SRI Investing Trends Report. A much smaller proportion is in impact investments. According to the Global Impact Investing Network’s 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey, which polls 209 institutional investors making impact investments, capital invested in impact investments rose by 17 percent last year from $22 billion to $26 billion.

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> Posted by Center Staff

2017 was certainly an eventful year. And our year at CFI was no exception. Through our CFI Fellows Program and partnership with the Institute of International Finance, Mainstreaming Financial Inclusion, we produced thought-provoking research on fintech partnerships, the role of human touch in a digital age, breakthroughs in insurance and more. In the client protection area, 24 financial institutions were Smart Certified, bringing the total number of certified institutions to 94. The Africa Board Fellowship Program continued to make a difference at the governance level of financial institutions across Africa, and now roughly 200 CEOs and board members have participated in the program. And more…

Before we celebrate the New Year, we wanted to pause and look back at some of our favorite moments of 2017.

Financial Health as a Global Framework

We developed a new model for assessing financial health. The financial health framework was developed through a project led by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with CFI and Dalberg as partners. The framework offers a globally applicable model for financial health that includes six indicators of financial health and four contributing factors that are particularly relevant to the developing world.

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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.