> Posted by Center Staff

In its second year, Financial Inclusion Week expanded its reach and once again displayed how the financial inclusion community is engaged and working for better services for the un- and underserved.

We are excited to share an electronic magazine which captures the Week’s vibrant conversation.  In this roundup e-zine, we hope to capture the energy and insights of Financial Inclusion Week 2016. Inside, we share event photos and videos, and dive into the conversations of the week’s events, while highlighting the client perspective.

We are excited to share insights on this year’s theme, keeping clients first in a digital world. The Financial Inclusion Week conversation covered a breadth of topics and geographies – from the role of digital media in financial literacy in Nepal to the client protection risks associated with nano-loans in Rwanda. As we listened to the many conversations, two words showed up again and again. Throughout all of the perspectives shared, we observed that many stakeholders are looking to new digital channels to help them understand and engage clients.

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> Posted by Misha Sharma, Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

Last week was a rather challenging one for the Indian economy. On November 8, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a dramatic demonetization exercise that rendered all Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes void starting November 9, with the objective of curbing black money, corruption, counterfeit notes, and the financing of terrorism – all of which has leveraged these larger currency notes (with values equivalent to about US$7.50 and $15.00).

The next morning saw newspapers flooded with advertisements by e-wallet companies thanking the Indian Government for its visionary move and congratulating the Prime Minister on “taking the boldest decision in the financial history of Independent India.” They even claimed Indians to be the biggest beneficiaries in this exercise, indicating this was a positive step towards solving the problem of financial inclusion and encouraging more and more people to transition to the digital world. Several banks printed front page advertisements praising this move as progress towards a cashless India. A full-fledged commercial bank endorsed the move with the tag line –Who says you need cash to get by in life?

All I could think while reading these advertisements and endorsements is that we couldn’t be any more oblivious, as we are forgetting the plight of those who remain excluded from the formal economy.

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.

Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.

It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.

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> Posted by Ellen Metzger, CFI

Community savings groups are at the heart of successful rural banking

Before joining the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, I spent four years in rural East Africa managing an ultra-poor graduation program. At Village Enterprise, we focused on savings group creation and distributed conditional cash transfers rather than livestock (as is customary with graduation programs) in order to empower choice and facilitate ownership among our participants. Over years of traveling the bumpy back roads of Uganda and Western Kenya meeting with hundreds of savings group members, I met very few participants who went beyond their local savings groups to take loans from financial institutions such as MFIs. Those few who did created great success stories. In light of the recent article “Your Inflexible Friend” in The Economist, which offers a review of microlending’s history, I reflect on why we don’t see microlending in the rural areas of Uganda and Western Kenya and how that can change.

A good reputation is critical. In these areas, tragic stories of delinquencies and defaults travel faster and are remembered longer than stories of success. In Kenya especially, where there is more competition in rural areas among financial institutions than in Uganda, reputation precedes the products and services. These reputations can vary dramatically every 5 kilometers you travel. When groups are asked about being linked to a particular financial institution, one community will trust the organization, the next community a few kilometers away will cringe at the name. Microfinance institutions are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in trust, so it’s imperative for them to design trustworthy products and ensure adequate follow-through on their services every time.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

In the Delhi area, nearly 2,000 schools experienced multiple-day closures; construction and demolition was halted; almost 10 percent of workers called in sick; the government advised individuals to stay indoors as much as possible; and shops ran out of masks. India’s capital is reportedly experiencing its worst smog pollution in 17 years. This isn’t a mere inconvenience in terms of visibility or quality of life. This is an enormous threat to the health of the nearly 22 million people who live in the Delhi metropolitan area.

Air pollution levels are currently at 30-times the acceptable level set by the World Health Organization (WHO). And in India, air pollution is the leading cause of premature death, with about 620,000 people perishing each year from pollution-related diseases. Globally, among children under five years of age, nearly one million die from pneumonia each year and roughly half of these deaths are directly linked with air pollution.

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> Posted by Center Staff

“Despite its recent years of rapid growth, Islamic finance is still in its early stages of development,” the World Bank wrote last year. Today in 2016, this is still the case, but this banking segment is certainly demonstrating advances that might suggest otherwise.

Today and tomorrow in Nairobi, delegates from 35 countries are convening to attend the Global Islamic Microfinance Forum. The event, hosted by the AlHuda Centre for Islamic Banking and Economics, seeks to explore the latest developments and trends in the sector, catalyze innovation in the industry, and boost awareness on how Islamic finance can support social development and poverty alleviation. Once the forum concludes there will be a two-day workshop on how to develop, operate, and sustain Islamic microfinance institutions.

Islamic finance has grown at roughly 10-12 percent annually over the past decade. Between 2011 and 2014, Sharia-compliant financial assets rose from US$ 1 trillion to 2.1 trillion. In many Muslim countries, Islamic finance assets have been growing faster than conventional banking assets. In non-Muslim-majority counties, Islamic finance has also seen substantial progress breaking ground in new countries and growing in already-established markets, including China, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and the U.K. It’s estimated that there are over 1,500 organizations working in Islamic finance across 90 countries – 40 percent of which are non-Muslim-majority countries.

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> Posted by Center Staff

It has been two weeks since Financial Inclusion Week 2016 came to a close and we are excited to share a new Financial Inclusion Week Recap webpage which captures events, blogs, and insights from this year’s global conversation.

By the numbers, Financial Inclusion Week 2016 was a success. We had over 40 partner organizations in 19 countries hold events focused on the theme of keeping clients first in a digital world. Over 1,200 participants were engaged in these events worldwide. Beyond the in-person and online events, there were vibrant conversations on social media. Twenty-three #FinclusionWeek blog posts were shared by a variety of leaders in the industry and hundreds of tweets were exchanged with the week’s hashtag. We were thrilled by the breadth of the participants this year. Regulators such as the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, fintech startups such as Artoo, research organizations such as Innovations for Poverty Action, development agencies such as ADA – Appui au Developpement Autonome, MFIs such as BRAC, and many more got involved.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

After decades of directing financial services to micro-enterprise owners, many microfinance institutions are finding that some of these enterprises have grown and that they’re now serving an expanding number of small business owners. With increasing global attention being directed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it is fitting to look more deeply at what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses started as microenterprises, grew, and can now be classified as SMEs – with a substantial number of employees. More specifically: Who are these entrepreneurs? What kinds of businesses do they operate? What have been their growth patterns and hurdles? And how have they utilized financial services to further their growth aspirations?

These are the questions that guided my research fellowship for the Center for Financial Inclusion. As part of my study I gathered institutional data and conducted in-depth interviews with clients of three leading microfinance institutions in Latin America: MiBanco, Banco ADOPEM, and Banco Solidario. The clients I focused on had all experienced significant loan size growth over several years.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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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 formal financial inclusion? This might happen if those beneficiaries can gain experience in dealing with a formal financial service provider (FSP) when they 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 CFI 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 the relationship between G2P payments and financial inclusion. For this project we analyzed global survey data and conducted field research in Colombia and Pakistan—two countries with large, well-established G2P programs.

The focus group discussions with the beneficiaries of the Familias program in Colombia showed the potential of G2P programs to have a direct effect on enabling women to become comfortable with using digital channels to receive money. The women unanimously reported that they used their Familias debit cards to withdraw their G2P payment from an ATM without any help from anyone else. They did report that, at first, they needed help, but soon learned how to use the cards themselves without any problem.
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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.