> Posted by Center Staff

Microfinance client harvesting rice at her farm in Mawlamying, Mon State, Myanmar. Image credit: Accion.

About this time of year, before we launch into the promise and the chaos of January, it is helpful to reflect on the past 12 months.

Like many of you, CFI in 2016 can be characterized by change. We released the first reports from CFI Research Fellows. We established a new priority area for the Center in financial capability and financial health. The Smart Campaign pivoted towards digital financial services. We partnered with the Institute of International Finance (IIF) to examine how banks in emerging markets are driving financial inclusion. The Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) distilled how MFIs and other mission-driven organizations can preserve double bottom lines in initial public offerings (IPOs). We said so long to some long-time CFIers. We said welcome to some new ones.

Amid all the new initiatives, 2016 was also a year of deepening efforts in many legacy initiatives at CFI. The year saw significant progress in the Africa Board Fellowship Program, the Banana Skins report series, the Global Microscope report series, the Governance Working Group, Financial Inclusion Week, the Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Leadership in Inclusive Finance, the Microfinance CEO Working Group, and Smart Certification.

We thank you for your support this year on these and on all our efforts to advance financial inclusion around the world. To recap the year, here’s a quick rundown of CFI in 2016 in pictures. And Happy New Year!

The Smart Campaign Breaks New Ground

This year marked a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, with a greater emphasis on client protection issues emerging from new technologies and effecting change at the national level. The Campaign examined the client protection risks in the provision of financial services via agent banking and digital credit. It also worked with the government of Myanmar to enshrine the client protection principles in the country’s new microfinance policy and with MFIN to develop a Grievance Redressal Mechanism Framework for the microfinance network in India. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

What were your favorite financial inclusion stories of 2016? In the world of finance for the base of the economic pyramid, change was in the air in 2016.

We saw nearly ubiquitous government support for financial inclusion policy, successful initial public offerings (IPOs) of microfinance institutions, the launch of the first fully-interoperable mobile money platform in Peru with BiM, demonetization in India, MyBucks purchasing six Opportunity International banks in Sub Saharan Africa, bank failures and take-overs in Africa, troubling credit scoring approaches being developed in China, interest rate caps in Kenya, and fintechs and banks partnering like never before.

Of course, these are just a few standout developments. What were the pivotal moments for financial inclusion in 2016 in your opinion?

As readers, you’ve already inadvertently cast your ballot, at least in one sense. Here are the most read CFI blog posts that were published during 2016:
Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

A keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended described consumer protection as “incredibly important,” before adding that it was also “boring.”  Palpable excitement buzzes around new products or technologies, but consumer protection can be a real buzzkill. After all, it is often viewed as a dry, bureaucratic subject, costly for providers, and entailing barriers to pace of change and convenience.

As the Smart Campaign’s Africa team lead, I’m excited about client protection! And that’s not because it’s my purview. First, I think that client protection should not be seen as pumping the breaks on financial inclusion’s momentum. Rather, it guarantees a longer, more enjoyable ride. Secondly, client protection need not be a dull compliance exercise. It too can crowdsource, beta-test, gamify, and so forth to hack innovative, agile, disruptive approaches. But seriously, as an industry we can consider and engage in client protection practices that are data-driven, and that use behavioral economics, human-centered design, fintech, and other disciplines to not only ensure fair consumer treatment but strengthen financial bottom lines.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Alex Counts

During my final years as President of Grameen Foundation and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG), I advocated that two papers be written that I had neither the time nor the expertise to do justice to myself.

The first paper was a distillation of lessons for practice from recent studies on the impact of microcredit and microfinance. Many papers that set out to determine whether microfinance worked stumbled on important insights about how it could work better. Unfortunately, those discoveries were buried in papers that people barely read beyond summaries and extracts. A paper that presented these “lessons for practice” in a form that was accessible to busy practitioners could make a big impact, by removing friction from the maddeningly difficult process of using research to positively influence policy and practice.

The second paper I advocated for was one that made the case for how philanthropy and social/impact investing, and more broadly, subsidy, could play a positive role in the microfinance industry today. Such a paper would need to start with making the case that such social investments had any role to play, as the conventional wisdom was settling on the idea that it did not have any.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Those who work in the financial inclusion space need a deep understanding of how low income people manage their money, and there is no better guide to develop this understanding than Ignacio Mas, who recently spoke at the Africa Board Fellows seminar in Cape Town. Here are some of his insights.

Unused money is vulnerable if you are poor. You have to protect it from a lot of things – theft, friends and family, and, also, your future self… (Let’s not underestimate the threat of the future you as someone who has the most access to, and authority over, those funds.) And there is no saying how resolved you will stay toward your savings goals. One way to protect any unused money against these threats is to make it less liquid. For example, you could convert your savings into a goat. In many countries, a goat can be sold if an emergency should arise, but you certainly wouldn’t sell or trade it to make an impulse purchase. Or as the vendor I just bought holiday jam from put it: “Making jam is like forced savings for me. I spend it in the summer on jars and sugar and fruit and get it back in December for Christmas shopping money!” These are examples of self-nudges that enable clients to better stick to their goals – one of the seven behaviorally-informed practices for financial capability. These approaches create behavioral roadblocks, so that individuals are able to save with less effort.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

john-owensAfter reviewing many high-quality proposals, we are excited to announce the second cohort of CFI Fellows. Like the inaugural cohort, the new fellows will explore and answer some of the most pressing questions in the financial inclusion industry. The six 2017 fellows will design and produce actionable research, focusing on the topics of responsible online credit, human touch in a digital age, and the business case for financial capability. Read more about the upcoming research below and join us for a webinar tomorrow, December 14 to hear from the fellows themselves.

John Owens, Independent Consultant

What does responsible online credit look like?

Online lending for consumers, and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is highly relevant and important to facilitating financial inclusion. However, trust, confidence, and responsible lending practices need to be in place to ensure that this industry is successful and that the customers are protected and empowered. CFI Fellow John Owens will examine the risks customers of online lending face and what best practices are, or should be considered, for setting consumer protection and risk mitigation standards for the emerging online financial services industry.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Tess Johnson, Project Associate, CFI

This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

NGOs, both large and small, are often on the front lines of humanitarian efforts, assisting people who are affected by conflict and terrorism. It is troubling that so many of these organizations’ efforts are hampered by de-risking. The funding and other forms of non-monetary aid that NGOs provide are directed towards addressing seemingly intractable problems – such as humanitarian conflict, forced displacement, natural disaster, and violent extremism – and yet, the de-risking behavior of banks, brought on in response to anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulation, often makes it difficult for these organizations to function and serve those who are most in need.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Mark Napier, Director, FSD Africa

The following post was originally published on the FSD Africa blog.

Yesterday, Zambia’s central bank announced it had taken over a commercial bank, Intermarket, after the latter failed to come up with the capital it needed to satisfy new minimum capital requirements. Three weeks ago, a Mozambican bank – Nosso Banco – had its licence cancelled, less than two months after another Mozambican bank, Moza Banco, was placed under emergency administration.

At the end of October, the Bank of Tanzania stepped in to replace the management at Twiga Bancorp, a government-owned financial institution which was reported to have negative capital of TSh21 billion. A week before that, just over the border in Uganda, Crane Bank, with its estimated 500,000 customers, was taken over by the central bank, having become “seriously undercapitalised”. In DR Congo, the long-running saga of BIAC, the country’s third-largest bank, continued in 2016, forced to limit cash withdrawals after the termination of a credit line from the central bank. And in Kenya, Chase Bank collapsed in April, barely six months after the failure of Imperial.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Anna Kanze, Chief Operating Officer, Grassroots Capital Management, and Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

2016 has been dubbed “the year of IPOs” in India: as of September, there had been 21 initial public offerings (IPOs) worth nearly $3 billion, according to Indian news source Livemint. Among these are two high-profile IPOs for microfinance institutions (MFIs): Equitas Financial Holdings and Ujjivan Financial Services. IPOs are seen as the hallmark of commercial success, but in those industries like financial inclusion that are driven by social missions, inevitable questions arise over whether organizations can preserve their double bottom line priorities when they go public. The cases of these two Indian MFIs offer some answers to this increasingly pertinent question.

But before we get to that, let’s look at why these institutions went public in the first place.

Never waste a good crisis, right? In 2010, when the Andhra Pradesh crisis froze microlending in India, regulators and MFIs rose to the occasion and implemented measures that restored confidence in the microfinance industry and helped cement the social mission of microfinance in India. Most notably:

  • Social Standards – In an effort to promote responsible lending, a group of the largest for-profit MFIs in the Indian microfinance sector formed the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN). MFIN developed a Code of Conduct by which members commit to client protection, ethics, and transparency, and the group began to “self-police” adherence to responsible lending principles.
  • Credit Bureaus – The members of MFIN also collaborated with High Mark Credit Information Services to form the first credit bureau to track microfinance borrowing in India. All MFIN members contribute data to the microfinance credit bureau.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Isabel Whisson, Deputy Manager, Microfinance Programme and Ultra Poor Graduation Initiative, and Onindita Islam, Management Professional Staff, Microfinance Programme

This year BRAC in Bangladesh became the largest microfinance institution, in terms of number of clients, to be Smart Certified, signifying to our country market and to the industry writ large that we treat our clients with adequate care.

As a non-profit dedicated to poverty reduction, client welfare has been central to BRAC’s mission since its inception in 1972. In Bangladesh in general, almost all microfinance institutions are non-profits, and so microfinance has always been seen as a tool for alleviating poverty in the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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.