> Posted by Darrell M. West, John Villasenor, Robin J. Lewis

On August 4, the Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project (FDIP) team held a public event to officially launch the second annual FDIP report. The report aims to assess country commitment to and progress toward financial inclusion across economically, politically, and geographically diverse countries. The 2016 report highlights recent developments across the financial inclusion landscapes of the 21 countries featured in the 2015 FDIP Report and provides detailed summaries examining the financial inclusion ecosystems of five new countries: the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Haiti, and Vietnam.

Together, the FDIP reports serve as a complementary resource to existing financial inclusion literature by providing detailed, annual snapshots of the financial inclusion environment in a diverse array of countries and by measuring country commitment to financial inclusion at the policy and regulatory levels, as well as the robustness of countries’ digital infrastructure and actual adoption of selected traditional and digital financial services.

The 2016 FDIP Report found that many countries across the geographic and economic spectrum are making progress toward financial inclusion. However, key data gaps, regulatory constraints, and capability limitations with respect to usage of formal financial services pose challenges for the acceleration of financial inclusion. Thus, to advance the availability and adoption of affordable, quality financial services, the 2016 FDIP Report highlights four priority action areas for the international financial inclusion community: identifying quantifiable financial inclusion targets; collecting, analyzing, and sharing data germane to countries’ financial and digital ecosystems; advancing enabling regulatory environments for traditional and digital financial services; and enhancing financial capability among consumers.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

With their soaring ubiquity and utility, mobile phones are revolutionizing disaster and crisis relief, as recent experiences have shown. From Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to Ebola in West Africa, we’ve seen mobile networks help provide critical financial services, information, and communication – in every stage of a crisis. And all signs point to this support expanding.

A few weeks ago GSMA spotlighted a growing collective of mobile network operators (MNOs) working together to aid those hit by crisis. The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative launched by GSMA in 2015, aims to unite the industry under a set of principles for harnessing mobile technology to support people affected by humanitarian emergencies. GSMA recognized four new member MNOs that signed onto the Charter, joining more than 60 other MNOs from around the world. By signing the Charter, MNOs commit to a common set of principles designed to enhance coordination, standardize preparedness and response activities, and strengthen partnerships between industry, government, and humanitarian organizations.

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> Posted by Center Staff

banana.skins.coverWhat do industry leaders feel is the biggest risk facing their institutions in 2016? This question is the focus of the latest Banana Skins report for the financial inclusion sector, Financial Services for All: It’s All about Strategy. The report ranks the top perceived risks facing those providing financial services to un/under-served people in emerging markets. Produced by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI), and sponsored by Citi and CFI, the study examines the rapidly changing and expanding financial inclusion landscape to better understand how providers view challenges like new technologies, new market entrants, client repayment capacity, and macro-economic risks.

This year’s report, the sixth in the series surveying risks facing the inclusive finance industry, embraces a broader scope than previous editions, which focused exclusively on microfinance institutions. The new report reflects the advances in the provision of financial services to the base of the economic pyramid and encompasses both established providers and newer entrants like commercial banks, technology companies, and telephone and communication companies. A survey with respondents spanning practitioners, investors, regulators, and other industry stakeholders comprise the report’s findings. It’s important to note that in addition to the Banana Skins report series on inclusive finance, there is also a Banana skins report series on insurance and on banking.

So, what were the results?

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> Posted by Tamal Bandyopadhyay

I began closely tracking Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, the founder of Bandhan Bank Ltd, sometime in 2010 while conducting a series of panel discussions for Mint, India’s second-largest business paper, on financial inclusion. He was passionate about microfinance, but not necessarily the most articulate person in the room.

But this is what fascinated me: Bandhan was operating successfully in West Bengal, a state not too well known for its work culture. Entrepreneurship in the state was confined largely to running chowmein and momo stalls and driving autorickshaws. But Bandhan was a highly efficient microfinance company, based in Kolkata, employing 12,000 people. In 2010, in the aftermath of the Andhra Pradesh law which wounded or killed many microfinance companies operating in the southern part of India, Bandhan thrived in the east.

In 2014, Bandhan got a banking license, one of just two handed out that year by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). A banking license is a big deal in Asia’s third-largest economy—in the past 68 years since Independence, only 15 new banks have been set up, including Bandhan. This is the first instance of a bank being born in eastern India after Independence. In my new book, Bandhan: The Making of A Bank, I share the fascinating story of the bank’s transformation – a transformation that I watched from a ringside seat.

Bandhan was not on the radar of many as a possible recipient of a bank license, some of the large business houses in India and established non-banking finance companies were more likely sustpects. Obviously then, this was a big news story, and an evolving one. How would Ghosh turn the microlender into a bank? I was tempted to take a close look at the transformation and watch the birth of a bank from ground zero, having followed the banking and finance sector in India for about two decades, as both reporter and commentator.

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> Posted by Haset Solomon, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

La Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), the common central bank of eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) has prioritized financial inclusion in the region. A recently announced financial inclusion strategy led by BCEAO in partnership with the several national Ministries of Finance aims to include 70 percent of the adult population by the year 2020. Financial access rates range from 7 to 34 percent across the region, according to the Global Findex.

BCEAO is expanding its financial inclusion efforts, including in mobile and e-money, and financial inclusion is slowly progressing in the region, but the opportunities and challenges of the member countries vary significantly, and serious client protection issues remain, particularly among unregulated institutions and in countries with weak national supervision and enforcement. A recent IMF spotlight on Senegal calls for steps to strengthen the sector’s governance through technical assistance to improve supervisory capacities and training to improve reporting standards and practices.

Weak supervision can lead to problems like those the Smart Campaign uncovered during its Client Voice research in Benin, where illegal microfinance institutions collected and disappeared with clients’ savings.

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> Posted by Tim Adams, President and CEO, Institute of International Finance

Access to financial services and products is one of the most important drivers of economic development. At a time of tepid global growth where financial institutions are searching for new market opportunities, the benefits of bringing the unbanked and underbanked into the global financial system are more important than ever.

In a new study we published a few weeks ago along with our colleagues at the Center for Financial Inclusion, we examined how banks approach financial inclusion from a business perspective. We found that it is now a key aspect of strategic planning for traditional financial institutions, particularly local banks. With a timeline to break-even, firms are investing heavily in new technology and leading the charge in bringing access to financial services to populations that are unbanked and underbanked.

Utilizing innovative technologies was a clear trend among the banks that are successfully reaching underserved populations. While shifting their operations to take advantage of cost reductions and efficiencies in these technologies, they are opening opportunities to serve the so-called “base of the pyramid,” which in turn allows poor households to expand consumption, absorb disruptive shocks, manage risks and invest in durable goods, healthcare, and education.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

I’m thrilled to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 2016-2017 CFI Fellows! Maybe this is your year to consider having a little funding and space to take on a big financial inclusion question that could have a major impact on the industry.

We’re looking for researchers who are willing to undertake ambitious work that will advance financial inclusion. We’ve assembled a set of five questions that we think represent some of the most pressing concerns facing the industry, and we will be funding the most promising proposals that set out a plan for answering these questions. The topics we selected are ones that have been well-vetted. They were sourced from an internal Accion-wide exercise, discussions with the CFI Advisory Council, consultation with our friends across the financial inclusion space, and the solicitation of your comments on our “shortlist” of questions here on the blog (thank you so much for your input!).

The research questions this year cover a range of topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age? Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process? Who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others? And how should financial service providers build it into their process?

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> Posted by Monique Maddy, President & CEO, Ezuza

The following post was originally published on The Huffington Post.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) issued a timely report earlier this month: “The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets.” This report is notable because its release comes at a time of expected – some would even argue inevitable – disruption within the financial services industry, specifically in the banking sector.

The report incorporates the key messages gleaned through in-depth interviews with 24 global, national, and regional institutions in 19 countries. The takeaways from these institutions are representative of the current state of banking in these markets and reveal how banks perceive both the opportunity and the challenge of achieving financial inclusion.

Currently, most, if not all, of the talk in the banking industry is about would-be disruptors—that is, the predators, not the prey. The report gives the prey’s perspective and outlines how they plan to confront the potential threat to their business in emerging markets.

I am the CEO of Ezuza, a mobile money company. Ezuza is a predator, one of those would-be disruptors that are all the rage these days. More and more companies, both large and small, are entering the financial services fray, looking to shake things up and grab a share of what has mostly been the exclusive domain of well-established and deep-pocketed financial institutions serving an equally well-established and predictable market.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

In a world of rapid change, few organizations have all the capabilities needed to accomplish every aspect of their business. This is true for commercial banks, which often find success in adapting to new opportunities through partnering. CFI’s most recent publication, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, a joint publication with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), illustrates how banks use partners to adopt new technologies and reach previously underserved markets.

The report, based on interviews with the financial inclusion leads at 24 banks, shines a spotlight on the role of banks as leaders in financial inclusion and discusses their specific strategies related to technology, data, financial capability, partnerships, and other issues.

The report found that banks create a variety of partnerships. The banks in our survey partner with telcos, payments companies, insurance companies, microfinance institutions, retailers, and consumer-goods companies. They work closely with governments for G2P payments and with international development agencies and donors that provide start-up capital for new financial inclusion initiatives. They also contract with digital technology providers such as data analytics companies, back-office systems providers, digital channel providers, financial capability providers, and other fintech firms.

Among many other areas, banks often use partnerships to improve on the following:
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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

#Allinforimpact was the hashtag at “Investing for Impact”, a socially responsible investing (SRI) conference in Boston. Maybe not “all” quite yet but certainly “more” investors are going in for impact, as indicated by the growth in attendance at the conference over the years. Investing for Impact was sponsored by socially responsible investors, such as Calvert Investment and Trillium Asset Management, who not only screen potential investee companies in terms of meeting certain environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria – but also serve as watchdogs for the sector and advocates for impactful companies.

A Few Top SRI Trends (from the conference)

Allowing Sinners to Repent: Some companies with bad names in the 1970’s such as General Electric and Ford have changed enough internally to now qualify within some investors’ ESG criteria. As one speaker put it, “What kind of church would we be if we didn’t allow sinners to repent?”

Shades of Grey: Tobacco, firearms, and carbon were across the board clear divestments. But the jury was still out on some companies and business models. For instance, Nestlé, which in the 1970’s came under fire for promoting baby formula in developing countries, has since done a lot to accelerate research on diabetes. Peapod, and other grocery delivery services, are making a pitch to be included as impact investments because the energy saved by not storing food, and the associated reduction in food waste, are positive externalities to consider.

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