> Posted by Lara Storm and Nikhil Gehani, MIX

As financial services continue on the path to digitization, the amount of data available is expanding at a rapid pace. While gaps remain – most notably when it comes to quality and usage – the financial inclusion community has made significant progress in collecting timely, reliable and useful data. Yet no matter how much the flow of data improves, a key challenge persists: We are data rich and information poor. The late Hans Rosling left us with the simple truth that, “Having the data is not enough.”

The growing libraries of data make it difficult to separate the signal from the noise; actionable intelligence is sometimes obscured by the volume of available data points. The rapid uptake of digital financial services in low- and middle-income countries has contributed to the expansion of available data and shows no signs of slowing. The challenge presented to policy makers, financial service providers (FSPs) and funders is to derive insights that can inform decisions related to financial inclusion – without being buried in the avalanche of data.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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This week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Verizon announced that it’s unveiling new 5G wireless connectivity for its mobile customers. More “G”s are not a surprising announcement, as mobile networks strut their speed at this annual event like body builders at a weightlifting competition. For those unfamiliar with what exactly 5G means, the network will provide speeds of a gigabit per second and faster, but only in a select group of cities in high income economies.

As we celebrate global innovation, we can also take a moment to highlight those who continue to have limited to no connectivity—with implications for global development. While 5G revs up, an astounding number of people are left out of mobile connectivity and therefore mobile money—even in countries known for their digital financial services uptake.

Our CFI Fellow Leon Perlman examines this phenomenon in his upcoming report. As a sneak preview, in his report Leon shows connectivity maps in a select group of emerging markets, such as the one above. Take this example of Tanzania, a market with growing mobile money usage. In this market, mobile network coverage misses large swaths of rural areas toward the center of the country. Certainly, those areas have lower population densities than other areas, but they are home to many people. The mobile financial services ecosystem depends on connectivity infrastructure that provides reliable and sufficiently high-speed data transmission. Lacking that, people in rural areas are left out in large numbers. In the map above, the blue splotches indicate mobile network coverage, and the dots are where mobile money agents are located.

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> Posted by Jason Loughnane, Special Projects Manager, DAWN

In 2011, a SIM card in Myanmar cost $1,500 and mobile phones were used by less than 5 percent of the population. Following the entry of two foreign mobile operators in 2011, the price of a SIM card dropped to $1.50. Today, over 90 percent of the country’s population has a cell phone, and over 80 percent of those users have smartphones. And yet, only 6 percent of the population uses a formal financial institution, making the country ripe for adoption of mobile financial services.

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> Posted by Nancy Widjaja, Principal Manager, Knowledge & Industry Engagement, Accion Venture Lab

Ken Kinyua, CEO, Kopo Kopo

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog.

The seventh episode of VentureKast, Accion Venture Lab’s podcast series, is a conversation between host Vikas Raj and Ken Kinyua, CEO of Kopo Kopo, at Venture Lab’s Washington, D.C. office.

Kopo Kopo began as a digital platform to enable small merchants in Kenya to accept digital payments, primarily for M-Pesa. When the company launched in 2012, the vast majority of mobile money transfers on M-Pesa were between individuals. Kopo Kopo addresses this challenge by providing a merchant acquisition platform and proprietary application program interface for mobile money systems, enabling merchants to accept mobile money payments.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

Say the words ‘women’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ together and donors and philanthropists will rush to give you money. It’s one of the hot topics in development today.

But where are the women in small and medium enterprises (SMEs)? In my study with the Center for Financial Inclusion, Emerging SMEs: Secrets to Growth from Micro to Small Enterprise, I asked this question, both directly and indirectly, as I met with entrepreneurs who had started microenterprises that grew to be SMEs, with the help of finance from microfinance banks in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. I called these growth-oriented businesses emerging SMEs. These are my observations about women’s involvement with emerging SMEs.

Only a very small proportion of emerging SMEs are led by women. In my research only one of fourteen of the high growth enterprises identified in the study was led by a woman. Although the access-to-credit hurdle had been largely addressed within the study group, as evidenced by their extensive business borrowing, women were highly underrepresented as leaders of emerging SMEs.

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> Posted by Center Staff

What’s better than blog posts? As a blogger, I’m inclined to assert that nothing is in fact better than blog posts. Alas, with self-awareness, I think we can all agree that interactive websites are cool. And that interactive websites about client protection in microfinance are especially cool!

Created by Nathalie Assouline of Alia Développement, a new interactive website offers users a media-rich experience for learning about the development of the microfinance industries in Cambodia and Morocco, with a special focus on client protection.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

We’ve been running the CFI Fellows Program for almost two years, with generous funding this year from the Rockefeller Foundation. The program has been a terrific experiment for many reasons. Now, while our current cohort of fellows is hard at work conducting their research, is a great time to stop and share some lessons we’ve learned along the way. The findings emerging from the program have also quickly become part of the continued learning and development of our expertise as an organization. Our staff engage closely with the fellows as they work, drawing from and contributing to their expert-level knowledge. And, on a personal level, I have come to understand financial inclusion in new ways.

As we’ve sourced topics, selected fellows, and engaged with knowledge communities, we have learned a great deal about people, organizations, technology and global trends. (You can see some of the specific findings coming out of the program here.) We also have gleaned observations about the nature of inquiry in financial inclusion, who cares about deeply understanding financial inclusion, and why financial inclusion matters.

Here are the top 10 things that I’ve learned thus far in the process of working on the CFI Fellows Program.
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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

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Smart Certification requires a substantial commitment from the financial institutions that choose to seek it. These institutions face a thorough audit by an independent third-party and may be required to improve client-related policies and practices at multiple levels, drawing in staff from the executive suite to the field offices.

In short, is it worth it? Why would a financial institution elect to participate in such a program – especially if the institution is operating smoothly?

A new survey conducted by Deutsche Bank and the Smart Campaign captures the perspectives and experiences of over 24 Smart Certified institutions and yields insights on why nearly 80 financial institutions around the world have achieved Smart Certification, with many more on the path to be certified.

The surprising result is that in addition to the benefit of publicly affirming that financial institutions treat their clients well, Smart Certification helps energize corporate culture and shift it toward client-centricity.

First off, Smart Certification allows financial service providers to distinguish themselves from the competition by demonstrating to their market and the industry that they provide a higher level of service to their clientele. Smart Certified institutions have to exhibit to independent auditors that at every stage from product design through customer acquisition and service delivery, they are governed by standards that ensure clients are treated fairly. Financial institutions have found a wide audience for their newly certified status. Half of all certified institutions reported that their regulators took positive and formal notice of their certification. Additionally, the majority reported positive media attention.

Respondents agreed that the biggest benefit of Smart Certification was in helping them see the world from their clients’ perspective and infuse client protection into the DNA of their operations. Over 90 percent of certified financial institutions agreed that Smart Certification has helped them prioritize their clients’ rights and reshape their institutional culture around client protection.

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> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

sewingLimited access to credit in the developing world is often exacerbated by conflict, which presents a strong demand for microfinance. In Iraq, for example, only 11 percent of adults hold an account at a formal financial institution, according to the 2014 Global Findex. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, is helping to build a more inclusive financial sector in Iraq through its partnership with Vitas Iraq, a subsidiary of Global Communities, which is a non-profit development organization that partners with local stakeholders across a range of topic areas. Vitas Iraq established Al Tamweel Al Saree LLC (ATAS) as the financing vehicle to support expansion of its operations. In 2012, OPIC provided ATAS with a direct loan to enable the expansion of Vitas Iraq’s portfolio of loans to individuals and to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME), thereby expanding financial access in Iraq.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Last week the Kenyan government officially kicked-off Huduma cards, a fintech initiative aimed at bolstering government services in the country and digital financial inclusion. The program leverages partnerships with Mastercard and a handful of prominent banks. If successful, the new cards will simultaneously improve the government’s functioning, enroll more citizens in key government services like health insurance and social security, and provide digital financial services to many unbanked Kenyans.

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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.