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In this thoughtful and provocative blog post Ignacio Mas lays down a series of challenges for everyone working on financial inclusion. We think that the questions he’s asking need to be talked about. We’re asking three experts — on customer-centricity, on fintech start-ups, and on regulation — to respond to his provocations, and for the next three Wednesdays we’ll publish one of them.

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Have you noticed how narrow the interventions of the chorus of financial inclusion supporters have become? Academic researchers are immersed in proving whether an SMS message sent at the right time can push people to repay their loans more promptly (a.k.a. nudges), or whether someone with more savings is likely to be happier and more empowered in some way (a.k.a. impact evaluations). NGOs fund numerous papers and conferences to promote the idea of seeking early and frequent customer feedback in product design (a.k.a. human-centered design), or of looking into customer data for some clue as to what interests them and how they behave (a.k.a. big data). Donors set up round after round of tenders with subsidized funds to spur fully-grown banks and telcos to try out a new product feature (a.k.a. challenge grants), or to prop up the marketing and distribution wherewithal of selected players (a.k.a. capacity building).

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> Posted by Center Staff

It’s common knowledge in the United States that the student loan situation is bad and getting worse, but what are the actual statistics and how severe is this trend? Like other kinds of debt, student debt has innumerable implications for young borrowers, as well as for the country’s recovering economy.

A new report from the New America Foundation inspects undergraduate student loan debt data from the past ten years, compiling borrower rates and amounts, in aggregate and by institution and degree type. The report, The Student Debt Review, draws from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Studies, a national survey series of student financial aid. Here are some of the report’s main findings:

  • More students are indebted. Across all institution and degree types, the percentage of graduates with debt increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in 2012. In 2004 there were 1.6 million graduates with debt. By 2012 there were 2.4 million.
  • They owe more. Total student loan debt increased by an average of $3,300 between 2008 and 2012 after a period of four years in which it changed only marginally (2004-2008).
  • For-profit colleges are a sore spot. Student debt is increasing especially quickly for bachelor’s degree recipients at private for-profit colleges, who now graduate with an average debt of $40,000 and pay $153 more each month than those graduating with bachelor’s degrees at public colleges. A very high proportion of the bachelor’s degree graduates at private for-profit colleges have borrowed (87 percent), compared to public colleges (64 percent).

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Courses featuring microfinance can be found in most colleges or universities, and the development of the syllabi for these courses has begun to create a sort of “microfinance canon.” As the next generation of microfinance professionals enters the market, there are a few things that many of them have read, and a few questions that many of them have been required to consider.

I took 10 syllabi (a small sample size, admittedly) and looked for trends in what is being taught, what is being read, and what is being assigned. Here are a few things I found:

  • Guest speakers are a major part of class time. Given that microfinance is still very much practitioner (rather than academic) oriented, it is no surprise that guest speakers are used quite frequently in class time. Most, if not all, of these speakers are in top positions at well-known microfinance institutions.
  • Assignments range from case study examples, to policy briefs, business plans, and product designs. In a few of the syllabi, students were required to make presentations, including one that assigned an investor pitch in lieu of a final exam.

Beyond these content-related observations, I noticed that microfinance classes don’t seem to have an agreed-upon disciplinary “home” in academia. Classes are typically hosted in business, economics, public policy, and international relations departments. In addition (and this is probably related), professors tend to not be tenure-track academics. Often, they are involved in microfinance as practitioners in some way.

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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.