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Which topics would you most want to see researched?

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

Hi there. I would love your help as we select topics for our 2018 CFI Fellows research.

CFI is getting ready to launch the request for proposals for our 2018 Fellows cohort (a lot of you have been asking when it’s coming out, and the answer is SOON!). The CFI Fellows Program is designed to respond to questions we think are critical to the future of financial inclusion. Fellows come from many perspectives, including both relatively junior and senior well-known researchers, and including researchers who have been in the financial inclusion community for a long time and some who are perceptive outsiders. We share a set of topics for study, and ask interested researchers to submit research proposals that address the topic of their interest.

Our semi-final list of questions is long, and we ask for your help refining or prioritizing them – or adding new ones. We’ve enabled comments at the bottom of this post for your feedback. Alternatively, feel free to email me at skelly@accion.org.

Here are the questions we are currently considering:
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From pay-as-you-go models to products that do away with exclusions, the rules of inclusive insurance are changing 

This post is adapted from the recently-released publication “Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers,” a joint-report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Institute of International Finance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation.

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With digital channels and effective aggregators, it becomes possible to offer insurance to lower-income segments. But the products themselves must also be designed with both cost control and the needs of the client segment in mind. After all, the financial margins for inclusive insurance are smaller, and the value proposition of insurance is typically tough to sell to customers.

Drawing on insights from our recently-released report Inclusive Insurance: Closing the Protection Gap for Emerging Customers, here are a few of the key approaches for building inclusive insurance products that work for the insurer and the customer.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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WeBank started piloting facial recognition for KYC (“know your customer”—verifying that a customer is who they say they are) last year—we heard about it when we talked with Jared Shu, a partner with McKinsey, as part of our deep dive about the different ways banks pursue financial inclusion. At that point, the technology was mere possibility, with some question about whether the regulator would allow it. Now, it seems, facial recognition is indeed serving as a form of identity in China. With the help of technology, customers can quite literally authorize a transaction using their face.

Alipay, a mobile payment app launched by Alibaba in 2004 and used by 120 million people in China, is partnering with Face++ (pronounced “face plus plus”) to allow people to use their face as a credential to make payments. The technology is a natural extension of using a fingerprint to verify a person’s identity, and it is far more secure than just comparing a signature on the back of a credit card to a signature on a receipt.

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> Posted by Kimberly Lei Pang, Digital Learning Specialist, UNICEF

In the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the magical word “sesame” was used to open the seal of a cave where Ali Baba found hidden treasure. In China today, the same word is connected to another kind of magic, one that reveals hidden identities of the socially and economically disadvantaged. Sesame Credit (“芝麻信用” in Mandarin) is a product launched by Alibaba that pulls from transaction records on e-commerce platforms to understand a person or company’s creditworthiness. Such innovation in credit scoring is part of the “social credit system” that the Chinese government is building to make up for the longstanding shortage of credit data.

Access to credit, a major indicator of financial inclusion, has gained increasing attention from Chinese policymakers in recent years. For a country experiencing an economic slowdown and widening income gap between the rich and the poor, credit accessibility has the potential to spur growth and level the playing field for the poor. However, despite China’s efforts to improve financial access, a large portion of its population neither uses nor has access to credit. Data from the World Bank’s Global Findex study showed that Chinese people (aged 15+) have relatively high levels of formal bank account ownership (79 percent, 2014) but low levels of credit usage (14 percent, 2014). In fact, China’s formal credit use is the lowest among the five BRICS economies. Aside from the rigidity and costliness of financial institutions, a significant barrier to borrowing is the lack of reliable credit scoring in China. Established just 11 years ago, China’s credit bureau CCRC covers credit profiles for only a quarter of China’s 1.4 billion population and shares that information only with selected banks. Lenders thus often have no access to borrowers’ financial histories and tend to make rather arbitrary decisions on borrowers’ creditworthiness. As a result, many individuals and microenterprises find it difficult to get a loan, as steady employment and collateral assets are commonly required for formal credit.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

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Does a speeding ticket help predict whether you will pay back a loan? While this might seem like a stretch, it may not be as farfetched as it sounds, at least in China.

China’s government is piloting a new ‘social credit’ scoring system that takes into account a diversity of financial and nonfinancial factors and behaviors. The financial ones are familiar – being delinquent on payments for insurance or social security. The nonfinancial ones are potentially troubling, and include, to name a few, traffic violations, jaywalking, dodging metro fares, violating the country’s family planning rules, criticizing the ruling party, and neglecting your elderly parents.

The social credit system may be used to affect financial opportunities, like securing loans, as well as non-financial ones, like job offers, your child’s admission to schools, faster treatment at government offices, access to luxury hotels, and being able to buy transit tickets.

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> Posted by Tim Tsang, Positive Planet China

A need for formal credit in China

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Between 2011 and 2014, 180 million adults (aged 15+) became new bank account holders in China. Yet in 2014, only 9.6 percent of Chinese adults, or less than 110 million, actually accessed credit from a financial institution, which includes credit unions, microfinance institutions, and cooperatives as well as banks. The incongruity across such statistics highlights both the progress made and the challenges remaining on China’s path to a more financially inclusive economy.

The need for reform is as important as ever with China’s growing credit industry. During its economic slowdown, China has looked to spur growth through consumer spending and should continue to see consumer lending steadily grow. The rigidity and costliness of China’s financial institutions, however, have hindered addressing consumers’ growing credit demand, leaving a discernable credit gap. Instead, in a big way consumers have resorted to informal and nontraditional sources of loans. This largely holds true for both urban and rural borrowers, with roughly a third of Chinese adults borrowing in 2014.

Among China’s informal lenders, family or friends are still the most common for financing individual loans, but “shadow banking” institutions, most notably P2P and online lending companies, have cropped up in recent years to try to capture this untapped market. As less regulated institutions, these shadow banks almost uniformly offer higher-risk, high-interest loans, rather than provide a sustainable and transparent alternative to banks.

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The government of China is launching a mandatory credit scoring system in 2020 and since the publishing of a piece on the system by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week, it’s become a topic of passionate discussion. It remains to be seen how the system will work, but in reading a released State Council planning document, it seems likely that credit scores will be determined by more than just financial behaviors. While the creation of a country-wide credit reporting system potentially presents big benefits to lenders and borrowers, it’s essential that such a system doesn’t unfairly discriminate or breach citizens’ privacy. Below are the opening excerpts from the ACLU post and from a Tech in Asia post, which weighs in on the ACLU’s points and offers additional food for thought.

“China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans”

> By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

China is launching a comprehensive “credit score” system, and the more I learn about it, the more nightmarish it seems. China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, “authoritarianism, gamified.” Read this piece for the full flavor—it will make your head spin. If that and the little other reporting I’ve seen is accurate, the basics are this:
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> Posted by Center Staff

Hot off the press! We published the third issue of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our new weekly online magazine on the big news in financial inclusion. What’s been happening in the world of banking the unbanked?

Among its stories, the new issue of the FI2020 News Feed spotlights the following:

  • The State Bank of Pakistan ordered all commercial banks in the country to create a new account category, Asaan Account, which targets the base of the pyramid by simplifying account opening requirements
  • Mybank, a new online bank in China, was launched by Ant Financial, utilizing transaction records on Alibaba to extend credit to individuals and small businesses
  • In Tanzania, agent and mobile phone-based banking continues to grow steadily in both the volume and value of transactions

For more details on these and other stories, read the third issue here, and make sure to subscribe by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

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In most countries, you don’t hear much buzz about business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce. In the United States, for example, our eCommerce goliaths of the moment are Amazon and eBay, which focus on the business-to-consumer (B2C) segment. But this isn’t the case in China, where the B2B eCommerce industry is ballooning and drawing the rest of the world in. It grew by 32 percent to US$ 3.76 billion in revenue in 2014, and in the coming years the revenue growth rate is expected to stay over 20 percent. China’s B2B break-out market leader is Alibaba, which brought in about US$1 billion in B2B eCommerce revenue in 2014, comprising roughly 34 percent of the country market. Alibaba has been busy with B2B this spring, partnering with alternative lending startups in the United Kingdom to facilitate B2B trade between the two countries, hosting a B2B eCommerce competition in Hong Kong to support Chinese SMEs, and, as of this coming Monday, launching a new cross-border service on its 1668.com platform to facilitate foreign imports for Chinese SMEs.  

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

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Last week global leaders across industries gathered in the tiny mountain town of Davos, Switzerland for the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF). (Though you probably already knew that, given the annual event’s ever-swelling stature and press.) The WEF fosters strategic dialogues in the hopes of developing ideas, insights, and partnerships around the most pressing issues and transformations reshaping our world. This year’s WEF included sessions from Jack Ma of Alibaba on the future of commerce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on global responsibilities in a digital age, IMF Director Christine Lagarde on global monetary policy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres on political affairs affecting the region, and Bill Gates on sustainable future development. Of course we were following the topic of financial inclusion, and the action that got underway made it a week worth noting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the financial inclusion happenings at Davos.

In the “Inclusive Growth in a Digital Age” session held on Wednesday, a panel, which included MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, considered how our age of digitization can confront income and wealth inequality, support investments in education and work-based training, and address vulnerable employment. Among the points of discussion was mobile phone penetration leveraged for financial services access. A full video recording of the session is available, here.

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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.