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In the following post, John Owens offers an overview of his research project with the CFI Fellows Program.

Background & Research Questions

More and more online credit providers have started to offer loans to not only consumers but also to SMEs around the world.

Outside of digital banking platforms, new alternative online and digital platforms that target consumers and small SMEs include:

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) SME lenders
  • Online balance sheet lenders
  • Loan aggregator portals
  • Tech and e-commerce giants
  • Mobile data-based lending models

While the rise of alternative data-based lending has opened new and innovative credit opportunities for individuals and SMEs, these new technologies and providers also come with several consumer protection challenges. These can be categorized into seven main areas:
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> Posted by Center Staff

vkast_album_coverDo you want to know about the coolest financial inclusion startups in the world and how they work? Or the entrepreneurs behind these startups and how they got off the ground? VentureKast, or VKast, is a new podcast series from Accion’s Venture Lab that takes you directly to the entrepreneurs, offering a window into the converging worlds of impact investing, startups, fintech, and financial inclusion.

As you’re probably familiar, Venture Lab, or VLab, is an Accion investment initiative that provides patient seed capital and support to pioneering financial inclusion startups. What you may not know are all the innovations in business and technology that Venture Lab investees harness to provide customers with better, cheaper, and more appropriate financial services. VKast spotlights how these startups break new ground in the financial inclusion landscape, from the unique perspectives of the entrepreneurs that lead them.

The VLab team writes, “We want to celebrate our entrepreneurs’ journeys and let their voices be heard to inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs, to draw in investors and potential clients to their businesses, and to let the world know how cool financial inclusion entrepreneurship really is.”

The inaugural episode of VentureKast features Ranjit Punja, CEO and Co-Founder of CreditMantri, a Venture Lab portfolio company based in Chennai, India that offers financial advisory services to consumers that are underbanked, credit negative, or new to formal financial services. CreditMantri uses an automated web platform and call center to help consumers access their credit reports, understand their credit scores, improve their creditworthiness, restructure outstanding debt, and get access to relevant financial services. Check out the first VKast episode to hear Ranjit discuss, among other things, how he came up with the idea for CreditMantri, how he assembled his team of co-founders, and his vision for the company.

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> Posted by Center Staff

2015 was a year full of great reads (and listens). As we enter 2016, we wanted to take a look back at last year and what we were most excited to explore.  Through our work writing the FI2020 Progress Report, which assesses global progress in five key areas of financial inclusion, we benefited from important research from many in the financial inclusion field.  As part of this effort, we were eager to update our FI2020 Resource Library with the most informative reports and research outputs.  We encourage you to check it out – and in the meantime to review the highlights listed below.  The organizations responsible for these reports cover a wide array of stakeholder types, from support organizations, to telecommunication companies, to financial service providers – proof that progress in financial inclusion is being driven by many.

What Happens to Microfinance Clients Who Default? (January)
The Smart Campaign
Author: Jami Solli
This report looks in-depth at the enabling environment, the practices of providers, and customer experiences in Peru, India, and Uganda, to understand what happens when microfinance clients default on their loans. We were especially interested in the paper’s findings that demonstrate that effective credit bureaus give financial service providers the confidence to treat customers who default more humanely.

Money Resolutions: A Sketchbook (January)
CGAP
Author: Ignacio Mas 
This working paper explores the underlying logic for how people make money resolutions, including how people organize their money and make decisions about financial goals and spending. The paper focuses on peoples’ approaches to making financial decisions – rather than evaluating the decisions themselves – identifying the inner conflicts they face in the process.

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Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. Part one and two can be found here and here; the following is part three.

Misperceptions abound about how to impact credit information sharing in emerging markets. Let me weigh in on this debate and set the record straight.

  • Technology is not the problem. There are abundant and affordable platforms to enable robust information sharing in even the most extreme environments.
  • Scoring models are not the problem. FICO, SAS, Dunn and Bradstreet, and a host of multi-national credit bureaus and lenders have plenty of smart mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians, and others with lots of letters behind their surnames to ensure innovation in this space. The breakthrough that will move markets won’t be found here.
  • End-user capacity and incentives are not the problem. Many pro-poor lenders are already using automated underwriting solutions and can quickly assimilate new data or new scoring models.

So if investing in the technology, risk modeling, and end-user trenches aren’t going to galvanize things, let alone revolutionize them, in which trenches will the revolution begin? The answer lies further upstream, in the consumer and commercial credit ecosystems.

The answer is data access.

This is a deceptively simple response and raises a number of related questions. Which data is both predictive of credit worthiness and covers broad segments of the unbanked and underserved populations? Who owns it? Can traditional credit bureaus access this data? Why haven’t they so far? Are other parties needed to provide lenders access to this data? How can data subjects (people) access and “port” their data from mobile payment systems the same way they can carry their credit report information?

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> Posted by Center Staff

What are the most important questions that need to be researched in the financial inclusion arena?

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will soon launch a fellows program to support research and thought leadership in financial inclusion – and we are calling on you to help! The purpose of this program will be to encourage independent researchers and analysts to examine some of the most important challenges in the financial inclusion arena. We plan to select a few priority research topics for fellows to examine.

Here’s where you come in. Below is a list of research topics that members of our Financial Inclusion 2020 team believe need answering. We’re checking in with you – our blog audience – to find out which topics you think are the most important to investigate. Please consider this list a starting point. Give us thumbs up or down on the topics listed, and propose topics of your own. Once we select the top priority questions, we will issue a call for proposals. Meanwhile, we offer this list to provoke a broader conversation about research needed in the financial inclusion field.

You can respond either in the comment block below, or by email to erhyne@accion.org.

Technology-related topics

  1. Impact of ubiquitous internet access on the business models for financial inclusion. By 2020, the vast majority of the world’s people will have access to internet through smart phones and tablets. Internet access could transform the way financial service providers and customers interact and facilitate a richer interface with customers. What scenarios are possible and are providers ready to respond?
  1. Under what conditions do “on-ramps” lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access focused on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to active account usage or access to additional products. What are the cases of successful access expansion that have led to deeper inclusion and why did they succeed?

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

3687338445_1579b76cceImagine you’re a young immigrant in the U.S. who’s been working for a few years in a series of low-wage jobs. Through discipline and determination, you’ve saved up some money for a down payment on a used car and you want to apply for a loan. You haven’t made many large purchases, you don’t have a credit card, and have few assets to your name. Chances are, your credit report is nonexistent and you won’t be able to access the credit you need to buy a car that will get you to your new job everyday. Tough luck.

It’s a familiar story for the “credit invisible” – tens of millions of Americans (possibly as many as 1 in 4) – some young, some elderly, and across income levels. For people without a detailed credit report or credit score, high cost lenders such as pawn shops, pay-day lenders, and check cashing services fill the void. The resulting inability to build assets, buy a home or start a business doesn’t just have implications for individuals; the lack of a ladder for climbing up the economic ladder helps entrench economic inequality.

A new research report from the Policy & Economic Research Council (PERC) indicates that the use of alternative data is presenting an opportunity for financial inclusion. A growing number of companies are using non-financial services data such as energy utilities, telecoms and cable TV history, and rent to determine credit worthiness and reach clients that typically would be financially excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Rishabh Khosla, Tahira Dosani, and Vikas Raj, Accion Venture Lab

Small businesses are the engine of employment, contributing up to 85 percent of new full-time jobs in low-income countries, and two out of three new jobs in countries like the U.S. The IFC finds a strong correlation between the health of the small business community, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.

Despite these Herculean responsibilities, micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) the world over struggle to access the financing they need to maintain cash flow, hire new employees, purchase new inventory or equipment, and grow their businesses. The IFC estimates that the unmet demand for MSME finance in emerging markets is $2.1-2.6 trillion (around 1/3 of outstanding loan balances to this segment). Unlike larger firms that can access capital markets, MSMEs must seek financing from banks or non-bank finance companies (NBFCs). Yet traditional lending approaches often fail to address this “missing middle” because the cost of diligence and underwriting is too high relative to the potential revenues from the smaller loans that MSMEs need. This situation is worse in emerging markets because of a lack of reliable financial data and high levels of informality. According to the Harvard Business Review, the financial crisis only exacerbated the situation: borrower balance sheets are still recovering, and banks, faced with new regulatory requirements, have reduced the share of lending to MSMEs in 9 out of 13 OECD countries.

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The huge potential for digital finance to reach the last mile of the financially excluded

> Posted by Peer Stein, Director, IFC Access to Finance Advisory 

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”

Last week’s seminar on digital finance at the 2014 World Bank Group / IMF Spring Meetings convened innovators, private sector leaders, and government representatives to discuss the potential innovative business models and new technologies have in reaching and empowering the financially excluded poor and small businesses faster and with greater scale, while contributing significantly to the World Bank Group goal of universal access to finance by year 2020. The session highlighted the diversity of business models that use technology to reach the excluded market segment, showcased by innovators from bKash in Bangladesh, Airtel Money-Africa, and Berlin-based Mobisol operating in rural East Africa.

I’d like to share three key points that emerged from the forum.

First, multi-stakeholder collaboration is a must.

None of the featured innovators is a traditional bank or financial institution but each one realizes the importance of partnering with banks and other players in this dynamic space. For example, bKash was born from a fusion of BRAC Bank and Money in Motion, and continues to operate as a subsidiary of BRAC Bank, holding 80 percent of the mobile money market in Bangladesh. With such an adoption success within two and a half years, recording 90,000 digital money agents and 11.6 million registered users, in the words of Kamal Quadir, CEO, “bKash is now a Bengali verb [synonymous with ‘to send money’].” Chidi Okpala, Director of Airtel Money-Africa, a mobile money service with an active base of 5 million customers, reinforced that one of the factors of success in this diverse market is the need to position your mobile money service for stakeholder collaboration rather than competition. The real competitor is cash. Walt Macnee, president of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, emphasized the company’s connecting and collaborative role focused on ensuring interoperable platforms among a diversity of players.

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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.