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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, and Sergio Navajas, Multilateral Investment Fund, Inter-American Development Bank

A Spanish-language version of this post immediately follows the English-language version.

Financial institutions of all sizes around the world are joining the digital revolution. In our work and research at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Inter-American Development Bank we have seen some best cases of institutions shifting toward digital as well as some failures. At the end of this month we’ll be discussing strategies to pursue digital innovation as part of the Foromic in Buenos Aires. (Join us for our session on Tuesday, October 31st at 11:15 am!) In the meantime, for institutions that want to start down the path of digital innovation, here are a few of our top strategy suggestions.

1. Make sure you actually want to digitize. Some institutions are digitizing because they have undertaken extensive research on what value digitization will bring to their institution. These analyses involve things like cost reduction, increased access, increased efficiency, better record-keeping, or all of the above. But others are digitizing, more or less, because they see their peers doing it. Remember when your mom told you not to jump off a bridge just because everyone else was? The same applies here. There are some institutions that will do just fine without pursuing a full digital strategy right now. And that is ok. A good rule of thumb here is you’re likely better off not digitizing at all if you are only going to “phone it in.”

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> Posted by Center Staff

(click to enlarge)

BBVA Bancomer in Mexico and Bancolombia in Colombia partner with Juntos, a fintech startup, to deepen their customer engagement and product usage. Why wouldn’t the two banks just strengthen their customer engagement capabilities in-house?

A few weeks ago, we released a joint report with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines. As part of the report, CFI and IIF interviewed over 30 individuals from across the industry, including representatives from Juntos, BBVA Bancomer, and Bancolombia. Here’s what their story taught us about the value of successful customer engagement partnerships.

Engaged customers are better customers. Because large portions of the populations in the emerging markets in Mexico and Colombia are outside the formal financial sector, bringing them into it requires financial education and well-designed products and services. Simply providing products and services is often ineffective, as people also need to understand how they work and develop confidence using them. Several financial institutions we interviewed echoed the importance of frequent interactions with new low-income customers to build stronger relationships and increase loyalty, trust, satisfaction, and retention. They hope this kind of engagement will improve public perception and understanding of financial products and services, and ultimately increase the demand for such offerings.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath and Dennis Ferenzy, Analyst at CFI and Associate Economist at IIF

Contrary to popular rhetoric, banks do not view fintechs primarily as competitors. Increasingly, they seek them as partners. This is the message of How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlinesa new joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The report, launched today, finds that banks, insurers and payment companies don’t see fintechs as “little more than pinpricks for a banking mastodon with trillions in assets,” as The Economist colorfully described the fintech-bank relationship in 2015. The relationships between these players are more symbiotic than combative, because fintechs and mainstream financial institutions bring different strengths. With partnerships, fintechs get to scale their technology and access capital, while financial institutions gain assistance to improve product offerings, increase efficiency, and lower costs.

As it turns out, these are all goals with special relevance to low-income customers who look for products and services that are more convenient, less expensive, and higher quality. That makes financial institution-fintech partnerships a crucial strategy for meeting the financial needs of the unbanked and underbanked around the world. During our in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants, both mainstream financial institutions and fintechs, CFI and IIF identified dozens of effective bank-fintech partnerships working at the base of the pyramid in emerging markets. The report highlights 14 of them.
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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 Gabriela Zapata, Independent Consultant

A Spanish-language version of this post immediately follows the English version.

With so much hype around and support for financial education initiatives in Mexico in recent years, CFI’s and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s project on innovations in financial capability-building provides a great opportunity to see who is actually moving the needle (or not) in favor of developing financial capability in Mexico.

Here, the terms financial capability and financial education are often used interchangeably. While the ultimate aim of these closely related efforts is to enable people to make informed and better decisions around financial products and services, the positive behavior change that is sought from these efforts, with very few exceptions, is neither clearly defined from the outset nor measured.

Most initiatives in Mexico fall under what I would call “classic” financial education, focusing on information dissemination, either classroom-based or online, primarily on generic topics (e.g. savings, credit, insurance, interest rates, credit card, etc.), money management, and budgeting/planning. Unsurprisingly, it is much easier to account for their activities and outputs (e.g. type and number of courses and materials developed; number of courses given; number of attendees) than to measure their impact on decision-making. Only a few undertakings measure knowledge acquisition or learning levels right after the intervention, and they have no way of knowing how, in practice, the learning informs consumer decision-making going forward.

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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.