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> Posted by Center Staff

With Financial Inclusion Week 2017 less than two weeks away, we’re excited to share a full calendar of events and specifically, 11 webinars or online events that you can join from wherever you are. Topics include micro pensions, IndiaStack, interactive voice response technology, and more. Don’t pass up an opportunity to hear from organizations and experts from around the world – register today!

Monday, October 30

Digital Fireside Chat: How Are New Products and New Partnerships Unlocking Access to Insurance?
Hosting Organizations: AXA, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion
To kick of Financial Inclusion Week 2017, Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will join Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of AXA Emerging Customers for a digital fireside chat. During the webinar, Rhyne and Wattez-Richard will discuss how new products and partnerships are opening up new potential in the inclusive insurance space. They will take a specific look at how AXA is working to reach emerging customers.

Technology-Enabled Financial Inclusion in Myanmar
Hosting Organizations: ThitsaWorks, Internet Journal
ThitsaWorks and Internet Journal will host a Facebook Live conversation on the impact of digital services on financial inclusion in Myanmar, where mobile phone ownership has grown rapidly from 5 to 90 percent between 2011 and 2017.

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> Posted by Daniel Rozas, Independent Microfinance Consultant

The following post was originally published in The Phnom Penh Post.

On March 13, the National Bank of Cambodia announced a major new policy. Starting April 1, all microfinance institutions operating in Cambodia will be required to lend at interest rates no higher than 18 percent per year. This is a deeply misguided regulation that will undo over a decade’s worth of successful financial policies.

At the dawn of this century, Cambodia’s financial sector was largely nonexistent. There were no ATMs, few bank branches, and equally few customers. In rural areas, there were no banks at all, and moneylenders held a monopoly on lending.

How times have changed!

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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 Robyn Robertson, Training and Capability Development Lead, Good Return

Embed from Getty Images

Disruption and breakthrough innovation often comes from huge need, unmet latent demand, and not enough resources for traditional solutions to work!

The financial inclusion space is changing rapidly in Cambodia. Competition is intense, with 36 commercial banks, 11 specialized banks, 38 microfinance institutions, and over 400 NGOs currently applying for financing licenses. As this congested sector moves forward, catering to an increasingly digitally connected and aspirational market, the population is offered a sprawling range of new money management and credit options.

As consumer credit and digital financial products become more accessible in Cambodia, there is increasing risk that Cambodia’s youth (who represent newer and less experienced consumers) and the very poor (who are more vulnerable to economic shocks) can be harmed through becoming over-indebted, falling victim to scams, predatory pricing or poorly suited financial products.

For services perceived to be ‘essential,’ such is the case with financial services, the potential for consumer dissatisfaction is great if there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they experience or observe.

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> Posted by Habitat for Humanity International

Microfinance in Cambodia has seen tremendous growth throughout the past two decades. The first microfinance institutions were initially established by relief organizations to provide cash transfers to poor families, to build incomes and reduce poverty. Fast forward to 2015, and the financial landscape is thriving with over 45 regulated microfinance institutions (MFIs) operating in the country. Improved financial access is contributing to 7.3 percent GDP growth and reducing poverty rates for those living under $2 per day.

Despite impressive economic growth, housing quality for many Cambodians remains below standards. A 2014 study conducted by the Ministry of Planning in Cambodia revealed that nearly 27 percent of homes in rural areas still use temporary materials for walls and roughly 83 percent have temporary floors.

As migration brings more people to urban and peri-urban areas, and as a young population seeks to build new housing, there is a growing need for financial products that match the term and usage that housing requires. Recently, housing microfinance (usually characterized by larger loan amounts and longer terms than traditional microfinance) has gained traction in Cambodia as a funding source for home construction and home improvements for low income families.

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> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation

The following post was originally published on NextBillion, in two parts, here and here

The Smart Campaign was born in the midst of extraordinary upheaval in the microfinance sector. Its launch in 2009 was sandwiched between the 2008 global financial crisis, repayment crises in several microfinance markets, and the 2010 debtor suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the turmoil served to amplify the campaign’s main point: that microfinance needs to focus on customer protection. In the succeeding years, it has labored to unite microfinance leaders and practitioners around this goal – most notably through its efforts to convince microfinance institutions (MFIs) to undergo the process of Smart Certification, in which independent evaluators verify that they are “doing everything [they] can to treat [their] clients well and protect them from harm.”

Over time, these efforts have started to gain traction. The campaign – which is steered by a group of prominent leaders in the industry and housed at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion – has certified 39 microfinance institutions. (Note: Accion is a NextBillion Content Partner.) Certified institutions include a number of leading MFIs in markets around the world, from Equitas in India to Kompanion in Kyrgyzstan. And the campaign calculates that certified MFIs now serve slightly more than 20 million clients. In a recent interview with NextBillion, its director, Isabelle Barrès, called the 20 million client mark “an exciting milestone, recognition of the fact that there is momentum growing in the industry for client protection –  not just paying lip service to it, but actually working hard to improve practices.”

But achieving this momentum hasn’t been an easy task for the campaign – or for the industry whose practices it’s trying to improve. Barrès discusses the challenges it has faced – and the controversy it has sparked – in this two-part Q&A.

James Militzer: Do you have any data on which markets have the highest percentage of Smart Campaign-certified MFIs?

Isabelle Barrès: I think Kyrgyzstan probably is the one where we currently have the most right now – 60 percent of microfinance clients are served by organizations that have been certified. This shows that when there are some substantial efforts that are put towards improving client protection – whether it’s at the market level or at the regulatory level, or through market infrastructure, such as supporting a good credit bureau – it can make a difference for the entire industry.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are the release of a New America Foundation report on account dormancy in youth savings, Yemen exploring mobile banking to combat the hardships of war, and Cambodia launching its first agricultural insurance programs. Here are a few more details:

  • The New America report considers how to understand the challenge of youth account dormancy in large-scale account-based initiatives and policy efforts, describing the range of issues related to account engagement from the perspectives of financial institutions, policymakers, and account-holders.
  • Yemen, following its central bank passing regulation on e-money and mobile money in December, is looking to the development of digital finance to cover critical services during wartime, as 30 to 40 percent of bank branches are closed.
  • The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) has launched the country’s first agricultural insurance programs, in the form of pilots for the next year and a half, protecting rice farmers against loss from drought and floods.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine 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 Eric Zuehlke at

> Posted by Center Staff

Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, recently sat down with Susy Cheston, senior advisor to FI2020, and Anton Simanowitz, co-author of the new book The Business of Doing Good, to discuss how organizations can do good work and turn a profit, particularly in the microfinance sector.

In exploring this question, Simanowitz draws on key insights from the new book, in which he and co-author Katherine Knotts studied the success of AMK, a social enterprise which has touched the lives of millions of people living in poverty in rural Cambodia. This study revealed six powerful strategies to improve business to do good:

  1. Don’t just offer products; respond to client needs
  2. Ask good questions and have good conversations
  3. Do what it says on the tin
  4. Motivate staff to do difficult work in an excellent way
  5. Own the dirt road
  6. Adapt to the changing landscape

Find out more about the thinking behind these insights, here.

In the latter half of the book, the authors explore the disconnect between theory and practice and the resulting implications for client value. AMK’s success is largely attributed to its recognition of the distinction between client wants and client needs, which are rooted in the meaningful conversations the organization has with its clients. The authors observe, through their exploration of AMK, that vision is ensured only when it follows intent, instead of being constrained by conventional wisdom.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Many enterprises operating in the informal economy provide low-quality working conditions for their employees. Workers might be exposed to difficult or dangerous environments, and the formalities of labor law are missing. A new project from the International Labour Organization’s Social Finance Program and the University of Mannheim in Germany tested the hypothesis that microfinance institutions, given their unique and expansive connections to the informal economy, can successfully apply interventions aimed at improving their clients’ working conditions. The project spanned 2008 to 2012 and included collaborations with 16 microfinance institutions. The project results are shared in the recently released report, “Microfinance for Decent Work – Enhancing the Impact of Microfinance.” It suggests that microfinance institutions indeed have the potential to leverage their positioning and resources to improve their clients’ business environments.

The project was carried out in four steps. First, the participating MFIs conducted an internal diagnostic to identify the most pressing work-related challenges faced by their clients. Across the breadth of identified challenges, the issues that the MFIs chose to address were reducing child labor, promoting business formalization, enhancing business performance, and reducing vulnerability, particularly in regards to risk management and over-indebtedness. Each MFI created its own intervention with its unique institutional context in mind. These innovations included launching new financial services, introducing non-financial services, offering packages of financial and non-financial services, and restructuring institutional operations. The innovations were piloted with client impact tracked to enable before and after comparisons in control and treatment groups.

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> Posted by the Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM)

How has the microfinance industry leveraged regulation and supervision to safeguard client wellbeing? In priority areas like over-indebtedness, acceptable pricing, and transparency, what progress has been made to ensure that institutions are operating responsibly? And in cases where regulatory actions have been taken, how have they been implemented? A recent research project conducted by EY and the Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM) investigates these questions across 12 country markets and assesses the current state of client protection regulation in microfinance.

The growth of the inclusive finance sector has helped create significant opportunities for low-income people around the world. However, when not done correctly, access to financial products also has the potential to bring harm. Of the increasing importance of client protection and sound regulation, EY Senior Manager and one of the report’s authors, Justina Alders-Sheya remarked: “The sector is growing and to do so responsibly, it is necessary that supervisory authorities perform their role.”

Drawing on questionnaires completed by local stakeholders, the study examined whether laws and regulations on client protection have been implemented in any way in the 12 studied countries: Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Russia, Tanzania, and Uganda. The study also examined the regulatory and supervisory landscape for client protection in each country. It investigated who is creating the regulations, how they’re being enforced, and the role of industry players like microfinance associations and credit bureaus.

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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.