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> Posted by Ram Narayanan, Market Research Analyst, Symbiotics

Microfinance, a lead sector within the larger impact investing spectrum, has gained prominence from development-minded investors over the past decades. Initially, international funding in microfinance was generated largely from donor organizations, including public development agencies and private foundations. As the market gained traction, the role of private capital grew in importance as not only a means for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to reach scale, but also to increase their social outreach beyond what was possible with donor money.

Private investors and donor agencies thus joined efforts in creating microfinance investment vehicles, better known in the industry jargon as “MIVs” or more simply “microfinance funds.” MIVs act as the main link between MFIs and the capital markets and usually provide debt financing, equity financing or a combination of both to MFIs located in emerging and frontier markets.

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) began to take interest in MIVs in 2003, a time where several of these vehicles saw the light, and before the investment boom which was witnessed by the sector with the announcement of the United Nations “2005 International Year of Microcredit.” However, the industry was still lacking common definitions, terminology and performance standards. In order to bring forward improved transparency on MIVs’ financial and social performances, a first market report on microfinance funds was produced in 2007 by CGAP, in collaboration with Symbiotics. The inaugural MIV benchmarking tool was thus born – based on a market survey containing a common set of definitions and reporting standards – a landmark that set the stage for regular, annual surveys carried out every year since then.

Fast forward 10 years, Symbiotics and CGAP have yet again partnered to develop a new extensive report (white paper) reflecting back on a decade of MIV operations, shedding light on their progress during the period 2006-2015. The recently released white paper co-authored by both organizations and entitled “Microfinance Funds: 10 Years of Research & Practice” carefully details major market trends.

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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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

In the Delhi area, nearly 2,000 schools experienced multiple-day closures; construction and demolition was halted; almost 10 percent of workers called in sick; the government advised individuals to stay indoors as much as possible; and shops ran out of masks. India’s capital is reportedly experiencing its worst smog pollution in 17 years. This isn’t a mere inconvenience in terms of visibility or quality of life. This is an enormous threat to the health of the nearly 22 million people who live in the Delhi metropolitan area.

Air pollution levels are currently at 30-times the acceptable level set by the World Health Organization (WHO). And in India, air pollution is the leading cause of premature death, with about 620,000 people perishing each year from pollution-related diseases. Globally, among children under five years of age, nearly one million die from pneumonia each year and roughly half of these deaths are directly linked with air pollution.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects mini campaign. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

Digital credit is growing fast in developing markets, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lenders such as M-Shwari, Jumo, M-Pawa, Eazzy Loan, Branch, EcoCashLoan, Timiza, KCG M-Pesa and others are attracting interest and investment. They are seen as having the potential to improve financial access and to make banking with poor clients more feasible and sustainable through technology that reduces underwriting and infrastructure costs. They offer small or nano loans starting as low as $5 or $10 dollars, make use of simple mobile user interfaces, and provide funds in real-time.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is preparing to issue a Guide to Charges for Banks and Other Financial Institutions for providers in Nigeria, which sets out rules for commissions, charges, and rates on various products and services. It has shared the draft Guide on its website for a period of public review and commentary.

As a campaign that seeks to keep the client at the center, the Smart Campaign is always happy to see provisions in such financial sector guidelines or regulations related to thoughtful transparency and disclosure requirements. We are, however, more cautious when it comes to mandated pricing limits, given the unexpected implications we have seen them bring for clients’ lives. We notice that the CBN file introduces monthly interest rate caps.

This is at odds with the suggested policies in the Model Legal Framework for Financial Consumer Protection, which is based on the Campaign’s seven client protection principles. The Framework’s section on pricing procedures advises supervisory authorities to not set price or interest rate ceilings or floors, but rather to seek long-term solutions related to improving disclosures and facilitating market competition.

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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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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Transparency sounds simple – in business, government, relationships, and most areas of life. Take the business of offering financial products and services. As a provider, you inform prospective and current clients of everything they need to know about your product.  As a client, you use this information to make sound decisions about buying and using said product. Consequently, providers can claim full disclosure and hope to benefit from increased loyalty of clients. Clients have the information to make educated decisions and rest easy knowing exactly where that provider stands.

Similarly, in relationships, transparency (read: honesty) is always the best policy. The best practice is always to say everything that’s on your mind. After all, the truth will set you free… Except for maybe when your partner is already overwhelmed with information. Or when what you’re trying to share is incomprehensible. Or when your partner is trying to concentrate on something else. What I’m trying to get at is this: transparency may seem simple, but it’s not. Effective transparency provides information in a way that enables the person receiving the information to understand it and use it.

Inclusive finance providers need to hit the sweet spot – sharing the optimal amount of the most critical information with clients, in an understandable format, at appropriate times. To make matters more challenging, inclusive finance clients are often illiterate, poorly educated, or new to formal institutions.

The good news is that around the world, including in Mexico, the inclusive finance industry is hard at work to embed transparency effectively. In 2014, the Mexican government passed widespread financial reform that emboldened the role of the consumer protection agency, CONDUSEF, and made its rules mandatory for all credit institutions. CONDUSEF was enabled to issue and publicly publish recommendations to financial institutions. In the last year, CONDUSEF imposed important new regulations in areas of transparency and money laundering, and ended up revoking the operating permits of 1,449 non-regulated (SOFOM) institutions that did not meet the standards.

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> Posted by Mark Pickens, Senior Director, Visa

The future doesn’t come with an owner’s manual saying how to set up, operate, or troubleshoot it. When we launched mVisa in Rwanda in 2013, it was the first interoperable mobile phone-based payment ecosystem in any emerging market. We didn’t know what was possible. But we knew what we were aiming at. We wanted to make mobile money work better.

Nearly all mobile money schemes are “closed loops”. They do not permit funds to be shared with users of any other scheme. Since consumers cannot transact with everyone they want or spend everywhere they go, they see mobile accounts as less useful than cash. Fewer make the switch from cash, the net financial inclusion impact is stunted, and commercial returns are blunted. The idea of mVisa is to connect the closed loops by routing mobile money transactions via VisaNet, the global software and data centers that process transactions by more than 2 billion account holders and sustain more than 30 million points of access in the Visa network.

We chose Rwanda to pilot the mVisa concept. A smaller market makes it easier to know and be known by key stakeholders. That is an important consideration when starting a multiparty ecosystem that requires all players to move in a similar direction in a similar timeframe. Rwanda fit the bill well.

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> Posted by Rafe Mazer, Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP

CGAP recently launched a Mystery Shopping Technical Guide, based on our experiences sending lower-income consumers to seek financial products in markets as diverse as Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.

The method of training actual consumers to conduct mystery shopping has proven helpful to understand the challenges they face in achieving financial access and receiving quality product advice. In several markets we found that sales staff often restrict information on fees and charges and do not provide consumers with the lowest cost product option that matches their needs. For example, in Mexico and Peru we saw sales staff who neglected to offer low-fee savings products available at their institution, while in Ghana sales staff never mentioned the APR of a loan, as they are required by law to do. In Malaysia, insurance sales staff did not use the mandatory Customer Fact Find Form which helps assess customers’ needs and product suitability.

These findings are not surprising to those who study client protection and financial advice, and studies in markets such as the U.S. and India have found similar issues with sales staff. All of this raises a fairly important question of “Can we fix financial advice from frontline bank staff?” Or is the incentive to mis-sell too great and monitoring a sufficient number of individual sales practices too burdensome? This is a discussion I have had with regulators. How do you use policy to drive behavior change in a market? The short answer is that it’s not easy; the long answer is that behaviorally-informed policies, product regulation, and market monitoring tools can help.

But what about the committed leadership of organizations that have signed on to the Smart Campaign (which include providers we have visited during these mystery shopping exercises)? If mystery shopping shows that sales staff do not always keep the customer’s best interests in mind, can we fix this with provider or industry-level changes in sales practices or perhaps through sales staff training? I would like to take advantage of this forum to hear from providers who have implemented policies to fix sales staff misconduct so we can start to document good practices for monitoring sales staff behavior. To help kick things off, here are a few ideas from my side, based on our mystery shopping work:

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> Posted by Center Staff

Next week, CFI will launch the first-ever FI2020 Week. From November 2-6, 2015, over 25 partners across the globe will organize conversations exploring the most important steps to achieving financial inclusion.

FI2020 Week will bring together diverse stakeholders to conduct interactive and participatory events, each of which will produce calls to action. The range of participants will include banks, insurance companies, payment companies, telecommunication companies, policymakers, regulators, NGOs, microfinance institutions, investors, financial inclusion support organizations, financial capability experts, and fintech companies, from around the world. All of these participants will focus on the question, “What is an important action needed in your country (or industry segment) to advance financial inclusion?”

We want YOU to join us! Throughout the week, many FI2020 Week partners will hold webinars – an opportunity for those who will not be attending in-person FI2020 Week events to participate in a variety of interesting conversations. The webinars cover a full range of topics, from client protection in mobile money use, to incorporating financial capability into product design. Check them out below and register now to join hundreds of people around the world in FI2020 Week.

And for more information, check out our Storify feed of social media and blog postings on the FI2020 Week website here and follow #FI2020 on Twitter for the latest updates.

Client Protection and Technology: The GSMA Code of Conduct for Mobile Money Providers
Hosted by: GSMA
Date: November 4, 2015
Time: 9:00 am – 10:00 am EST

This session will discuss how the GSMA – the global association for mobile network operators – is working with its members to ensure that mobile money services are safe, reliable, and secure, and that customers are treated fairly. The Code of Conduct for Mobile Money Providers includes eight high-level principles addressing topics such as safeguarding customer funds, AML/CFT, training and monitoring of staff and agents, reliable service provision, security, and fair treatment of customers. This session will provide a brief background to the Code of Conduct initiative and outline the plan for implementation of the Code. It will be useful for regulators, financial inclusion specialists, consumer protection advocates, and any other stakeholders who are interested in understanding what mobile operators are doing to ensure the safety, reliability, and fairness of mobile money services.

Register now!

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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.