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Report cover pageNew CFI/IIF report examines the role that alternative data plays in helping mainstream financial institutions reach underserved customers.

>> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

With the explosive growth of data and the breakneck pace of digitization, mainstream financial service providers (FSPs) are increasingly turning to new and alternative data sources and analytics tools to more efficiently reach emerging markets and help bring the world’s 1.7 billion underserved people into the formal financial system. This “new data,” largely separate from traditional credit bureau data, represents a tremendous opportunity for commercial banks to identity new customers, many of whom were previously “credit invisible,” and to better understand and serve the needs of their existing client base. However, the path to greater data utilization is not always clear, as FSPs must weigh the benefits of embracing a data-centric approach with significant operational challenges, including changing a risk-adverse banking culture, recruiting top technical talent, upgrading legacy IT infrastructure and navigating a complex regulatory environment. Building upon in-depth interviews with banks, fintechs and other actors, Accelerating Financial Inclusion with New Data—the newest joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF), supported by MetLife Foundation—examines the data landscape and evaluates the progress FSPs have made in innovating around data and areas where they have faced obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »

What if we opened millions of bank accounts but nobody used them? That is one of several conundrums raised by the recently released Global Findex data for 2017.

> By Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja Kelly, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion
This post originally appeared on Next Billion’s blog and is reposted here with permission.

geographic distribution of 3 billion people without active accounts, 2017
About 3 billion people in the world either have no account or have an account that sits unused. The countries with the largest number of financially excluded people are also the highest population countries: India and China. This picture has changed little in the past three years.

The Global Financial Inclusion Database (Findex) is a survey of the financial habits of adults in 144 countries with data from 2011, 2014 and now (2017). Governments, foundations, big financial companies and fintechs alike rely on the Findex to understand how people are using (or not using) financial services. It is the best available yardstick through which we measure global progress toward financial inclusion.
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> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

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Building upon its e-commerce features for businesses, Instagram recently took another step into the digital finance space by rolling out a native (or in-app) payments feature to some of its users. After registering a debit or credit card and creating a security PIN number, users can make payments to a limited number of vendors directly within the Instagram app without being redirected to an external website. Beyond making your impulse buys a much more seamless experience, this native payments functionality can help online retailers and others sell and market their products directly to consumers without needing to build their own website or manage a physical retail location.

Given the intense scrutiny of Facebook’s data protection and privacy policies in recent weeks, it remains to be seen whether large numbers of users and businesses will actually entrust their financial data to Instagram, as, after all, Instagram is owned by Facebook. Instagram’s new payments feature is backed by Facebook’s Terms of Service for payments. However, with the volume of traffic that the platform generates for businesses and the ever-increasing smartphone ownership worldwide, adding this functionality is perhaps an opportunity that’s too good for Instagram to miss. It’s reported that 60 percent of Instagram users learn about new products through the platform, and over 200 million people visit at least one business profile on Instagram daily.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly and Elisabeth Rhyne, Director of Research and Managing Director, CFI

The World Bank is just days from releasing the next version of its Global Financial Inclusion Index (Findex), the authoritative data source on global progress toward financial inclusion. The dataset, which tracks financial inclusion in 150 countries, is released once every three years, and we have been waiting eagerly to see how things have changed since 2014. We are confident that the numbers will show enormous progress on the World Bank’s goal of universal access to financial accounts. But we wonder whether the news will also indicate that people are actually using those accounts and whether financial services are helping them achieve financial health, gain resilience and pursue opportunity – the ultimate goals of financial inclusion.

After we high-five the World Bank team for a job well-done, here are a few things that we will be looking for when we examine the new Findex numbers:

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How the government of India, Swiss Re, and others are collaboratively combating climate change-related risk

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.

As many know too painfully well, catastrophic events like climate change-related disasters can cause financial stress long after they have occurred. In fact, less than 30 percent of losses from catastrophic events are covered by insurance, which means the remaining 70 percent of the burden is carried by individuals, firms, and the “insurer of last resort,” governments. According to the Insurance Development Forum, a 1 percent increase in insurance penetration could reduce the disaster-recovery burden on taxpayers by 22 percent.

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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 Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

In 2014, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA), the country’s central bank, made a commitment under the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Maya Declaration to develop a national financial inclusion strategy. It backed the overall pledge with specific commitments detailing the main pieces of the strategy. Since then, it has diligently put these pieces into place. Over the past three years, the RMA created regulations for microfinance organizations (deposit-taking and non-deposit taking) and agent banking. It set up a mobile payments system, a credit bureau and a collateral registry. This is an impressive set of accomplishments for a country starting from a relatively blank slate in these areas.

But is it enough? I wonder whether these initiatives will spark the provision of financial services that contribute to the inclusive economic growth Bhutan is seeking.

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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 Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Ant Financial, the Chinese inclusive finance powerhouse founded by Alibaba Group, and Euronet Worldwide, a U.S. giant in the money transfer game, are in a bidding war over MoneyGram. Financially, this makes sense as the global remittance market is estimated at about US$600B and MoneyGram commands a market share of roughly 13 percent of the world’s largest remittance route, from the U.S. to Mexico.

When two large companies compete to acquire another large company you might hear about it on CNN Money and promptly move on to other thoughts. But this particular news struck me because it touches on three of the (many) insights about the future of financial inclusion that I took away from attending this year’s Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance just last month.

Big players will increasingly drive the financial inclusion sector moving forward while, in the past, only small companies served the financial needs of the low end market. Microfinance has shown the poor to be a commercially viable customer segment, and as competition heats up, many big financial players are looking for ways to better tap into the commercial potential of new clients at the base of the pyramid. These big players have the deep pockets to innovate, experiment, and take the risks required to figure out how best to serve the billions of people still financially excluded. In addition to Alibaba’s Ant Financial, China’s WeChat, the social messaging app which connects over 800 million people, now allows for money transfers.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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A schoolboy looks at an electric light bulb powered by M-KOPA solar technology, as it illuminates his home in Ndela village, Machakos, Kenya.

2016 was the hottest year on Earth since records began in 1880. For those of us who work in financial inclusion but are fearful about our lack of progress in combating climate change, the following is a spot of good news: at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Ant Financial and the United Nations Environment Program launched the Green Digital Finance Alliance.

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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.