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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

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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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Does a speeding ticket help predict whether you will pay back a loan? While this might seem like a stretch, it may not be as farfetched as it sounds, at least in China.

China’s government is piloting a new ‘social credit’ scoring system that takes into account a diversity of financial and nonfinancial factors and behaviors. The financial ones are familiar – being delinquent on payments for insurance or social security. The nonfinancial ones are potentially troubling, and include, to name a few, traffic violations, jaywalking, dodging metro fares, violating the country’s family planning rules, criticizing the ruling party, and neglecting your elderly parents.

The social credit system may be used to affect financial opportunities, like securing loans, as well as non-financial ones, like job offers, your child’s admission to schools, faster treatment at government offices, access to luxury hotels, and being able to buy transit tickets.

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> Posted by Tim Tsang, Positive Planet China

A need for formal credit in China

(click to enlarge)

Between 2011 and 2014, 180 million adults (aged 15+) became new bank account holders in China. Yet in 2014, only 9.6 percent of Chinese adults, or less than 110 million, actually accessed credit from a financial institution, which includes credit unions, microfinance institutions, and cooperatives as well as banks. The incongruity across such statistics highlights both the progress made and the challenges remaining on China’s path to a more financially inclusive economy.

The need for reform is as important as ever with China’s growing credit industry. During its economic slowdown, China has looked to spur growth through consumer spending and should continue to see consumer lending steadily grow. The rigidity and costliness of China’s financial institutions, however, have hindered addressing consumers’ growing credit demand, leaving a discernable credit gap. Instead, in a big way consumers have resorted to informal and nontraditional sources of loans. This largely holds true for both urban and rural borrowers, with roughly a third of Chinese adults borrowing in 2014.

Among China’s informal lenders, family or friends are still the most common for financing individual loans, but “shadow banking” institutions, most notably P2P and online lending companies, have cropped up in recent years to try to capture this untapped market. As less regulated institutions, these shadow banks almost uniformly offer higher-risk, high-interest loans, rather than provide a sustainable and transparent alternative to banks.

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> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Positive Planet Co-Country Director (China)

Through the support of Diageo’s Plan W initiative, Positive Planet’s three-year women’s empowerment project Banking on Women has provided financial education to more than 8,000 women across Huimin Dongfang Microcredit Company‘s client network in Ningxia Autonomous Region, China. The project’s curriculum, which is based in the core financial concepts of savings, risk protection, and digital finance, is intended to empower women in the household and community through increased financial decision-making power. With the project more than two-thirds completed, Positive Planet has just published a case study that explores the project team’s experience in working to build the financial capability of rural Chinese women.

As written here before, China’s rural women stand to greatly benefit by being introduced to financial concepts and related services. However, China’s government has yet to establish a national strategy for financial education that clearly looks beyond urban residents’ financial capability needs. (Current efforts mostly cover security precautions for traditional banking, anti-fraud measures, counterfeit currency awareness, and illegal investment prevention.) Serving rural residents and their unique set of circumstances and needs will require a greatly expanded financial capability-building offering. For such an expansion to work well, it will need to include programming that looks at the rural population separately. Further, implementation for rural programming should lean on the experience and opinions of diverse local groups and township government offices. Unique cultures, language dialects, and market distinctions across China’s many regions make one-size-fits-all financial educational content less effective. Central planning and support play a crucial role, but resource design must allow for calculated flexibility per the local settings.

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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Financial Inclusion Consultant and Sarah Willis, MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation’s goal is to improve financial inclusion across its footprint, which includes economically and geographically diverse markets. Ensuring that low- and moderate-income families in these markets can acquire and successfully use the products and services they need to build a better, more secure life is complex and therefore requires innovative solutions that reach different consumers in different ways.

In China, our newest approach to improving the financial health of everyday consumers is through harnessing the power of social entrepreneurs. As part of a broader global push to strengthen ventures and organizations working in the area of financial inclusion, we’ve teamed up with Verb to run a series of competitions, called Inclusion Plus. Beginning on May 19, 2016 we will invite social enterprises (nonprofit and for-profit alike) throughout China that are focused on increasing access and use of financial services among low- to moderate-income people to enter their products, services, or programs for the chance to win grant capital and mentoring from MetLife advisors.

Opening a competition in China meant we needed to better understand the local financial inclusion landscape. We know that the rapid economic growth in China over the past 20 years has been the envy of the world. More surprisingly, however, is that between 2011 and 2014 China made significant strides toward financial inclusion adding around 180 million adult account holders, bringing the number of adult account holders to 79 percent of the population. According to the 2014 Global Findex, these account holders include marginalized groups such as women and poorer rural households, though the bulk of China’s unbanked population resides in rural areas, and over half of whom are women. As such, the Foundation’s focus for the Inclusion Plus competition is on ensuring the unbanked or underserved populations, such as low-wage workers, smallholder farmers, small business owners, and migrant workers have access to affordable and convenient financial services and products which focus on day-to-day financial well-being.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

The news is out. Ezubo is a Ponzi scheme. The lending company, a P2P platform in China, has bilked 900,000 private investors out of a stunning US$7.6 billion. Ezubo is China’s largest ever online scam—but it is not alone. It is one of 2,612 P2P sites that bring lenders and borrowers together in China’s $2.6 trillion wealth management industry. Of those, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) says that more than 1,000 are “problematic.” We expressed concerns about this very P2P lending market in China in our FI2020 Progress Report released four months ago.

But first, how could this happen with Ezubo? Ezubo had been in the vanguard of the hot e-finance market, and was named “online credit financial brand of the year” by China’s National Business Daily in 2015. It was lauded on Chinese state television and received implicit endorsement from high government officials. It engaged in cross-border trading with Myanmar—something that would not seem possible without government oversight. China is supposed to be in a big campaign to root out corruption. Yet it seems there are just two possibilities: Chinese regulators either knew about the scam and kept silent, or they missed it altogether. Could Ezubo have duped or paid off every one of the local, provincial, and national authorities who had oversight?

That’s why people who were suddenly stripped of their wealth not only feel duped by Ezubo, they also feel duped by the government. After all, this is only the latest allegation of fraud against a market that has been enthusiastically championed by the government and only loosely regulated.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

2652377697_7cd2f08d4e_oAging is an issue that we all hope to face personally, if we haven’t already. As we prepare to participate in European Microfinance Week, we are more convinced than ever that this is a critical topic for the financial inclusion community to address. (If you are planning to be at European Microfinance Week too, make sure to check out our panel on the Sustainable Development Goals and financial inclusion!) In Europe, the aging of the population is well acknowledged. With average life expectancy in Europe among the highest in the world, at 77 years, the proportion of the population reaching older age is naturally growing. About 25 percent of Europe’s population is now over the age of 60, and that percentage is set to rise. The aging of the population is well understood in Europe, but what is less recognized is that the middle and lower-middle income countries of the world – the countries that encompass most of the world’s population – are already beginning to experience the same older age population boom. In most middle income countries, from Mexico to China, over-60s are the fastest growing cohort of the population. Aging is a product of successful development. Increased life expectancy, better family planning mechanisms, and higher quality of life all contribute to growth in the proportion of the population that is older.

Aging is a reality, but can it also represent an opportunity for financial institutions? The smart money is on providers who recognize that the answer is yes, and work to figure out how to respond.

We’ve created a list of activities, some practical and some research-oriented, we think would be valuable to close the gaps in financial inclusion for older people and for younger people who want to prepare for their older age. And, frankly, we would love for you to steal these ideas!

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The government of China is launching a mandatory credit scoring system in 2020 and since the publishing of a piece on the system by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week, it’s become a topic of passionate discussion. It remains to be seen how the system will work, but in reading a released State Council planning document, it seems likely that credit scores will be determined by more than just financial behaviors. While the creation of a country-wide credit reporting system potentially presents big benefits to lenders and borrowers, it’s essential that such a system doesn’t unfairly discriminate or breach citizens’ privacy. Below are the opening excerpts from the ACLU post and from a Tech in Asia post, which weighs in on the ACLU’s points and offers additional food for thought.

“China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans”

> By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

China is launching a comprehensive “credit score” system, and the more I learn about it, the more nightmarish it seems. China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, “authoritarianism, gamified.” Read this piece for the full flavor—it will make your head spin. If that and the little other reporting I’ve seen is accurate, the basics are this:
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> Posted by Kai Hsu, Director of Administration & Finance, Positive Planet China

Over the past five years, peer-to-peer lending (P2P) has grown rapidly. Now more commonly referred to as “marketplace lending” because of the large range of institutions, intermediaries, and non-“peer” parties involved, the industry is poised to continue its year-on-year triple-digit growth. The breakneck speed of P2P’s growth seems natural given the many advantages it offers. As an industry, focus has gradually moved from a community of individuals lending directly to other individuals (often within affinity groups), and has evolved into a powerful engine of technical efficiency. Today, P2P is viewed in many different ways: a potential agent of financial inclusion; an innovation in big data analytics and credit risk evaluation; an efficient mechanism for loan matching without the often burdensome capital and regulatory requirements of banks; an innovative operational model leveraging the cost savings of online platforms; a new asset class for retail and institutional investors; and the list goes on.

Change has been slow to come, with many banks questioning the P2P model’s long-term relevance and P2P lenders failing to capture the public eye for many years, but big banks have recently begun to show their appetite for the more robust of the online lenders. Banks have made equity stakes in P2P businesses in the past, such as Barclays’ 49 percent investment in South Africa’s RainFin. However, 2015 seems to be the breakout year for P2P into mainstream finance. In June, Goldman Sachs announced plans to enter the consumer lending space through an online platform, akin to what Lending Club and Prosper offer in the U.S. Several days later, Morgan Stanley featured an optimistic report on P2P lending on its home page. In August, Standard Chartered led a $207 million C-round of funding for Chinese P2P company Dianrong.

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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.