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> Posted by Shaheen Hasan, Manager, FI2020 at CFI

The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) has been leading the charge in the U.S. to move beyond traditional financial education toward models that help consumers translate financial knowledge into better financial behavior in their everyday lives. CFI interviewed Josh Sledge of CFSI to understand the trends shaping capability-building efforts in the United States.

What are signs that a financial capability framework is gaining traction in the United States?

CFSI works with a vast and diverse network that includes banks, credit unions, non-profits, financial technology companies, government agencies, and academics. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a shift in focus and approach among these various groups of stakeholders that reflects adoption of the financial capability framework. In other words, organizations and companies are increasingly placing an emphasis on helping consumers achieve real and meaningful financial behavior change.

Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations are pushing themselves to create deeper impact and experimenting with new strategies to do so. A wave of recent start-ups is employing technology to give users new products and tools for saving and managing money. Innovative banks are creating budgeting tools, introducing refined messaging, and forming partnerships to help customers better manage their money. We’ve been encouraged to see these developments as they demonstrate that the financial capability framework is taking hold. However, there is still plenty of room to go further.

Where is momentum stalling?

Scaling effective strategies for building financial capability has certainly been a challenge. We’re seeing new high-potential strategies emerge and practitioners and researchers taking a focused approach toward evaluating programs and products for their impact on financial behavior. Taken together, we’re poised to see the emergence of innovative but proven models for improving financial capability. This is a tremendous development, but the next step is implementing these models at scale in order to reach the millions of households that are struggling to manage their finances.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI), Citi Foundation, and CFI released the latest Microfinance Banana Skins Report, Facing Reality. The first Microfinance Banana Skins was published in 2008, launching a regular series on risks facing the microfinance industry. This fifth iteration in the series reflects the growing complexity of microfinance as newer players such as technology companies, payment platforms, commercial banks, and others begin to serve those at the base of the pyramid. The new report outlines the risks and opportunities facing microfinance in a fast-changing environment.

Despite these challenges, the number one concern is still an old favorite: overindebtedness, which was also the number one concern in the previous report in 2012.

The report presents the risk perceptions of more than 300 practitioners and close industry observers from 70 countries, gathered through a survey. The report provides a commentary on each of the 19 risks that are identified in the survey and breaks down responses by type and region. It also includes a detailed analysis of the condition and prospects for microfinance by industry experts Sam Mendelson and Daniel Rozas.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

In school, my in-class instruction was mostly lectures from teachers and reading out of text books. In fact, before beginning other types of learning activities, such as games or role-plays, my teachers would often feel the need for a prefacing remark like everyone learns differently, so today we’ll be trying something new. My teachers were right. Everyone has their own learning style, and if we want everyone to learn, we need to adhere to this. Financial capability is no different. It isn’t enough to give someone a pamphlet or a fact sheet if we want them to be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for making sound financial decisions and for appropriately using financial services.

To this end, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) is catalyzing advancements in financial capability through its Financial Capability Innovation Fund. The fund, now in its second iteration, selects non-profit led financial capability projects targeting low-income and underserved clients through a request for proposals process, and backs their development and testing through financial and non-financial support. Eight winning projects were selected in April for this round of the fund, receiving a total of $2.5 million in support. Paired with quality financial products and services, the selected projects leverage the power of new technologies and social networks to impart tailored, timely, and actionable guidance. A brief description of each project, in the words of CFSI, follows. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jasmine Thomas, Program Officer for International Financial Capability & Asset Building, Citi Foundation

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

Lately, I’ve reflected upon the motto of a former clothing retailer that operated in the U.S.— “An educated consumer is our best customer.” In recent years, more NGOs, microfinance institutions, and financial service providers are beginning to embrace this notion. They are devoting more resources to building the financial skills of low-income microfinance clients and small savers, and increasing knowledge in the field about what helps them maintain positive financial behaviors.

Saving for the Big Day

So, does investing in the financial capability of clients really benefit both service providers and clients? Women’s World Banking and SEWA Bank in India believed that both investing in and ensuring that clients’ financial needs and goals were met would produce social and economic benefits for the institution and the clients. With our support, the organizations implemented Project Samruddhi to test this theory by embedding financial education within their core banking operations. To support clients’ efficacy, saathis, or bank agents, were taught how to embed short, concrete financial education messages in routine client banking interactions and services.

SEWA Bank and WWB also designed and launched a savings product that targeted clients’ specific financial goals, like paying for a daughter’s wedding. Each client established a savings plan, including the total amount needed as well as the frequency of deposits. A mobile phone app enabled clients with low literacy skills to visually see how their savings accumulated with each transaction. These regular graphic visuals of their progress fueled their motivation and sense of empowerment to continue saving to meet their goal. To measure client results, WWB assessed teller-client interactions, bank transactions, and client feedback.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features three posts that each highlight an initiative with the potential to further inform financial inclusion efforts. These initiatives include an entrepreneurial assistance program for women in post-war Uganda, a project that explored the effectiveness of microfinance providers offering health services, and an interactive workshop on impact evaluation.

  • What’s the best way to help the poor in the aftermath of war? A new post on the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) blog highlights the recent release of findings from a program that provided entrepreneurial assistance – business training, start-up money, ongoing support and monitoring – to women in northern Uganda. The assistance led to increases in business activity and decreases in poverty, but did not have an effect on non-economic areas, such as physical and mental health. The program was conducted by IPA, Italian NGO AVSI Uganda, and Chris Blattman of Columbia University.
  • In his latest post on The Evidence Project, Chris Dunford shares the results of Freedom from Hunger’s Microfinance and Health Protection (MAHP) initiative, which sought to test the feasibility and impact of offering microfinance clients health education, as well as access to health services and products. Five large-scale microfinance providers participated in the initiative, developing health protection packages for their clients. The results from the initiative support a case for the effectiveness of integrating microfinance and health services.
  • Re-Evaluating Impact Evaluation, a new Next Billion post from Hui Wen Chan of the Citi Foundation, revisits a recent impact evaluation workshop and shares some of the key discussion points from the event. Arguably the most salient of these being think beyond the financial, consider both the economic and non-economic impacts of your products or services. Another key point shared in the post is the integrity of data depends both on the questions asked and the manner in which they are asked. The workshop was provided by the William Davidson Institute (WDI) and hosted by the Citi Foundation in New York City.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

In this decade, Africa is undergoing urbanization at a faster rate than Latin America, Asia, or anywhere else in the world. In these burgeoning areas, the majority of people are building their own housing, and doing so in an incremental fashion – adding what they can, when they can, and developing their facilities as their means allow.

There are a few big challenges to this. In Africa’s urban centers, there is a limited supply of affordable housing, and financial services to aid housing development are also scarce. Global Findex Data indicate that access to and usage of credit in sub-Saharan Africa is among the lowest in the world. Specifically looking at mortgages, a recent study from FinMark Trust revealed that across the populations of Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, and Tanzania, less than 1.5 percent of individuals utilize mortgages.

Enter microfinance. Typical mortgages don’t fit well with the financial profile of most Africans. Compared to microloans, they’re generally for longer terms, larger amounts, and they are less flexible. Most mortgages require clients to provide documentation of regular incomes. Many Africans operate in the informal sector and lack regular income streams. In Tanzania, for example, only 28 percent of the population is able to satisfy this income requirement.

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> Posted by Anita Gardeva, Senior Analyst, CFI

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

A who’s who of the global financial education community came together this month at the ninth annual Citi-FT Financial Education Summit in Manila. I was excited to attend this signature event, organized by the Citi Foundation, the Pearson Foundation, and the Financial Times, and I took home a number of important insights. Most importantly, it is clear that we need much more information and evidence about what works in regards to building financial capability.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Financial capability is an increasingly hot topic in the financial inclusion world. When the Center for Financial Inclusion surveyed industry stakeholders on the Opportunities and Obstacles to financial inclusion, financial capability was the surprise number one on both lists. While all agree that client capability is needed, questions on how to build that capability still loom large. Thus it is good news that Citi Foundation and Innovations for Poverty Action have created a fund to spur innovation. The Citi IPA Financial Capability Research Fund was created to provide financing support to research projects aimed at improving the way low to moderate-income individuals manage their money.

The US$ 3.4 million fund will support research projects from teams of scholars and financial service practitioners that seek to innovate on and evaluate strategies that improve peoples’ ability to make informed and effective decisions about the management of their money. Citi and IPA encourage projects to focus on one of the following three categories: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

The Citi Foundation released a groundbreaking report yesterday titled “Bridging the Gap: The Business Case for Financial Capability”. To celebrate the release of the study, Graham Macmillan, Senior Program Officer for Citi Foundation, shared a post on NextBillion’s blog.

The post begins as follows:

The fact that between 500 million and 800 million of the world’s poor have gained access to finance in recent years is a significant accomplishment. But 25 percent or less of these individuals have received any form of financial training that would help them make informed decisions about their borrowing, their savings and their entire financial future. This lack of instruction represents the “financial capability gap,” which is both massive and rapidly growing.

Addressing it is an urgent priority for the field. It’s the reason why today we are releasing Bridging the Gap: The Business Case for Financial Capability.

This study, commissioned by the Citi Foundation and researched by the Monitor Group & Partners for Sustainable Development, seeks to understand what is needed to strengthen the client capability side of financial inclusion efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.


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.