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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Client of Akiba Bank in Tanzania

Around the world today, financial service providers, technology entrepreneurs and policy makers are engaged in building a financial system that reaches out to previously excluded people, such as lower income people, very small businesses, rural dwellers, and women. Although this work is carried out in the name of the consumer, all too often, scant attention is paid to the real needs and desires consumers and very small enterprise owners have.

With that in mind, here is a thought experiment. A thought experiment is an “exercise of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” The question for this experiment is this:

Imagine that consumers were the creators of the inclusive finance system. What would such a system look like?

What characteristics would emerge if the needs, desires and preferences of the target customers of financial inclusion were the driving force to shape their services? The observations here are drawn from consumer research conducted or commissioned by the Center for Financial Inclusion, including research in Peru, Pakistan, Georgia and Benin for the Client Voice project of the Smart Campaign, in Kenya and India for our project on financial health, in India and Mexico for our study of financial capability, and again in Kenya and India for two CFI Fellows’ projects on the role of human touch in the digital age. I offer ten propositions based on this research.

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> Posted by Center Staff

portfolios-of-the-poorEditor’s Note: A previous version of this post has been one of the CFI blog’s all-time most popular posts. We thought we’d update it with a few more books, and put it front and center once more for readers who might be stocking their bookshelves.

From time to time, we are asked what our go-to books are for understanding financial inclusion and the financial lives of the poor. If we were to list the top three classics that should be on everyone’s shelves, we would recommend the following (feel free to put these on your gift list as we approach the holidays):

  1. Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
  2. Portfolios of the Poor by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven
  3. The Poor and Their Money by Stuart Rutherford

What we love about these titles is the insight they provide into the client perspective, a foundational element for anyone working in or supporting financial services. If financial institutions approach their engagement with customers armed with an understanding of customer needs and customer behavior, the financial services industry can be both more responsive and more responsible.

As a refresher, the first five books on the last version of our must-read list were those cited by Stuart Rutherford as his top five on the subject of “The Poor and Their Money”. Rutherford has himself published some of today’s go-to references on this topic (which is why we added his titles above). Rutherford’s favorite books were chosen by him not only for their impact on his work, but also for their ability to place the client at the center of our conceptualization of microfinance. This is important because, as Rutherford himself explains, “microfinance has to find a way to adapt itself to the enormous complexity found in the lives of poor people, and not the other way around.” We continue to appreciate this sentiment, and still think the titles on his list are worth a read:
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> Posted by Center Staff

In its second year, Financial Inclusion Week expanded its reach and once again displayed how the financial inclusion community is engaged and working for better services for the un- and underserved.

We are excited to share an electronic magazine which captures the Week’s vibrant conversation.  In this roundup e-zine, we hope to capture the energy and insights of Financial Inclusion Week 2016. Inside, we share event photos and videos, and dive into the conversations of the week’s events, while highlighting the client perspective.

We are excited to share insights on this year’s theme, keeping clients first in a digital world. The Financial Inclusion Week conversation covered a breadth of topics and geographies – from the role of digital media in financial literacy in Nepal to the client protection risks associated with nano-loans in Rwanda. As we listened to the many conversations, two words showed up again and again. Throughout all of the perspectives shared, we observed that many stakeholders are looking to new digital channels to help them understand and engage clients.

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> Posted by Philip Brown, CFI Advisory Council Member and Managing Director Risk, Citi Inclusive Finance

As new opportunities for inclusive financial services continue to grow, they are accompanied by an array of risks, many of which are not fully evident today. Since 2008, the Banana Skins surveys have charted both known risks and those that have previously been overlooked or underrated. The recently released report “It’s all about strategy” is no exception — it surveys a spectrum of participants and gathers their perceptions of the risk in the provision of inclusive financial services.

What does this year’s survey tell us?

Continuous progressive change in service provider business models is not new. But the accelerated pace and diversity of change, coupled with extent of the redesign and transformation process across all aspects of the business model, are shifting inclusive financial service provision. There are changes across the creation and delivery of services, business economics and processes, delivery infrastructure, such as payment systems, mobile networks and agent networks, and strategies for customer acquisition and the targeted customer base. The inclusive finance sector is no longer defined around segment-specific institutions but around the end clients, services provided and the now diverse and growing universe of service providers.

Digital transformation is a pervasive theme in this year’s Banana Skins report, which is a call to recognise the risk of not thinking strategically about all aspects of financial service provision. Across the globe, mobile applications are adding millions of clients versus thousands for established models. Both non-credit products and new forms of credit such as instant nano-credit for pre-paid mobile phone users continue to grow. Rather than viewing disrupters as a threat, one cited respondent positively describes new competitors as facilitators of market development, improving the quality of services and creating pressure to reduce interest rates.

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

Organizational change doesn’t always start from the top, but if it originates elsewhere, and the change is to last, it’s essential that leadership and management eventually get on board. For years, most of us in financial inclusion have advocated client centricity. If previously unserved client segments are to take up and use products and services for the first time, it’s essential that these products and services meet their needs. But how do institution leaders look at client centricity? I attended the recent Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) seminars in Cape Town, South Africa and joined discussions among financial inclusion CEOs and board members on this topic.

The CEOs and board members participating in the ABF program are from financial service providers offering a range of products and services in countries ranging from Kenya to Burundi to Tunisia and Uganda. On our first day, we discussed client centricity, a trending topic and one of interest to me as a manager of the Smart Campaign. The fellows’ varied experiences and ideas led us to some takeaways:

  • Board members and CEOs see a clear business case for client centricity. Participating leaders viewed actively listening to their clients and mapping customer preferences and journeys as imperative for designing better products, building customer loyalty, fostering referrals, and developing competitive advantages.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Today the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) is proud to launch the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, an interactive website that portrays the recent progress and unmet challenges on the path to global financial inclusion.

When we began the FI2020 project in 2011, we hoped to create a sense of both urgency and possibility. We believed that enabling everyone in the world to gain access to quality financial services was a goal of major development significance. We also saw that with many active players and the promise that digitization would enable many more people to be reached at lower cost, it was no longer simply wishful thinking to call for full inclusion within a reasonable time frame. Global financial inclusion had entered the realm of the possible.

Today, in 2015, we are both astonished by the progress and daunted by the gaps that remain. Global Findex data shows 700 million new accounts in the three years from 2011 to 2014, reducing the number of unbanked worldwide from 2.5 to 2 billion. National governments have created ambitious financial inclusion strategies, the FinTech industry is exploding with $12 billion in global investments in 2014 alone, and the World Bank has a plan for reaching universal financial access to transaction accounts by 2020.

Our quantitative review, By the Numbersrevealed that if the current trajectory of expansion in accounts continues, many countries will achieve full account access by 2020. The rails are being laid at a rapid rate, and there is great momentum toward universal access. But access to an account is not the same thing as financial inclusion, and progress toward meaningful financial inclusion, in which people actively use a full range of services, is lagging. The passengers – customers – are often still waiting at the station for services that take them where they want to go.

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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> 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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With under 40 days to go, the 17th Microcredit Summit is rapidly approaching. CFI’s Josh Goldstein will be speaking during a plenary session focused on new innovations for microfinance and other financial inclusion interventions to more effectively reach the excluded. With the theme “Generation Next: Innovations in Microfinance,” this should be a great opportunity to explore what is on the horizon to achieve full financial inclusion. In this post, Josh discusses industry context surrounding the Summit, and what he hopes he and those in attendance will be able to take away from the event.

I am a sometime skeptic about the proliferation of microfinance conferences, but the upcoming Microcredit Summit in Merida, Mexico seems particularly important and timely. Personally, I am very excited about it. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I will be a speaker, and of course piqued vanity can certainly lead to bias, but I don’t suspect this is the case here.)

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Fifteen years ago in the microfinance space you may have been able to get away with understanding very little about your clients. Without much competition, MFIs could probably still make a decent profit by offering one product to all their clients using only one delivery channel. Thankfully, those days are gone.

The base of the pyramid is no longer a hidden or forgotten market segment. In fact, according to the recently-released 2014 Microfinance Banana Skins report, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. Overindebtedness once again tops the charts as the biggest perceived risk, perhaps indicating that many clients are now able to gain access to multiple services providers. In some areas, an excess of providers may now be crowding the market.

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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.