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> Posted by Ros Grady

The following post was originally published on Ros’ website.

27204912422_277033d622_b2016 has seen a sharp-eyed global focus on clarifying what responsible digital financial inclusion means in practice. This is connected to the increasing recognition that digital financial inclusion brings new and significant risks for consumers, as well as considerable benefits.

The September 2016 McKinsey Global Institute Report – How Digital Finance Could Boost Growth in Emerging Economies – suggests that widespread use of digital finance (payments and digital services delivered via mobile phones and the Internet) could add $3.7 trillion to the GDP of emerging economies – or six percent – by 2025. Which in turn could create around 95 million jobs.

So responsible digital financial inclusion is important.

But what was new in 2016? Consider these important developments:

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> Posted by Virginia Moore, Communications Director, CFI

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For the last 10 years, the Global Microscope on Financial Inclusion has systematically reported what it takes to create an enabling environment for financial inclusion. The good news is that the global financial inclusion community increasingly understands what works and is designing essential reforms. But the rate of progress is gradual and uneven, and in some areas, still lacking. The latest Global Microscope takes a closer look at what it takes to create an inclusive financial sector—and where intensive effort is most needed.

The Leaderboard

Tying for first place in the global rankings are Peru and Colombia, scoring 89 (out of 100). Second place is also a tie, with two Asian countries, India and the Philippines, each scoring 78. Pakistan earns third place with a score of 63. The spreads between first, second and third place are wider than they are between any other consecutive rungs in the index, but the top-ranking countries are in fact the same as last year. Peru, Colombia, the Philippines, India and Pakistan are longtime financial inclusion institutional and regulatory leaders.

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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 Gloria Grandolini, Senior Director, Finance and Markets Global Practice, the World Bank Group

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

Despite significant progress and the increased technical and financial resources devoted to financial inclusion, 2 billion people worldwide still lack access to regulated financial services.

As I read the FI2020 Progress Report and cast my vote on how the world is doing on the five aspects of financial inclusion the FI2020 report covers, I’m reminded of the recent Global Policy Forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), where I had rich discussions with AFI members regarding how to meet challenges to expanding access to financial services.

The successes and obstacles which AFI members shared echo many of the points identified in the FI2020 Progress report as shaping the future of financial inclusion.

These hurdles can be distilled into five main challenges:

Financial literacy and capability. Countries must develop financial capability programs to ensure people can make sound financial decisions, select financial products which best fit their needs, and know how to use related channels, such as ATMs or mobile banking. Recent World Bank Group Financial Capability Surveys in Morocco and Mozambique, and studies on remittance services among migrants in France and Italy, show that a lack of awareness prevents people from using suitable financial products and services. Behavioral insights are leading to more effective – and lower cost – financial literacy efforts, which can improve uptake of new accounts and increase savings, including through tailored SMS texts.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

Visitors to our FI2020 Progress Report on Client Protection will have noted our poor math skills. (This is the section of the report that assesses global progress to date in advancing fair treatment for lower-income financial services clients.) We rated regulators a 6 on consumer protection and providers a 3—and somehow averaged those out to a 5. Our averaging skills make even less sense when you consider the three legs of the client protection stool—providers, regulators, and consumers—and realize that consumers are not even on the radar, rightfully earning a 1 at best in terms of their capacity to advocate on their own behalf. So why the optimism?

We were certainly swayed by the impressive momentum among a range of actors at the global level—including policy and private sector initiatives—toward improved consumer protection. But it’s what happens at the national level that really counts. The World Bank’s 2014 Global Survey on Consumer Protection and Financial Literacy reports that some form of legal framework for financial consumer protection is in place in 112 out of 114 economies surveyed. We are not so Pollyannaish as to think that having a legal framework is equivalent to having a regulatory and supervisory system that protects consumers well, but we do think it’s a good step in the right direction.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

Tuesday marked a historic day for Peru: the country launched its National Financial Inclusion Strategy. While Peru has been lauded in the past for its environment for financial inclusion, its public-private sector partnerships, and its leadership in conversations on international banking standards, this national strategy elevates Peru’s commitment to financial inclusion to a new level. In particular, we want to celebrate the strategy’s commitments to consumer protection, financial literacy, and the inclusion of vulnerable people.

Analysis of the World Bank Global Findex this year revealed that countries that have a national strategy (not merely a commitment or stand-alone programs) for financial inclusion saw twice as much bank account access growth in the last three years compared to countries that did not have a national strategy. For Peru, this is great news, as according to the same data source, less than 30 percent of adults in the country had access to an account in 2014.

The path to financial inclusion articulated in the strategy, however, is not focused on access to accounts, making Peru an outlier among its peers that have implemented national strategies. Instead, Peru has oriented its strategy toward improving systems for accessing a range of products and promoting supportive consumer protection, financial education, and attention to the most vulnerable. The national strategy has seven different lines of action: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by the Smart Campaign

It’s been an exciting few months for client protection in the microfinance industry. FINCA Kyrgyzstan, MBK Ventura in Indonesia, SKS Microfinance in India, and a number of other MFIs around the world demonstrated that they successfully integrate the client protection principles into their practices and joined the rapidly growing list of institutions that are Smart Certified. Today, we’re pleased to share that the number of clients across all the Smart Certified institutions surpassed the 15-million-client benchmark.

To date, 28 microfinance institutions, from Latin America to Eastern Europe and South Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s largest and best-known MFIs. These institutions are not only ensuring that their clients are equipped and best positioned to effectively use financial services, they’re also demonstrating to their respective markets and the global industry the good business that is responsible microfinance.

“Momentum to improve client protection is accelerating, with scores of MFIs across the globe improving their client protection practices, and being recognized for it through certification,” stated Isabelle Barrès, director of the Smart Campaign, in a press release. In Eastern Europe, there are certified institutions in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan. In Kyrgyzstan, with the certification of the nation’s network of FINCA MFIs, the country’s market crossed an important threshold. “As measured by MixMarket data, more than 50 percent of all microfinance clients in Kyrgyzstan do business with certified MFIs,” noted Barrès. The certified MFIs in Kyrgyzstan include the first formal financial institution serving low-income entrepreneurs in the region, as well as a relatively young institution, and encompass a range of service offerings like individual, group, and agricultural loans. Elsewhere in the region, the proportion of clients in certified institutions by country market is about 45 percent in Bosnia, and 40 percent in Tajikistan.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The FI2020 Global Forum in London gets underway this Sunday with a pre-Forum side meeting on financial inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs). This client-centric start feels like a fitting precursor for an event to expand financial inclusion.

Financial inclusion requires that financial services meet the unique needs of all clients, especially the needs of the most underserved and vulnerable client groups. Sessions throughout the Forum reflect this key tenet. In addition, there are side meetings on the Financial Capability Roadmap and the Consumer Protection Roadmap, focused on moving these roadmap principles and recommendations to action. These and the other three financial inclusion roadmaps were developed through a consultative process that collected and incorporated the perspectives of specific client groups.

Among Forum participants are representatives of various client segments – such as PWDs, women, the elderly, youth, rural populations, and migrants – to help raise awareness of their unique needs and assets. Here’s a collection of pertinent statistics for financial inclusion on these client segments:

Youth:

  • 1.8 billion of the world’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24
  • 87 percent of youth are concentrated in the developing world
  • About half the world’s youth report being economically active
  • 38 percent of young adults have an account compared to over 54 percent of older adults

The Elderly:

  • In 1950, globally, 1 in 20 people were elderly. By 2050, it will be 1 in 5.
  • In 2000, only 6 percent of people in less developed countries were over 65 years old. By 2050, that number will grow to 20 percent.

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> Posted by Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace & Associates

Several months ago I attended a seven hour annual general meeting (AGM) of a client-owned microfinance institution where I heard a long stream of angry and sad members recount stories of the potential loss of their life savings. The primary purpose of the AGM was for the regulator of this intervened institution to hear from the thousands of clients whether they wanted to collectively pay US$14.6 million to recapitalize their institution or to liquidate it and lose their money. This was not an insignificant question for the country as the defunct institution held deposits equal to 12 percent of the country’s GDP. The AGM went so late that most of elderly couples, who are the largest depositors, had long since left before the critical vote was taken to recapitalize the entity.

Although there was ample disclosure and discussion of the 30+ pages of financial statements distributed in advance and prepared by a top-notch big five accounting firm, few, if any, of the clients understood them. What every member did understand was that the regulator and its advisors (including myself) were offering two bad choices. Their raw emotions were a testament to that.

As we look at improving the consumer protection environment for institutions that serve the base of the pyramid (BoP) and try to define what “quality” financial services means, we need to give deeper thought to how savers are affected. At this intervened institution clients were required to save US$20 each month. If they did not save this amount their accounts became “delinquent.” Clients who had rejected or just couldn’t afford the mandatory savings were some of the hardest hit. They agreed to convert part of their savings to capital in the institution with the hope of better days and the ability to sell or withdraw their shares in the future.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on the CGAP Blog.

Gabriel Davel knows what he’s talking about, and so should you. Davel is the veteran bank regulator who helped create and lead South Africa’s National Credit Regulator, one of the most capable financial consumer protection agencies in the world. In CGAP’s new Focus Note, Regulatory Options to Curb Debt Stress, Davel draws on the experience of a number of debt crises in microfinance and consumer credit and distills his own hard-won experience into practical guidance aimed mainly at regulators, but also highly relevant for financial institutions.

A perennially intriguing – and urgent – question is how regulators can tell when a crisis of reckless lending and over-indebtedness is on its way. Before a crisis hits, everyone has interests in credit expansion: individuals want loans, lenders want to grow their client base and loan portfolios, and governments want credit expansion, especially for previously excluded clients. But at some point, the bubble over-inflates, highly-leveraged clients are living precariously, and even a modest economic shock can trigger the inevitable collapse. Davel recounts 11 such incidents in microfinance and consumer finance. In their book, This Time is Different, on banking panics, Reinhart and Rogoff document not dozens but hundreds of similar crises throughout history. Their point? It is never different. Credit markets fool themselves time after time.

Is there any way for financial sector participants, happily tipsy from an expansion of credit, to recognize when they need to slow down? Does it take a restrictive set of credit rules? What are the secrets to responsible credit?

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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.