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> Posted by Pablo Antón Díaz, Research Manager, CFI

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Scott Graham, Daniel Rozas, and Pablo Anton-Diaz at the “Preventing Overindebtedness in the Microfinance Sector in Mexico” panel, XV National Microfinance Summit, Mexico City, Mexico, November 2016

For the past decade, in part fueled by regulatory changes in the financial sector, there has been an explosion in the availability of credit to low-income individuals in Mexico. The Mexican microfinance sector has become increasingly concentrated and highly competitive. In 2015, the 10 largest microfinance institutions (MFIs) in the country represented 81 percent of the total market size, with more than 1,500 smaller MFIs sharing the remaining 19 percent.

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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director of the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects series. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

In financial inclusion circles there is palpable excitement around the promise of digital financial services (DFS) – most recently quantified by the McKinsey Global Institute as the potential for 1.6 billion individuals becoming banked, $2.1 trillion in loans disbursed, and 95 million new jobs. Yet, in order for this potential to be achieved, customers must trust the service. For instance, India-based MicroSave conducted research showing that while 85 percent of DFS customers said they would recommend DFS to others, they thought of it as a Plan B due to lack of trust. Issues that can erode or prevent trust from building include gaps in data protection and security, service downtime, insufficient transparency, agent misconduct and unauthorized fees, among others. As Graham Wright of MicroSave writes, “It is clear that there are immediate potential wins for DFS providers who address consumer protection issues.”

In this post the Smart Campaign spotlights a fast-growing fintech company, JUMO, that is helping to define what responsible digital finance means.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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Screenshot from VisionFund International’s webinar (click to watch)

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

On day three of Financial Inclusion Week 2016 we were excited to see conversations happen around the world, including in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Australia. We offer a rundown of these events and the vibrant online conversation below.

The week is nearing a close but there are still plenty of upcoming events and ways to get involved. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter with #FinclusionWeek, join tomorrow’s webinar with Innovations for Poverty Action, or submit a client quote and photo to our collection of client insights.

What’s Happening

VisionFund International hosted a webinar (two webinars, in fact, to accommodate for different timezones) focused on the future of digital financial services. The webinar centered on how VisionFund is using technology to lend to smallholder farmers at the right level, and at the right time. During the webinar, Tom Allen and Justin McAuley, Director of Change and Programs and Director of Global Digital Architecture at VisionFund, highlighted a new application they developed which uses available geographic and market data to better extend their products to smallholder farmers and manage risk. You can watch the full webinar here.
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> Posted by Kim Wilson

Many privileges require a license: driving a car, flying a plane, even scuba diving. Licenses ensure that you understand the consequence of driving too fast, flying too low, or diving too deep. All of these activities have systems to regulate how a service is supplied and how it is used. But when it comes to borrowing money, regulators usually regulate lenders (how the service is supplied), but rarely borrowers (how it is demanded).

Why add barriers, burdens, and bureaucracy to the credit market? Hasn’t credit famously been declared a right versus a privilege? Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where in most countries the financial chokepoint is a lack of credit rather than an abundance?

Participating in Credit on the Cusp, a project that studied the credit experiences of those living on the “cusp” of poverty (between $2 and $5 a day) in urban Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa gave me a chance to think about these questions in depth. As it turns out, South Africa is ground zero – an African market that provided easy credit to millions of new customers in a very short time. In fact, South Africa struggles with an extensive debt problem.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

I’m thrilled to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 2016-2017 CFI Fellows! Maybe this is your year to consider having a little funding and space to take on a big financial inclusion question that could have a major impact on the industry.

We’re looking for researchers who are willing to undertake ambitious work that will advance financial inclusion. We’ve assembled a set of five questions that we think represent some of the most pressing concerns facing the industry, and we will be funding the most promising proposals that set out a plan for answering these questions. The topics we selected are ones that have been well-vetted. They were sourced from an internal Accion-wide exercise, discussions with the CFI Advisory Council, consultation with our friends across the financial inclusion space, and the solicitation of your comments on our “shortlist” of questions here on the blog (thank you so much for your input!).

The research questions this year cover a range of topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age? Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process? Who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others? And how should financial service providers build it into their process?

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> Posted by Deborah Drake, Vice President, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Declare victory and go home. How often do you get to say that? But that’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago when we celebrated the closing down of the Accion Bridge Fund. Why a celebration? As the first guarantee fund to support the growth of microfinance institutions, it achieved its objective which was to open doors to private bank funding. This was 1984; microfinance was in its early days and was the purview of small NGOs which had little to no experience with banks. What they did have was deep experience with microlending and bold ambitions to scale this lending. Funding above and beyond grants would be needed.

The Bridge Fund – originally called the Latin America Bridge Fund – was a pioneering breakthrough for Accion and for the industry. By providing a partial guarantee in the form of a letter of credit to local financial institutions, Accion’s network partners were able to grow their portfolios and establish relationships with the formal financial sector of their respective countries. As they gained experience and credibility, MFIs were able to leverage the guarantees to achieve funding multiple times the nominal amount of the guarantee.

Such well known leaders in financial inclusion as Bancosol and Mibanco received early support from the Bridge Fund. Accion’s partners in Paraguay and Chile were able to grow and thrive because Bridge Fund guarantees facilitated funding that they could not obtain from multilateral sources due to their political regimes. Over time the Bridge Fund grew to approximately US $6 million and provided guarantees to 40 MFIs in 15 countries around the world.

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> Posted by Amelia Kuklewicz, Bobbi Gray, Gabriela Salvador, Freedom from Hunger

It’s a scene many can identify with: rushing to an emergency room at 1 a.m. with a young child whose fever has spiked and cannot be controlled with over-the-counter medicine. We generally feel helpless and our mind leaps into worst-case scenarios.

While we’re considering the financial implications, they are secondary to ensuring our loved one receives immediate medical attention.

For many of us with health insurance, we already know what the visit is likely to cost us but we’re still mentally considering what financial resources we’re going to draw on to cover the emergency room co-pay.

Now imagine you are a mother that lives in Ecuador. Since neither you nor your spouse has formal employment with a consistent salary, you are ineligible for state health insurance. Private health insurance is out of the question with monthly premiums in the hundreds of dollars. To top it off, the first question you receive from the attending nurse in reception isn’t about your child’s condition but rather, “Cash or credit?” Many people are known to die during triage, simply from the requirement of having to show payment up front.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

A financial shock can happen suddenly and at any time, and a single unexpected expense can push many American households into financial hardship. Something as straightforward as a car repair can have a snowball effect on a family’s finances if they are not prepared for it. A 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that in 2014, 60 percent of American households experienced a financial shock, and that the average household spent half a month of income on its most expensive shock.

While most households have at least a loose budget for recurring expenses like housing, food, and transportation, most are not prepared for additional unexpected expenses, a study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found. Consumers’ attitudes and behaviors are typically consistent with their financial health – i.e. those who are financially healthy are more likely to have recovery strategies available when setbacks strike.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

What are the biggest unanswered questions in financial inclusion? This isn’t rhetorical—we want your opinion.

In preparation for selecting three CFI Fellows for 2016-2017, we are developing a short list of questions whose answers would drive financial inclusion forward.

Our Research Fellows Program is an initiative intended to tackle the biggest questions in financial inclusion—in order for the industry to take action in new areas and in new ways. The current cohort of fellows is finalizing research ranging from big data to small enterprises to technology infrastructure to G2P payments.

The questions we put forward for this next cohort will only be relevant if they are essential to the financial inclusion community. So we’re coming to you (yes, you!) for your input.

To get the conversation started, here are some of the questions on our working list. Let us know below in the comments which you think are compelling, and please take the liberty of adding your own.
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> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Senior Associate, CFI

Lawsuits and court ordered wage garnishment are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon for those in the United States who are unable to pay back their debts on time. With little regulation and consumer protection in the legal realm of debt collection, consumers are often left with few resources to fight in court and consequentially little control over the repayment of their debts.

Wage garnishment is the direct seizure of wages to repay a debt, as permitted by a court order. For years in the United States, the practice of wage garnishment was reserved for collecting child support, student loans, and back taxes. During the recession that began in 2008, debt collectors increasingly turned to the courts as a channel to collect, and the practice of wage garnishment expanded rapidly, including to consumer debts. Rates of wage garnishment have sky-rocketed, more intensely in some regions and cities than others. In Phoenix wage garnishment rates increased 121 percent from 2005 to 2013, Atlanta saw a 55 percent hike between 2004 and 2013, and Cleveland saw a 30 percent jump between 2008 and 2009 alone.

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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.