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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

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Never before have issues of data privacy and security been more top of mind. In the United States this attention was on full display a few weeks ago when every media outlet was glued to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he fielded questions from Congress on how his company handles, and has mishandled, user data.

Europe begins a new era for data protection today as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, following its passage roughly two years ago. The law is being celebrated widely for its robust customer-centricity. The degree to which it succeeds, in Europe and globally, in enforcing a business environment that provides adequate safeguards for consumer data management remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: it has the potential to change the way we all interact with businesses, from internet platforms to banks.

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> Posted by Center Staff

After great anticipation, three years’ worth to be exact, the 2017 Global Findex Database was officially released this morning. The Global Findex is the authoritative data source on global progress toward financial inclusion. Released every three years, the Global Findex surveys more than 150,000 adults in 144 economies to better understand how people access and use financial services to make payments, and also to save and borrow.

Since the 2014 Findex, the percent of the global population that has a bank account with a financial institution or mobile money service rose from 62 percent to 69 percent. Five-hundred and fifteen million individuals opened an account for the first time over the past three years, reducing the unbanked population to 1.7 billion adults worldwide. However, the new data also reveal critical shortcomings in progress. For instance, the financial inclusion gender gap didn’t improve. Globally, women remain 7 percent less likely to own a bank account than men.

Here are a few of the 2017 Global Findex’s high-level statistics:
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It’s not just social media. We need a fresh look at how financial data is protected, too.

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

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Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s handling of customer data yesterday before the U.S. Senate, and many of us at Accion and the Center for Financial Inclusion were riveted. Not that the testimony was especially compelling as television spectacle, but because the issues at stake are so important both for our own lives and for our work.

I did a quick scan of the staff here in our Washington, D.C. office, and would like to share some of their thoughts.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Digital trends in the African financial inclusion sector are evolving quickly. With the entrance of fintech startups and a more tech savvy client base, the role of corporate governance is more important than ever. As David Kombanie, Board Member of VisionFund put it: “Disruptive innovations are here with us. It’s change or die.”

Kombanie, along with more than 50 CEOs, board members, investors, fintech leaders, and regulators from Africa’s financial inclusion industry, engaged in a peer-learning exchange roundtable, Governing in a Digital World. This video provides an overview of discussions and key takeaways from the participants:

Governance for Financial Service Providers in a Digital World

The roundtable’s peer-to-peer exchanges provided three important governance considerations and recommendations for the boards of financial service providers (FSPs) as they evolve with the digital world:

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Key fintech trends include publishing open APIs, which helps to expand customer bases and improve services offerings 

> Posted by Geraldine O’Keeffe, Chief Innovation Officer, Software Group

The following post is part of a blog series spotlighting perspectives and experiences from the Africa Board Fellowship.

Access to financial services in Africa is on the increase, up 10 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the Global Findex. This change can largely be credited to digital financial services. New entrants to the financial sector such as telcos, fintechs, and in the near future bigtechs like Facebook and Google are all offering technology-centered financial services that are changing the landscape and posing a competitive threat to traditional financial services providers (FSPs). At the same time, new technologies can allow traditional FSPs to expand their outreach and radically improve operational efficiency.

Considering both challenges and opportunities, now, more than ever, financial institutions of all stripes have to accept that technology and innovation are integral to their business strategy. These changes require a shift in culture throughout the institution and among the leadership. Board members, for example, have to embrace this change, understanding the current industry trends, experiencing these financial innovations firsthand, and taking concrete actions.

Through our work with board members of financial service providers in the Africa Board Fellowship program, we have identified three key fintech trends especially relevant for institutions in Africa focused on financial inclusion.

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Microfinance institutions are uniquely positioned to benefit from emerging technologies but one key input remains largely missing

> Posted by Jacqueline Urquizo, Principal, Sygoes

When most people talk about digital finance, they are referring to business-to-customer (B2C) solutions like mobile banking products and other digital payment mechanisms. E-payments undoubtedly have the potential to reach and benefit remote populations, but there are other fintech solutions that make me even more enthusiastic. Though perhaps less developed, innovative business-to-business (B2B) solutions represent a tremendous boon for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and other institutions looking to advance financial inclusion. Among their many benefits, new B2B solutions have the potential to improve internal operational efficiencies drastically, lowering the cost of doing business, which in turn supports lower prices for financial services and expanded access to excluded populations.

A few examples of B2B fintech applications are: artificial intelligence (AI) that provides cognitive analysis and advice to credit officers evaluating the creditworthiness of previously-unbanked individuals; distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) that enable the viability of new forms of collateral that wouldn’t be otherwise trusted or usable without digitizing them in a ledger of value; and data analytics to better predict risks such as liquidity issues, client desertion, or loan default.

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Insights from a global seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved

> Posted by Amee Parbhoo, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog.

We’re in the middle of a fintech boom that could change the world. As a seed-stage investor in fintech for the underserved, Accion Venture Lab continues to see innovative startups increasing access to, reducing the cost of, or improving the quality of financial services for underserved individuals and small businesses around the world.

As we kick off a new year, we’re particularly excited about seven areas of startup-led innovation.

Digital neobanks

SmartMEI is a digital neobank serving small businesses in Brazil

In the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of a number of digital neobanks. Neobanks offer a user-friendly digital interface and a platform for financial services without maintaining their own banking licenses. With a focus on user experience and digital applications, neobanks stand to offer faster and better service to the underserved. Moving forward, neobanks will need to provide both a compelling product for a targeted customer segment and a suite of offerings that go beyond basic accounts or credit cards to retain customers and improve unit economics. Innovators in this space include NOW Money, which offers migrant workers in the UAE a platform to more efficiently transfer remittances and access to other products and services over time, and SmartMEI, which offers small businesses in Brazil a free tax tool and access to a broader set of financial services.

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New data from InterMedia breaks down the impact of demonetization on financial inclusion across gender, locality, income levels, account types, and more. 

> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Research Manager, Financial Inclusion Insights, InterMedia

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Demonetization had a strongly positive effect on financial inclusion, leading to increases in account registration and active and advanced use of registered accounts, according to our data. Perhaps surprisingly, given some of the discussion in the financial inclusion community over the last year predicting demonetization increasing electronic payments, these account registration increases were mostly among bank accounts rather than mobile wallets.

InterMedia’s fourth annual Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) survey was underway on November 9, 2016 when approximately 85 percent of the banknotes in circulation in India were invalidated by the policy known as demonetization. The invalid notes had to be deposited in a bank or exchanged for new ones at banks and other financial institutions. The timing of demonetization in relation to InterMedia’s activities presented an opportunity for us to measure the impact on financial inclusion using a panel survey of 1,600 randomly selected individuals in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. These respondents were first interviewed for the FII survey roughly one month prior to Nov. 9, and then re-interviewed seven months later.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Research Manager, Financial Inclusion Insights, Intermedia

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), launched in May 2015, set an ambitious goal of expanding access to financial services from 10 percent of adults to at least 50 percent by the year 2020. Intermedia’s newly-released Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data suggests that, as of 2016, Pakistan’s progress was not yet on a trajectory to get to 50 percent. It also suggests ways Pakistan could improve the rate of progress.

FII’s new 2016 Pakistan Annual Report and Survey Data finds that financial access rose only incrementally, from 15 percent to 16 percent, in 2016. More than 45 million more adults would need to take up a formal financial account for the country to achieve 50 percent financial inclusion as defined by the NFIS. Further, even if access is improved, registration and regular use of accounts may lag and prove a steeper climb. The percentage of adults holding registered accounts with a full-service financial institution did not increase at all over the last year, measuring 9 percent in 2015 and 2016. Similarly, active registered users over the same period remained unchanged at 8 percent.

However, these figures could be improved if the gap between the formal products on the market and Pakistanis’ actual, day-to-day financial needs and preferences is addressed, FII data indicates.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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The volume of data in the digital universe doubles in size roughly every two years, estimates indicate. The phrase “data rich” has become common business parlance. In the financial inclusion sector, big data is revolutionizing credit underwriting, product development, client segmentation, financial capability-building, and more. But how is this revolution actually happening? For many banks, it’s through partnerships with fintechs. Ujjivan, one of the largest microfinance institutions in India, recently chartered as a small finance bank, had until recently a limited portfolio at the SME level, which was hindered by high operating costs. This changed thanks to a partnership with the Bangalore-based fintech Artoo.

This partnership is described in CFI’s new joint-report with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines. We discovered dozens of partnerships between mainstream financial institutions and fintechs in emerging markets, and we detailed the workings of 14 of them. The partnership between Ujjivan and Artoo is just one example among many of how financial institutions are increasingly turning to fintechs to improve how they effectively collect, use, and manage data.

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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.