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> Posted by Kim Wilson

Predictably, the long tentacles of financial inclusion have coiled themselves around the most vulnerable targets of humanitarian aid: low income refugees, migrants and displaced populations (hereon: “refugees”).

Just as predictably, the financial inclusion agenda is driven by suppliers (aid providers, donors, financial intermediaries and governments). Few refugees are demanding to be included in a digital/formal ecosystem. That does not mean they don’t appreciate the shelter, food and cash that humanitarian agencies have mustered on their behalf. They do. They also appreciate the efforts of those same agencies to make cash assistance easier. E-cash that can be transformed into physical cash at convenient times and places is an example. Use of debit cards at ATMs to withdraw cash from digital accounts can cut valuable time otherwise spent waiting in long cash distribution queues. Very appreciated, indeed.

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> Posted by Lara Storm and Nikhil Gehani, MIX

As financial services continue on the path to digitization, the amount of data available is expanding at a rapid pace. While gaps remain – most notably when it comes to quality and usage – the financial inclusion community has made significant progress in collecting timely, reliable and useful data. Yet no matter how much the flow of data improves, a key challenge persists: We are data rich and information poor. The late Hans Rosling left us with the simple truth that, “Having the data is not enough.”

The growing libraries of data make it difficult to separate the signal from the noise; actionable intelligence is sometimes obscured by the volume of available data points. The rapid uptake of digital financial services in low- and middle-income countries has contributed to the expansion of available data and shows no signs of slowing. The challenge presented to policy makers, financial service providers (FSPs) and funders is to derive insights that can inform decisions related to financial inclusion – without being buried in the avalanche of data.

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> Posted by Center Staff

john-owensAfter reviewing many high-quality proposals, we are excited to announce the second cohort of CFI Fellows. Like the inaugural cohort, the new fellows will explore and answer some of the most pressing questions in the financial inclusion industry. The six 2017 fellows will design and produce actionable research, focusing on the topics of responsible online credit, human touch in a digital age, and the business case for financial capability. Read more about the upcoming research below and join us for a webinar tomorrow, December 14 to hear from the fellows themselves.

John Owens, Independent Consultant

What does responsible online credit look like?

Online lending for consumers, and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is highly relevant and important to facilitating financial inclusion. However, trust, confidence, and responsible lending practices need to be in place to ensure that this industry is successful and that the customers are protected and empowered. CFI Fellow John Owens will examine the risks customers of online lending face and what best practices are, or should be considered, for setting consumer protection and risk mitigation standards for the emerging online financial services industry.

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> Posted by John Hartman, President, International, Equifax

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.

Easy access to credit is something most of us take for granted. Getting the green light from the bank may depend on how you pay your day-to-day bills and your repayment history on any previous loans. A good credit history can create financial opportunity and is an important part of economic mobility.

Credit histories, however, are nowhere to be found or are extremely limited in a number of countries around the world, such as the rural regions of El Salvador, Paraguay, and even India. Farmers living in these regions have always operated outside the global financial system. It may not surprise the readers of this blog to learn that over 40 percent of the Indian population is unbanked, which means roughly 500 million people do not have access to financial services. In Latin America, the World Bank says this figure is even greater, with 61 percent of the population lacking access to formal financial services.

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> Posted by Devanshi Patani, MIX Analyst

In November 2014, Kerala became one of the first states in India where every household had access to at least one bank account. The Ministry of Finance applauded this result, declaring it a “100 percent saturated state”. However, a recent estimate found that a large number of accounts are dormant or inoperative and, further, that many individuals hold multiple bank accounts, which presents overindebtedness concerns. Yet, even without full saturation, Kerala remains a leader in financial inclusion in India and, thus, the industry can learn from its accomplishments.

Along with its exemplary financial services access statistics, there is no doubt that Kerala is a model state for financial inclusion partly due to its history, being home to one of the five financial institutions in India during the 1800s. It developed its banking infrastructure relatively early and, due to extensive population segmentation, created a large network of branches that still caters to different communities and customer bases.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Going door-to-door to conduct surveys is expensive. Going door-to-door to conduct surveys assessing household consumption and poverty levels in far-flung areas around the world is even more expensive. And reliable data, of course, is crucial to financial inclusion and other international development efforts.

In recent years, the use of nighttime satellite imagery capturing civilizations’ lights or lack thereof has risen as a means to learn more about an area’s poverty levels without cumbersome surveys. But with these images alone, the picture is incomplete. A new project from a research team at Stanford University devised a computer model that brings poverty assessment into sharper focus. The model accurately predicts poverty levels, an ability built through machine learning using nighttime satellite imagery, high-resolution daytime satellite imagery, and household survey data. In fact, the model is able to predict up to 75 percent of the variation in local-level economic outcomes, and beats the nightlight models nearly all the time.

How does the model work and what are its limitations?

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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 Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

#Allinforimpact was the hashtag at “Investing for Impact”, a socially responsible investing (SRI) conference in Boston. Maybe not “all” quite yet but certainly “more” investors are going in for impact, as indicated by the growth in attendance at the conference over the years. Investing for Impact was sponsored by socially responsible investors, such as Calvert Investment and Trillium Asset Management, who not only screen potential investee companies in terms of meeting certain environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria – but also serve as watchdogs for the sector and advocates for impactful companies.

A Few Top SRI Trends (from the conference)

Allowing Sinners to Repent: Some companies with bad names in the 1970’s such as General Electric and Ford have changed enough internally to now qualify within some investors’ ESG criteria. As one speaker put it, “What kind of church would we be if we didn’t allow sinners to repent?”

Shades of Grey: Tobacco, firearms, and carbon were across the board clear divestments. But the jury was still out on some companies and business models. For instance, Nestlé, which in the 1970’s came under fire for promoting baby formula in developing countries, has since done a lot to accelerate research on diabetes. Peapod, and other grocery delivery services, are making a pitch to be included as impact investments because the energy saved by not storing food, and the associated reduction in food waste, are positive externalities to consider.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Last Thursday the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) launched The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets. Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report explores the challenges and opportunities banks face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. It shines a spotlight on banks as leaders in advancing financial inclusion and discusses specific strategies related to technology, data, partnerships, financial capability, and other key issues, and concludes with recommendations for action.

In the following video, the report’s primary author Susy Cheston interviews Dr. William Derban, Director of Inclusive Banking & Corporate Social Responsibility at Fidelity Bank Ghana and one of the 24 bankers interviewed for the report. In their informal and in-depth conversation, Ms. Cheston and Dr. Derban discuss, among other topics, why Fidelity Bank Ghana has decided to engage in financial inclusion (hint: it’s not just about CSR), their commitment to always putting the customer first, their plan to reach viability, and the benefits they have gained through technology and partnerships.

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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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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.