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> Posted by Kyle Burgess, Executive Director and Editor in Chief, Consumers Research

From cash to digital currency

Image Credit: FamZoo Staff. No alterations made. CC BY-SA 2.0

Digital currencies, such as Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain protocol, introduce a technical platform for a new global payment infrastructure that has the potential to level the playing field for the 2.5 billion people across the globe who are unbanked or underbanked. The immutable and distributed nature of digital currencies and a number of the platforms built on top of blockchain protocols can provide improved security, efficiency, affordability, privacy, and transparency in financial transactions, as well as a whole host of other transfers of value or information. Furthermore, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, blockchain-based digital currencies can even remove the middleman, and serve as a bank in your pocket. However, fully removing a third party intermediary comes with significant risks, as there’s no one to call if you lose your private key (which functions as your password), break your hardware wallet (which acts as your digital vault), or want to dispute a payment because the goods you purchased are damaged (because digital currency transactions are irreversible). Like any other product, consumer protection must be at the forefront of the development and implementation of digital currency and blockchain-based financial services.

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> Posted by Tess Johnson, Project Associate, CFI

Farmer standing in green field and using touch screen mobile phone.

Photo credit: Xavier Arnau

Despite the excitement about moving mobile financial services (MFS) to a richer smartphone-based environment, we still have a long way to go before many customers at the base of the pyramid can reap the full benefits of these technologies. CFI Fellow Leon Perlman diligently identified many of the key obstacles for more inclusive MFS, including the lack of infrastructure to support the higher-speed mobile connectivity critical for MFS transactions; the plethora of substandard and/or cost-prohibitive smartphones in developing countries; and pervasive security vulnerabilities that threaten MFS transactions, to name a few.

There are some bright spots in Leon’s report, however, and we think it’s important to acknowledge them.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

The role of data is increasingly crucial as the financial services industry shifts to digital delivery, alternative analytics, targeted marketing, and data-driven customer segmentation. As outlined in the recent Accion report, Unlocking the Promise of Big Data to Promote Financial Inclusion, the future of financial inclusion will include higher volumes of better quality and more wide-ranging data to expand access, lower prices, reduce bias, and drive innovation. However, the use of big and alternative data in financial inclusion is not a value-neutral trend—nor should it be.

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> Posted by Jami Solli, Independent Consultant and Founder of the Global Alliance for Legal Aid

Click here for Consumer International’s interactive map of global WCRD activities

Happy World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD)! Every year on March 15 WCRD serves as an opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers and as a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights. The theme for this year is ‘Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust’. The following post spotlights the increasing need for regulatory attention on online financial frauds.

No country in the world is free of financial fraud. And, every nation seems to have its own Bernie Madoff. Yet, Madoff’s $50 billion did not do systemic damage to the U.S. financial system, nor did it harm financial inclusion efforts in America. Unfortunately, when ponzis occur in developing countries, they do cause systemic risk and untold damage to financial inclusion efforts.

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> Posted by Center Staff

A schoolboy looks at an electric light bulb powered by M-KOPA solar technology, as it illuminates his home in Ndela village, Machakos, Kenya.

2016 was the hottest year on Earth since records began in 1880. For those of us who work in financial inclusion but are fearful about our lack of progress in combating climate change, the following is a spot of good news: at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Ant Financial and the United Nations Environment Program launched the Green Digital Finance Alliance.

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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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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 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 Lizzy Bolze, Analyst, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog. 

Accion client Ma San Htwe selling fish in Myanmar, one of the key areas discussed at European Microfinance Week 2016.

European Microfinance Platform is celebrating 10 years of supporting inclusive finance innovation, and hosted European Microfinance Week 2016 (EMW) in Luxembourg a few weeks ago. At the conference, I joined discussions about key organizations and challenges in the industry. Here are five of the main takeaways from the week:

1. The Underserved Refugee Population

The Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) is helping to provide financial services to the refugee population, which is now approximately 20 million people. In reality we don’t know very much about the socioeconomic needs of refugees, and much of the research is focused on humanitarian efforts. SPTF is working to research and provide guidelines to financial service providers to better serve the financial needs of this population. The guidelines will be published on SPTF’s website in the coming months. Learn more about leading organizations supporting refugees from CFI’s blog series on refugees.

2. Opportunity in Myanmar

Representatives from VisionFund, Advans, UNCDF, and M-CRIL provided a look at the economic landscape of Myanmar and the future of financial inclusion there. In Myanmar, 70 percent of the population was excluded from formal financial services until 2011, when microfinance rapidly expanded. After 2011, 267 licensed Monetary Financial Institutions (MFIs) opened. This opportunity comes with many barriers to inclusion, such as a lack of government regulation and funds and capacity-building issues. However, there is widespread optimism with an adoption of regulations proposed by the Smart Campaign, as well as further demand for microfinance in Myanmar. Investors should consider moving into the region for long term impact.

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> Posted by Center Staff

We’ve written about the unfolding demonetization situation in India a few times now (here and here). Demonetization, the government declaration on November 8, 2016 that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes would become void on midnight of the same day, aims to curb black money and corruption, and support the uptake of digital financial services. However, demonetization has caused a range of harms. These consequences should have been foreseeable because: the declaration was massive in scope, affecting 86 percent of the country’s currency in circulation; the country’s banking industry was given no time to prepare, as the plan was kept secret until November 8; and the vast majority of the country’s labor force works in the informal sector, dealing almost exclusively in cash.

Our previous posts focused on the financial inclusion implications of demonetization and how the government’s move affects Indians’ ability to conduct their finances. But our posts haven’t discussed the non-economic ways that demonetization is affecting citizens. Let us be clear, with the massive population in India living at or below the poverty line, the financial shock caused by demonetization has meant life or death for many. Here is a list of some of the ways demonetization is causing more than economic harm:
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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.