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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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> Posted by Center Staff

It has been two weeks since Financial Inclusion Week 2016 came to a close and we are excited to share a new Financial Inclusion Week Recap webpage which captures events, blogs, and insights from this year’s global conversation.

By the numbers, Financial Inclusion Week 2016 was a success. We had over 40 partner organizations in 19 countries hold events focused on the theme of keeping clients first in a digital world. Over 1,200 participants were engaged in these events worldwide. Beyond the in-person and online events, there were vibrant conversations on social media. Twenty-three #FinclusionWeek blog posts were shared by a variety of leaders in the industry and hundreds of tweets were exchanged with the week’s hashtag. We were thrilled by the breadth of the participants this year. Regulators such as the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, fintech startups such as Artoo, research organizations such as Innovations for Poverty Action, development agencies such as ADA – Appui au Developpement Autonome, MFIs such as BRAC, and many more got involved.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Senior Associate, CFI

Readers of the 2015 Global Microscope, which spotlights the quality of the policy environment for financial inclusion, often focus on the countries at the top of the pack. However, some of the largest improvements in this year’s report are happening towards the bottom of the ranks. This trend appears on a regional scale, with the Middle East and North Africa, the region with the collective lowest scores, showing the most improved scores in this year’s issue of the Global Microscope. In this region, Egypt serves as an example of a country making huge strides even though it’s not among the top 10 countries. In fact, it scores among the very lowest handful of countries.

Up two spots from 53 to 51 out of 55 total markets this year, Egypt improved its score in 7 of the 12 Microscope indicators. The 8-point jump overall can be attributed to many factors, most notably the government’s introduction of a new regulation which broadens financial supervisory to a burgeoning microfinance sector and its welcoming of new electronic payments experiments.

In November 2014, the Egyptian Government enacted  Law no. 141, more commonly known as the “Microfinance Law”, which created provisions for regulating MFIs in the country, previously excluded from the legal framework. This law expanded the reach of the Egyptian Finance Supervisory Authority (EFSA) which now has control over issuing licenses to microfinance institutions in Egypt. After the law’s issuance in 2014, the number of MFIs in Egypt rose from 400 to 640. By the end of 2015, EFSA reported that it had issued 253 licenses. The law which is aimed at ensuring efficiency, transparency, and risk management also includes a list of “Executive Decrees” by which licensed institutions must abide.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

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I recently attended the annual meeting of the Microfinance Network (MFN), which was hosted by the Alexandria Business Association in Alexandria, Egypt. MFN is a global network of some of the largest and leading microfinance institutions, and its annual meeting has long been known for candid and in-depth sharing of experience among the leaders of these institutions, as this post demonstrates.

Ask a microfinance CEO what’s making his or her life hard these days, and the answer is likely to be politics.

That’s hardly surprising when the speaker is Motaz Tabaa, CEO of the Alexandria Business Association (ABA), one of the largest microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Egypt. On January 28, 2011, when the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo held the world’s attention and led to the resignation of then-President Mubarak, it became impossible for ABA to operate. But before the week was over, staff were back on the streets, collecting and disbursing loans, and sleeping at the office to guard the cash that couldn’t be deposited in banks, which remained still closed.

Nearly every MFI in the group had a similar encounter with crisis – consider the political violence (and/or natural disaster) that has touched Uganda, Nigeria, Armenia, Mexico, Haiti, and Bangladesh in recent years. Today, Al Majmoua in Lebanon and Tamweelcom in Jordan are overwhelmed with the attempt to serve the Syrian refugees that have crossed their borders. The CEOs who have experienced such upheaval agreed about the role of MFIs in responding quickly to help clients obtain cash, keep their businesses open, and then rebuild. Given how prevalent political and natural crises are, organizations have developed protocols for responding quickly. Even while we met, Enrique Majos of Compartamos received news of a tornado in Mexico, and sent the Compartamos natural disaster team into action.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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A new paper from MasterCard corroborates recent findings on persistent gaps in the financial inclusion of women, indicating that in India 58 percent of women report difficulty accessing credit, savings, or jobs because of their gender. The paper is part of MasterCard’s Connectors Project, which examines the migration of excluded populations into progressive economic inclusion. The recently-released Global Findex data found that between 2011 and 2014, the gender gap in access to financial services remained steady at 9 percent in developing countries.

The reported difficulty faced by women in India was higher than that of the paper’s other surveyed countries: Indonesia, Egypt, and Mexico. Across all four countries, 33 percent of women expressed these challenges. Across all genders, in India, 67 percent of respondents reported worrying about money they owe to others and 82 percent worry about their future prospects. Along with women, ethnic and religious minorities in India reported additional challenges in economic participation. Fifty-eight percent said it was difficult to get jobs or credit because of their ethnicity or religion – compared with 28 percent across the surveyed countries. Whether or not these women and ethnic/religious minorities do in fact face discriminatory treatment, awareness of their perception is critical. In accessing banking services for the first time, or pursuing economic opportunities, trust and confidence can be a make-or-break.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in taking a close look at financial inclusion efforts around the world, it’s that context matters. That’s why we are excited to be part of the team releasing the Global Microscope 2014: The Enabling Environment for Financial Inclusion. The Microscope is carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with sponsorship and guidance from the Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB, CAF, and Citi. The Microscope evaluates the environment for financial inclusion in 55 different countries and provides powerful signals to policymakers in each country on their progress. Which countries topped the list and which have the most room to grow?

We’ll tell you, but first, it’s important to know what the results mean. Each country inspected in the Microscope is assessed on 12 indicators that consider best practices in national regulatory environments and institutional support for providers serving clients at the base of the pyramid. Indicators range from government support for financial inclusion, to supervision of microfinance and other financial products, the status of credit reporting, regulations governing mobile banking and, last but not least, consumer protection.

This year is an important one in the publication’s eight year history because the focus shifted from microfinance to the environment for financial inclusion, a process that involved adapting the framework to account for today’s diversity of providers and products. What we were surprised by, however, was just how little a difference this made in the rankings. We charted last year’s results on the microfinance environment against this year’s results on the financial inclusion environment and we found a very high correlation between the two (see figure below). Environments that are enabling for microfinance are often environments that are enabling for financial inclusion. Six countries from last year’s top 10 were in this year’s top ten. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Buzz about the promise of mobile money services has been around for some time now (see our previous blog posts on the subject here, here, and here), but until coming across a recently released report from mWomen, I’d never found anything highlighting the especially big opportunity that mobile money presents for lower-income women.

mWomen’s report Striving and Surviving: Exploring the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid examines the relationship between mobile phones and women, and in doing so articulates how exceedingly well-positioned this client segment is to benefit from mobile money services. mWomen is a program of GSMA that brings together the worldwide mobile industry and the global development community to reduce the mobile phone gender gap by 50 percent by 2014, facilitating connectivity to more than 150 million women in emerging markets.

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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.