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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Director, the Smart Campaign

The merits and pitfalls of mobile credit continue to be debated hotly in financial inclusion circles. Mobile products are making credit more accessible through branchless banking and alternative underwriting and business models. But experimenting with new ways of lending when your borrowers include those at the base of the pyramid brings steep risks and some models can be downright reckless. Which side of the fence are you on?

The Smart Campaign is seeking to assist the sector to develop a consensus about responsible online credit practice, and the good news is that these questions have recently become top-of-mind for a range of stakeholders. Quona’s Johan Bosini and Positive Planet’s Bezant Chongo gamely volunteered for an Oxford-style debate on whether mobile credit is good for its clients at the 4th Annual Mondato Summit in Johannesburg back in May.

The convenience and ease-of-access of mobile credit products are immensely beneficial to the unbanked, according to Bosini, speaking for the pro side. When juxtaposed to traditional lending products that take, for instance, in Benin, an average of almost 5 weeks to access (involving multiple trips), mobile credit seems supersonic, he emphasized. Using alternative data and analytics, mobile credit unlocks access for individuals without credit history. The reality for the poor, as elucidated by the Financial Diaries and other research, is that incomes fluctuate widely. Now with mobile credit, a person in a pinch can help smooth the inevitable bumps in income with a few clicks on the phone.

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> Posted by Caitlin Sanford, Bankable Frontier Associates

A Spanish-language version of this post immediately follows the English version.

The Financial Diaries showed Mexicans are in a double bind when it comes to health. While households in the study were afflicted with diseases of tropical poverty such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and insect-borne diseases, they also suffered from diseases commonly diagnosed in wealthier countries, like diabetes, depression, and obesity. People are unable to access the quality of healthcare they would like to deal with these diverse problems, both because of financial constraints and because it is difficult to know when expensive, higher quality care is necessary. Financial Diaries households mostly pay for medical care by borrowing from their social network. We found this to be true even though the Mexican government does provide a comprehensive and well-functioning — if variable by location — national public insurance program called Seguro Popular.

The framework of behavioral psychology provides insights as to how Diaries respondents think about the timing of paying for healthcare, and why they pay for health spending almost exclusively by borrowing from families and friends.

1.      It is difficult to assess risk under scarcity and limited information, so families wait to get care.

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> Posted by Caitlin Sanford, Bankable Frontier Associates

PUEBLA (91) twitter“Although Paula is experiencing economic difficulties, she says that she will stretch the little money she has to cover household expenses.” -Field researcher’s qualitative journal

Today the Mexican Ministry of Finance (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público), the federal development bank BANSEFI (Banco del Ahorro Nacional y Servicios Financieros), the MetLife Foundation, and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) release the results of the Mexico Financial Diaries at an event at the library at the National Palace in Mexico City. The Mexico Financial Diaries, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank, tracked cash flows of 185 families located on the outskirts of Mexico City, in a small town in Puebla, and in a rural Mixteco community in Oaxaca over the course of about 11 months.

Mexico is the first Latin American country where this Financial Diaries methodology has been used to collect fine-grained household finance data. These data add to the growing compendium of Financial Diaries data from Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Mozambique, Pakistan (all implemented by BFA and partners), the U.S. (implemented by NYU’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation), and Zambia (implemented by Microfinance Opportunities).

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> Posted by Monique Cohen, Independent Advisor, and Founder of Microfinance Opportunities

When an Equity Bank client in Kenya was asked if she saw value in financial education, she replied without hesitation, “Yes, but I thought it was only for rich people.” Delighted with this ringing endorsement the interviewer never asked her what financial education meant for her. If she had we might have gone down a different track.

Intuitively, financial education seems like a good thing. Many experts will tell you that it or financial capability are important for achieving financial inclusion. Yet, the research tells a contrary story: financial education, building financial literacy, or financial capability interventions in developing countries have little effect on changing financial behaviors, including the uptake and usage of formal financial services. I keep asking: What am I missing in this picture? Why doesn’t it add up? With 12 years of experience in this space I would argue that there is much confusion about what financial education is, what it can do, and what we want it to do.

Financial institutions have much to gain from effective financial education, as, of course, do clients. At present, however, the field is torn between two paradigms – a money management paradigm and a product usage paradigm. Though both have merits, neither gets it quite right. I propose a more client-led perspective as a way to ensure that financial education can become more meaningful for the user.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

In his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the history of the fight against cancer. It’s a grand saga involving scientists, doctors, patients, and politics, all wielding their best tools to find better treatments and ultimately a cure. And of course, the tale is not over: the scourge continues, though much progress has been made, and an increasing number of bright spots are appearing.

As I read, I see parallels between the evolution of that medical “war” and the struggle against poverty waged by the international development community, or at least the part of that struggle I’m part of, the struggle to give people financial tools to better their lives. The more I read, the more I see, until in each corner of the cancer story I find parallels with our own sector and its searches for solutions.

In the early 20th Century, surgeons began to treat breast cancer with radical mastectomies in which not only breast but also lymph nodes and many of the neighboring chest muscles were taken. The more radical, the greater the chances of success, went the theory. By mid-century, chemotherapies appeared. They represented another radical approach in which patients were brought to the brink of death as chemicals attacked cancerous and normal cells alike. In both cases, Mukherjee argues, brute force substituted for the absence of a deep understanding of the causes and behavior of cancer. The medical profession simply applied the tools at hand, raising the intensity as high as patients could tolerate. The tools sometimes cured the patient, but more often postponed the inevitable recurrence, a partial success. According to Mukherjee, the surgeons and chemotherapists who wielded these instruments were so convinced of their efficacy that they closed their minds to alternatives (including each other’s solutions), scoffed at attempts to measure success through rigorous trials, and downplayed the suffering imposed on actual patients.

Maybe you’re already seeing parallels…

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI


“I took today off because the stress is too high. I was going to borrow $200 from a friend and it fell through. I truly need it. I want to cry and can’t. I need it before the month is out. I had it and lent it to my family and I’m catching hell getting it back.”

— Tammy, age 60, U.S. Financial Diaries participant

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. supplemental poverty rate is 15.5 percent, meaning that 48.7 million Americans live below the poverty line.¹ While poorer households face higher difficulties to make ends meet, households across the lower and middle-income spectrum in the U.S. struggle with income volatility, unplanned expenses, and finding ways to save and invest. But they also use creative ways to manage their budgets and money.

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> Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

Written in 1910, a tiny book, The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles has relevance today in our financial inclusion efforts.

In one of the chapters, “How To Use the Will,” the author writes, “What tends to do away with poverty is not the getting of pictures of poverty into your mind but getting pictures of wealth into the minds of the poor. You are not deserting the poor in their misery when you refuse to allow your mind to be filled with pictures of that misery. Poverty can be done away with, not by increasing the number of well to do people who think about poverty, but by increasing the number of people who purpose with faith to get rich. If you want to help the poor, demonstrate to them that they can become rich; prove it by getting rich yourself.”

These words were written at a time when the American Titans of Industry – Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller – were generating millions of dollars from oil, steel, and commodities trading. The existence of poverty alongside such epochal abundance must have shocked Wallace Wattles deeply. He must have also witnessed the proliferation of poverty eradication efforts through charity and noted their failure or absence of impact.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published in the Guardian Development Professionals Network DAI Partner Zone.

When the Global Findex, an unprecedented demand-side survey by the World Bank and Gallup, was released last year, it marked the first time financial inclusion statistics from the demand side were available on a globally consistent basis. The headline: 2.5 billion adults (including 59 percent of adults in developing countries) are “unbanked” — that is, they do not have an account at a bank or other formal financial institution.

Why is having a bank account the top indicator of financial inclusion?

Setting aside the obvious point that bank accounts are among the easiest indicators to track, the policy focus on “banking the unbanked” seems to rest on the premise that bank accounts have a special role in financial inclusion. Three important functions ascribed to bank accounts are: a place to save, a money management hub, and a way to establish an ongoing relationship with a formal financial institution (an “on-ramp” to other services). These assumptions appear to underpin much of financial inclusion thinking and policy.

If a bank account is a money management tool – a central node through which a person’s financial transactions flow – it will be used regularly. This is the way most people in the developed world (and, I suspect, most financial inclusion policy makers) use bank accounts. However, many accounts in the developing world are relatively inactive. Taking the frequency with which people make more than two withdrawals per month as a proxy for operating an account as a money management hub, the following chart divides the “banked” into low – and high – activity accounts.

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> Posted by Guy Stuart, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Microfinance Opportunities

This post is part of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Expert Exchange: Building A Movement Toward Financial Inclusion by 2020, cultivating conversation around the goal of reaching full financial inclusion by 2020. For further questions about this series, write to Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION International.

My work using the Financial Diaries methodology has made me very cognizant of how much cash low-income people handle daily – more cash, in real terms, than a middle-income person in a developed country handles. If we are to increase financial inclusion by increasing low-income individuals’ use of savings products, we have to find ways to channel some of the large amounts of cash they handle into those products, in ways that they value. Monique Cohen and I have written about this in our recent article “Channeling Cash: Towards a New Business Model for Low-Income Savings Mobilization.”

In the article, we first had to step back and define what we really meant by savings. In the paper, we assert that low-income people use savings for three different purposes: Read the rest of this entry »

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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.