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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow
After decades of directing financial services to owners of micro-enterprises, many microfinance institutions are now finding themselves serving a growing population of small business owners. Thus, with increasing global attention directed to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their potential contribution to economic growth, it seems fitting to look more deeply into microfinance portfolios, and discover what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses have arisen out of poverty and marginalization into what can be classified as emerging SMEs. My recent research as a CFI Research Fellow led me to delve deeply into the stories of entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses from micro-enterprises into SMEs.
As someone who has focused much of her career on pushing microfinance downward, towards smaller enterprises and those earning lower incomes, this focus on emerging SMEs both inspired and taught me a great deal. While the analysis of these stories is the focus of my report coming out next month, I’d like to share here two stories that inform our understanding of the nature, growth trajectories, and financial service usage of SMEs arising from within microfinance portfolios. They describe the experiences of two clients of Banco ADOPEM in the Dominican Republic – one of three microfinance banks I visited as part of this study. (All names have been changed to protect identities.) While these two stories may resemble the classic “client story” in that they show how people have moved up the economic ladder, pay attention to the markers of success – both financial and non-financial – that distinguish these clients from those that may have not grown.
> Posted by Brian Kuwik, Chief Regional Officer, Africa, Accion
Today around the world, we celebrate our youth and their achievements and reflect on the goals of “eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production” for the youth of this generation. To achieve these goals, a culture of saving money consistently over time will be important.
How can financial institutions, policy makers, and parents encourage the youth to save? A six-year project (2010-2015) across four countries, YouthSave, led by Save the Children and Washington University examined this question. Recently, I attended the project’s dissemination event in Accra, Ghana and learned about how, as part of the project, a bank partnered with middle and secondary schools to offer formal savings accounts to students 12-18 years of age.
Many Ghanaian students are saving money informally in their schools because they either lack national identification documents or cannot find an adult whom they trust to be the primary signatory to a bank account. Some entrepreneurial students act as “susus” collecting cash from their classmates on a daily basis and safe-guarding it. Since they often keep one day of savings as a fee for this service, this can be a costly way of saving.
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
When most microfinance clients start out they’re first-timers at a formal financial institution. Like anything unfamiliar, a first foray with banks can be intimidating. You don’t want to be duped or make a mistake and lose precious savings. Peace of mind was granted to clients of two microfinance institutions, one in Paraguay and the other in the Dominican Republic recently as the first Smart Certifications in those countries were awarded. Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM were certified as meeting all the standards needed to treat their clients with adequate care. This certification demonstrates to prospective clients as well as investors and other industry stakeholders that their institutions are operating responsibly.
Fundacion Paraguaya and Banco ADOPEM are both market leaders in their own right. Banco ADOPEM is one of the largest microfinance institutions in the Dominican Republic. According to the MIX, 351,000 depositors in the Dominican Republic bank with Banco ADOPEM. When Banco ADOPEM pursues and achieves Smart Certification, that sends a message to MFIs and other stakeholders in the country that client protection is a key priority. In 2014 ADOPEM was named “Most Innovative Microfinance Institution of the Year” by Citi, in part because of ATA-Movil, a portable electronic application that allows credit advisers to assess customers in their businesses or in their homes. The mobile information system also allows for convenient and direct communication with clients.
> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Positive Planet Co-Country Director (China)
Through the support of Diageo’s Plan W initiative, Positive Planet’s three-year women’s empowerment project Banking on Women has provided financial education to more than 8,000 women across Huimin Dongfang Microcredit Company‘s client network in Ningxia Autonomous Region, China. The project’s curriculum, which is based in the core financial concepts of savings, risk protection, and digital finance, is intended to empower women in the household and community through increased financial decision-making power. With the project more than two-thirds completed, Positive Planet has just published a case study that explores the project team’s experience in working to build the financial capability of rural Chinese women.
As written here before, China’s rural women stand to greatly benefit by being introduced to financial concepts and related services. However, China’s government has yet to establish a national strategy for financial education that clearly looks beyond urban residents’ financial capability needs. (Current efforts mostly cover security precautions for traditional banking, anti-fraud measures, counterfeit currency awareness, and illegal investment prevention.) Serving rural residents and their unique set of circumstances and needs will require a greatly expanded financial capability-building offering. For such an expansion to work well, it will need to include programming that looks at the rural population separately. Further, implementation for rural programming should lean on the experience and opinions of diverse local groups and township government offices. Unique cultures, language dialects, and market distinctions across China’s many regions make one-size-fits-all financial educational content less effective. Central planning and support play a crucial role, but resource design must allow for calculated flexibility per the local settings.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI
You could say it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. In certain industries, for talented individuals, as sure as their rise to fame is their fall to bankruptcy, or at least, to mountains of debt. Ever since the meteoric rise of certain cash-bloated industries, like sports, music, and film, to name a few, we’ve seen star after star go from being set-for-life to being, astonishingly, in dire financial straits.
The latest to be added to this list? Kayne West. The divisive hip-hop titan and cultural icon recently revealed that he is more than $50 million in personal debt*. The announcement came a few weeks ago at the tail end of the media circus surrounding his most recent album release. Along with the album, he launched a new fashion line – both to generally positive reviews. Arguably at the height of his talents in both pursuits, one wouldn’t suspect Mr. West of being in the red. In fact, in multiple songs on his new album his lyrics suggest otherwise: “10 thousand dollar fur for Nori, I just copped it, yo!” (Nori is his two-year-old daughter, who does indeed dress very well.) Kanye’s financial problems are so great that he took to Twitter to publicly ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google Co-Founder Larry Page for money so that he could continue to make his art. It remains to be seen if the tech billionaires will bankroll the self-proclaimed “most important living artist”.
Along with Kanye, famous musicians who have gone bankrupt over the years include Marvin Gaye, David Crosby, Vanilla Ice, Jerry Lee Lewis, MC Hammer, and George Clinton. We could go on. Big names, which alludes to a big (and potentially growing) problem.
In the world of professional sports, financial stress is extremely well-documented. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of National Football League (American football) players have either gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Within five years of retirement, roughly 60 percent of former National Basketball Association players are broke.
How does this happen? And should we care?
> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group
A few weeks ago, I attended the Global Forum on Remittances and Development sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Commission, and the World Bank. Much of the meeting was focused on two critically important questions:
- Are or could remittances be a major driver of financial inclusion?
- Is it possible (and desirable) for a greater percentage of remittances to be put to productive use as opposed to consumption once the funds arrive in the hands of the recipient?
First, a few facts to underscore why these discussions are so important:
- In 2014 there were at least 240 million international migrants. That is a BIG number – bigger than the populations of all the countries of the world except China, India, the U.S., and Indonesia.
- This year these migrants will send back to their countries of origin more than 440 billion U.S. dollars! This amount is more than three times the amount of foreign aid. It is estimated that $200 billion of this amount goes directly to rural areas in developing countries where the most poverty is.
- Remittances can constitute up to 40 percent of GDP or more in some countries, often the most fragile, most conflict-ridden countries in the world.
- Some 750 million people are estimated to receive remittances, the vast majority in developing countries. Forty percent live in rural areas.
- The global average cost of sending this money home is 8.6 percent of the amount sent, so the potential customer benefits to cost reduction are very important. (In July 2009 the G20 set a goal of reducing the average cost from 10 percent to five percent in five years. Despite failing to achieve the objective, it recently established a new goal of three percent by 2030!)
Are remittances a driver for financial inclusion? Could they be? In a moment of frustration, Fernando Jimenez-Ontiveros, the Acting General Manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund said at the conference, “We’ve been working on these issues for some 15 years, and estimates are that 60 percent of senders and recipients still don’t even have an account! We’ve got to do better!”
> Posted by María José Roa Garcia, Researcher, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA)
Reports on the financial stability of emerging countries indicate that non-traditional institutions advancing financial inclusion are increasingly important. The contemporary financial services landscape in many markets includes new financial inclusion instruments such as electronic and mobile phone-based banking. For these newer entrants and many credit-offering institutions, the governing regulatory frameworks are either non-existent or much looser than those for formally-constituted banking institutions.
Does this lack of oversight affect market stability?
In reviewing the recent studies on the possible links between financial stability and inclusion, although additional research and analysis is required, it is shown that greater access to and use of formal financial intermediaries might reduce financial instability. As for why, the studies point to six reasons:
- More diversified funding base of financial institutions
- More extensive and efficient savings intermediation
- Improved capacity of households to manage vulnerabilities and shocks
- A more stable base of retail deposits
- Restricting the presence of a large informal sector
- Facilitating the reduction of income inequality, thereby allowing for greater political and social stability
The principal definitions of financial stability support this notion. Institutions that carry out financial inclusion activities help develop effective intermediation of resources and diversify risk, which are essential elements in supporting sustainable markets.
> 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.
> Posted by María José Roa Garcia, Researcher, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA)
In the past decade, a group of key empirical studies have argued that a lack of education and financial knowledge can lead individuals to miss opportunities to benefit from financial services. Some may fail to save enough for retirement, others may over-invest in risky assets, while still others miss out on tax advantages, fail to refinance costly mortgages, or even remain outside of the formal financial sector completely. These studies suggest that such behavior is based on the reality that making financial decisions has become increasingly complicated. At the same time, as a result of sweeping changes in the economic and demographic environments, individuals have become increasingly responsible for their own financial decisions and the consequences of such decisions over the long-term. Changes in public pension plans, an increase in life expectancy, and an increase in the cost of health insurance have placed on the individual the weight of momentous decisions such as whether to take out private retirement insurance, or how much to save. Easier access to credit, a general increase in the accessibility and complexity of products and services, and a number of other factors make a range of financial decisions more consequential – and harder.
Governments, financial services providers, and related stakeholders have responded accordingly in recent years developing financial education programs and initiatives, but the results have been mixed. The bulk of the evidence available confirms that, in general, the level of financial literacy throughout the world is very low, especially among the more vulnerable groups: those with very low education or income such as senior citizens, young women, and immigrants. The lack of financial literacy within these groups has proven to extend beyond economic effects and produce negative consequences on health, general well-being, and life satisfaction. Many of the programs that have been introduced were part of empirical studies that evaluated the impact of financial education programs on subsequent financial behavior. There are many such studies that show that financial education improves financial decision-making.
Nevertheless, a body of work has opened an intense debate over whether financial education and information can truly affect the financial behavior of individuals (see here, and here). In many cases, despite the availability of financial education, persistently high rates of debt and default, and low rates of saving and financial planning for retirement have been shown to persist. The empirical evidence obtained from surveys and experimental work often shows that individuals pay little attention to the information and that their capacity to process it is limited. Most of the empirical literature to-date indicates that traditional financial education – clients receiving information in a classroom style setting or through printed materials – does not necessarily translate into behavioral changes, especially in the short-term.
> Posted by Maria May, Senior Program Manager, BRAC
Even when introducing herself, Babita’s enthusiasm is contagious. “Maybe you think that you can’t change how you manage your money. It’s too hard. Well, I used to think that I could never get up in front of a group of people and give a presentation. But here I am. BRAC taught me how. So if I can do this, then you can do anything.”
Babita Akhtar is one of 900 women recruited by BRAC as a customer service assistant. She greets every person who walks into the branch office—people coming for loans, seeking support from BRAC’s legal aid clinics, teachers or community health promoters coming for training, and even visitors. Before loan disbursement begins, she runs a short orientation session for all borrowers that covers important information about the loans, BRAC’s services, and good financial practices. The branch manager comes in at the end to answer any questions and greet the clients personally.
The messages provided in this orientation are timed for maximum impact. Pranab Banik, who heads BRAC’s Financial Education and Client Protection Unit, said, “The time when clients are waiting at the branch to take a loan seems the best moment to deliver basic financial awareness at scale and cost effectively. Our pre-disbursement orientation is an integral precondition for comprehensive client protection; it is intended to empower all clients to better understand their options and manage their finances responsibly.”