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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Digital trends in the African financial inclusion sector are evolving quickly. With the entrance of fintech startups and a more tech savvy client base, the role of corporate governance is more important than ever. As David Kombanie, Board Member of VisionFund put it: “Disruptive innovations are here with us. It’s change or die.”

Kombanie, along with more than 50 CEOs, board members, investors, fintech leaders, and regulators from Africa’s financial inclusion industry, engaged in a peer-learning exchange roundtable, Governing in a Digital World. This video provides an overview of discussions and key takeaways from the participants:

Governance for Financial Service Providers in a Digital World

The roundtable’s peer-to-peer exchanges provided three important governance considerations and recommendations for the boards of financial service providers (FSPs) as they evolve with the digital world:

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> Posted by Shaheen Hasan, Manager, FI2020 at CFI

The “customer centricity” mantra has become a common refrain among donors, policymakers, practitioners, and providers working on financial inclusion. Indeed we would be hard-pressed to find anyone working in the sector who wouldn’t identify him or herself as focused on customer needs. In the Addressing Customer Needs section of the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, however, we report that the number of financial service providers who are actually investing in and implementing these ideas at a scalable level are still few and far between. Although the truly customer-centric organizations are in the minority, we found a host of good examples, and we highlight some examples we like in the report.

A critical element of addressing customer needs is building the right consumer insights infrastructure to gather and translate data into better product offerings and the targeting of new market segments. Organizations use a multitude of methods to assemble insights. Some players, such as Equity Bank in Kenya and Tigo in multiple countries have built up in-house research capabilities. Banco Azteca in Mexico, for example, has one of the most sophisticated market research systems to amass and analyze information on customers. It has used that information to build up a clientele of millions of savers, borrowers, remittance receivers (and some senders), and insurance policy holders. Janalakshmi, an Indian microfinance institution, with the support of CGAP, developed a tool, Kaleido, which utilizes its front-line staff to get a “360 degree” view of a household, providing a rich source of data for developing new products as well as assessing the financial progress of a household.

With increasing availability of data on client behavior and new techniques to analyze that data, there is a rich wellspring to mine for insights relevant to market segmentation, product design, and delivery improvements.

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The most exciting trends and startups in inclusive finance this year

> Posted by Vikas Raj, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

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There has been a lot of buzz in the financial technology (FinTech) space over the last several months, with a high-profile IPO, several more apparently on the way, and more and more venture funding flowing into FinTech startups. Bold ideas for financial services innovation are getting more visibility – just this month, Australian Wealth Index (AWI) listed the 50 Best FinTech Innovators, and CFI’s Elisabeth Rhyne conveniently categorized the list so it’s easy to see at a glance where the innovations are.

At Venture Lab, we found the AWI list interesting but also felt it missed something significant: namely, that one of the biggest opportunities for FinTech is figuring out new solutions to include the billions of lower-income people who are today excluded from formal financial services. And it’s not charity that compels us to reach these customers – it’s good business. These customers represent a big market. In fact, they’re such a significant part of any emerging market’s customer base that any global providers with dreams of international expansion must cater to them if they want to succeed.

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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla, Tahira Dosani, and Vikas Raj, Accion Venture Lab

Small businesses are the engine of employment, contributing up to 85 percent of new full-time jobs in low-income countries, and two out of three new jobs in countries like the U.S. The IFC finds a strong correlation between the health of the small business community, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.

Despite these Herculean responsibilities, micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) the world over struggle to access the financing they need to maintain cash flow, hire new employees, purchase new inventory or equipment, and grow their businesses. The IFC estimates that the unmet demand for MSME finance in emerging markets is $2.1-2.6 trillion (around 1/3 of outstanding loan balances to this segment). Unlike larger firms that can access capital markets, MSMEs must seek financing from banks or non-bank finance companies (NBFCs). Yet traditional lending approaches often fail to address this “missing middle” because the cost of diligence and underwriting is too high relative to the potential revenues from the smaller loans that MSMEs need. This situation is worse in emerging markets because of a lack of reliable financial data and high levels of informality. According to the Harvard Business Review, the financial crisis only exacerbated the situation: borrower balance sheets are still recovering, and banks, faced with new regulatory requirements, have reduced the share of lending to MSMEs in 9 out of 13 OECD countries.

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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.