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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

We’ve been running the CFI Fellows Program for almost two years, with generous funding this year from the Rockefeller Foundation. The program has been a terrific experiment for many reasons. Now, while our current cohort of fellows is hard at work conducting their research, is a great time to stop and share some lessons we’ve learned along the way. The findings emerging from the program have also quickly become part of the continued learning and development of our expertise as an organization. Our staff engage closely with the fellows as they work, drawing from and contributing to their expert-level knowledge. And, on a personal level, I have come to understand financial inclusion in new ways.

As we’ve sourced topics, selected fellows, and engaged with knowledge communities, we have learned a great deal about people, organizations, technology and global trends. (You can see some of the specific findings coming out of the program here.) We also have gleaned observations about the nature of inquiry in financial inclusion, who cares about deeply understanding financial inclusion, and why financial inclusion matters.

Here are the top 10 things that I’ve learned thus far in the process of working on the CFI Fellows Program.
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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, and Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

As we approach the World Bank Annual Meetings this year in Washington, D.C., one topic world leaders will discuss is how to reach universal financial access by 2020. But there is a resounding dissonance between enthusiasm for one of the most-touted solutions to financial exclusion and the evidence to date.

We’re talking about the fervor with which shifting government welfare payments to electronic form (government-to-person or G2P payments) is put forward as a quick route toward universal access. The evidence we’ve seen suggests that while moving G2P to electronic form has important benefits, clients are not yet benefitting from meaningful increases in financial inclusion.

The argument in favor of G2P electronic payments for financial inclusion is simple. Many governments offer cash transfers to millions of people at or below the poverty line, most of whom are not connected to the formal financial system. If these cash transfers are funneled into bank accounts rather than paid directly out in cash, these people immediately gain an on-ramp to financial services.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Looking Beyond [Universal Financial] Access

CFI defines Financial Inclusion as “a state in which everyone who can use them has access to a full suite of quality financial services…”

The World Bank’s latest edition of the Global Findex revealed that between 2011 and 2014 over 700 million people were newly financially included, at least according to the top line metric of account ownership. The Universal Financial Access program continues to drive home the message that financial access is within reach, even possibly by 2020. We at CFI are now shifting our focus to the other elements of financial inclusion, those which we have always stood by and advocated for, but those that will certainly take longer than 2020 to reach.

Our definition continues:

“… provided at affordable prices, in a convenient manner, with respect and dignity. Financial services are delivered by a range of providers, in a stable, competitive market to financially capable clients.”

In this issue of our ongoing Financial Inclusion 2020 e-magazine series you will find insights from recent or ongoing CFI research projects. In a rundown of our Business of Financial Inclusion report, you will hear what commercial bank managers told us about the opportunities and challenges that they face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. You will also dive into how commercial banks are partnering with financial technology startups to serve new customers and broaden their product offerings. In the e-zine’s research spotlight, we take a critical look at how effective G2P payments have been in advancing financial inclusion. We also explore the role of microfinance in microenterprise growth. In addition, we discuss the importance of two emerging concepts, financial health and financial capability, and what these two frameworks mean for regulators, providers, and customers.

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> Posted by Guy Stuart, Ph.D., Executive Director, Microfinance Opportunities

Can government-to-person (G2P) payments to low-income beneficiaries translate into their financial inclusion? One way this might happen is if those beneficiaries can gain experience in dealing with a formal financial service provider (FSP) when they go to pick up their payments. This is especially the case where the government pays the beneficiaries of the program through a digital channel, such as a debit card or mobile money, and the payment pick up process gives beneficiaries the chance to interact directly with this new technology. Furthermore, given that G2P programs are often targeted at women, there is the potential for these programs to increase the inclusion of the half of the population traditionally more excluded from formal financial services.

As part of the Center for Financial Inclusion Fellows Program, Microfinance Opportunities, in partnership with the Pakistan Microfinance Network and Centro de Formación Empresarial de la Fundación de Mario Santo Domingo, looked at this issue as part of a larger project on the relationship between G2P payments and financial inclusion. For this project we analyzed global survey data as well as conducted field research in Colombia and Pakistan—two countries with large, well-established G2P programs called Familias en Acción (Familias) and the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) respectively. The field research involved focus group discussions with the beneficiaries of the programs and, in Pakistan, a series of observations of transactions at the shops of agents of one of the commercial banks distributing payments to the beneficiaries of BISP.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

A lot of money is being spent on financial education—and we’d like to see it spent more effectively. We still don’t know all that is needed about what works, but based on our scan of the current landscape for financial capability-building innovations, we can already recommend six major shifts in how financial capability resources are deployed.

The first three recommendations relate to who is building financial capability.

1. Bring financial capability efforts closer to the actual use of financial services by enabling providers to take a greater role.

2. Shift the expectation that the government is responsible for financial capability to an expectation of shared responsibility among all stakeholders, including financial service providers and other institutions.

3. Engage organizations serving BoP constituencies, from government social service agencies to employers to non-profits.

This calls for “all hands on deck.” We argue, first and foremost, that providers can and should take a primary role in building financial capability, as they are best equipped to reach customers at teachable moments and to help them learn by doing. Many providers are already spending significant resources on financial education. They could have a much greater return on their investment if they focused those resources on embedding financial capability into product design and delivery, looking at all the touch points in the customer experience as opportunities to help customers use products more successfully.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

2652377697_7cd2f08d4e_oAging is an issue that we all hope to face personally, if we haven’t already. As we prepare to participate in European Microfinance Week, we are more convinced than ever that this is a critical topic for the financial inclusion community to address. (If you are planning to be at European Microfinance Week too, make sure to check out our panel on the Sustainable Development Goals and financial inclusion!) In Europe, the aging of the population is well acknowledged. With average life expectancy in Europe among the highest in the world, at 77 years, the proportion of the population reaching older age is naturally growing. About 25 percent of Europe’s population is now over the age of 60, and that percentage is set to rise. The aging of the population is well understood in Europe, but what is less recognized is that the middle and lower-middle income countries of the world – the countries that encompass most of the world’s population – are already beginning to experience the same older age population boom. In most middle income countries, from Mexico to China, over-60s are the fastest growing cohort of the population. Aging is a product of successful development. Increased life expectancy, better family planning mechanisms, and higher quality of life all contribute to growth in the proportion of the population that is older.

Aging is a reality, but can it also represent an opportunity for financial institutions? The smart money is on providers who recognize that the answer is yes, and work to figure out how to respond.

We’ve created a list of activities, some practical and some research-oriented, we think would be valuable to close the gaps in financial inclusion for older people and for younger people who want to prepare for their older age. And, frankly, we would love for you to steal these ideas!

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> Posted by Michael Miebach, President, Middle East and Africa, MasterCard

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

FI2020 Week offers a good opportunity to review the findings in the FI2020 Progress Report and to consider actions the global community needs to take to advance financial inclusion. This is of particular interest to me as I work every day to expand MasterCard’s payments platform in the Middle East and Africa, and in a volunteer capacity, I also serve on the board of directors of Accion.

The report asserts that it’s not enough to “build the rails” to enable payment and transaction access, but that “providers, regulators and support institutions need to ensure that the financial services that follow provide value and quality to the passengers who climb aboard.” Here is where interoperability is essential—if last mile customers are to benefit. Banks, telcos, merchants, and governments must be connected—despite different rules and technologies—in a way that is seamless to the user. From a customer perspective, that means ubiquity, safety, and utility—the trifecta of success in financial inclusion. It won’t work if all the stakeholders are competing to create their own end-to-end solutions, or operating in silos. It won’t work if we are creating islands, where the unbanked transact with each other and where data is used in proprietary ways to support individual business models, rather than being shared as a public good.

Now, a parent in Zimbabwe sends money to his daughter studying at university in South Africa using a mobile money operator connected to the global banking system. All he needs to do is go to an EcoCash agent and top up his mobile money account. His daughter then accesses the funds using a MasterCard debit card linked to the same EcoCash mobile money account to purchase text books, and pay university fees as well as other day-to-day expenses while at university in South Africa. This is ubiquity, safety, and utility put into action.
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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

Of the 700 million new accounts that the Global Findex reports were opened from 2011 to 2014:

  • Banks and other financial institutions accounted for 550 million;
  • Mobile network operators accounted for 100-240 million, depending on your source and methodology;
  • Microfinance institutions accounted for 50 million.

These numbers are rough and involve some overlap—but they point to the continued importance of commercial banks in financial inclusion. Put another way, of the 3.2 billion accounts reported in the 2014 Findex, 3.1 billion were accounts with a financial institution.

That’s why I was so interested in hearing what the commercial bankers had to say at an Institute of International Finance (IIF) roundtable held in Lima on October 9 alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) / World Bank meetings. The strategies they discussed for reaching the BoP were not new to those immersed in the financial inclusion world, but it was heartening to hear their commitment to putting those strategies into operation. Here are a few of the points from the discussion:

Use data to understand customers. Now more than ever, there is a wealth of available data to help us better understand customers at the base of the pyramid. These new customer insights are opening up new practices – from on-boarding, to cross-selling, to risk management. Data analytics can also enable cost reductions on credit and insurance. For example, ecommerce platforms for small manufacturers can facilitate credit offers and then arrange for automatic repayment from the ecommerce activity itself. This innovative use of data allows financing at half the cost.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.

In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

We are looking for four research fellows to explore some of the most relevant and exciting questions facing the financial inclusion community. Interested?

Before answering, some background. A few months ago we articulated some ambitious unanswered questions that we think will propel financial inclusion forward, and offered the space for you to contribute questions, too (many thanks to those of you who made suggestions!). Since the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is committed to figuring out what is working in financial inclusion and worth replicating, we have made it a priority to partner this year with researchers to explore some of these questions in greater detail.

And that’s where you come in.

We are looking for researchers who are interested in becoming fellows for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s brand new Fellows Program. The Fellows Program will empower independent researchers to systematically analyze some of the most important and critical challenges facing the industry. This year, we are selecting four fellows to explore the following topics:

  • What are the conditions for “on-ramps” to lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access and the Better Than Cash Alliance’s pursuit of G2P payments, both of which focus on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to greater inclusion, through either active account usage or access to additional products. What cases demonstrate successful on-ramps and what factors or strategies enabled deeper inclusion to take place? Research could examine one or several examples.

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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.