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> Posted by Robert Stone, Project Director, Savings at the Frontier

In his excellent debunking of the myth that technology solves everything, Geek Heresy, Kentaro Toyama argues that “technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces… Even in a world of abundant technology, there is no social change without change in people.” That means a change in their capabilities, in the broadest sense, as defined by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher. In Sen’s work, especially in The Idea of Justice, he argues that justice requires people to have the freedom to do what they would choose to do if they could, if they had the capability to choose.

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> Posted by Lara Storm and Nikhil Gehani, MIX

As financial services continue on the path to digitization, the amount of data available is expanding at a rapid pace. While gaps remain – most notably when it comes to quality and usage – the financial inclusion community has made significant progress in collecting timely, reliable and useful data. Yet no matter how much the flow of data improves, a key challenge persists: We are data rich and information poor. The late Hans Rosling left us with the simple truth that, “Having the data is not enough.”

The growing libraries of data make it difficult to separate the signal from the noise; actionable intelligence is sometimes obscured by the volume of available data points. The rapid uptake of digital financial services in low- and middle-income countries has contributed to the expansion of available data and shows no signs of slowing. The challenge presented to policy makers, financial service providers (FSPs) and funders is to derive insights that can inform decisions related to financial inclusion – without being buried in the avalanche of data.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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> 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.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Last Thursday the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) launched The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets. Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report explores the challenges and opportunities banks face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. It shines a spotlight on banks as leaders in advancing financial inclusion and discusses specific strategies related to technology, data, partnerships, financial capability, and other key issues, and concludes with recommendations for action.

In the following video, the report’s primary author Susy Cheston interviews Dr. William Derban, Director of Inclusive Banking & Corporate Social Responsibility at Fidelity Bank Ghana and one of the 24 bankers interviewed for the report. In their informal and in-depth conversation, Ms. Cheston and Dr. Derban discuss, among other topics, why Fidelity Bank Ghana has decided to engage in financial inclusion (hint: it’s not just about CSR), their commitment to always putting the customer first, their plan to reach viability, and the benefits they have gained through technology and partnerships.

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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

West Africa is the second-fastest growing regional economy in Africa. Its GDP is more than double that of East Africa. However, its impact investing landscape doesn’t reflect this.

There are currently 45 impact investors active in the region, including 14 development finance institutions (DFIs) and 31 non-DFIs. Direct impact investments deployed in the region totaled $6.8 billion between 2005 and 2015. This is small relative to East Africa, which has over 150 investors and $9.3 billion in deployments on the books for roughly that same time period. Nevertheless, the investing trends in West Africa are encouraging, according to The Landscape for Impact Investing in West Africa, the third in a series of regional market landscaping studies published by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

The main barriers to impact investment in the region, according to the GIIN, include a lack of investment readiness among entrepreneurs and investees (in part due to difficulty obtaining bank financing), unpredictable policy environments, difficulty raising capital locally (among fund managers) compared to global standards, few exit examples, and macroeconomic and political instability. That is a truly daunting array of challenges. While in recent years there has been strong growth and investment in ecosystem actors such as incubators, accelerators, associations, and technical assistance providers, the ecosystem is not at sufficient scale to service the needs of the region.

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> Posted by Rafe Mazer, Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP

CGAP recently launched a Mystery Shopping Technical Guide, based on our experiences sending lower-income consumers to seek financial products in markets as diverse as Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.

The method of training actual consumers to conduct mystery shopping has proven helpful to understand the challenges they face in achieving financial access and receiving quality product advice. In several markets we found that sales staff often restrict information on fees and charges and do not provide consumers with the lowest cost product option that matches their needs. For example, in Mexico and Peru we saw sales staff who neglected to offer low-fee savings products available at their institution, while in Ghana sales staff never mentioned the APR of a loan, as they are required by law to do. In Malaysia, insurance sales staff did not use the mandatory Customer Fact Find Form which helps assess customers’ needs and product suitability.

These findings are not surprising to those who study client protection and financial advice, and studies in markets such as the U.S. and India have found similar issues with sales staff. All of this raises a fairly important question of “Can we fix financial advice from frontline bank staff?” Or is the incentive to mis-sell too great and monitoring a sufficient number of individual sales practices too burdensome? This is a discussion I have had with regulators. How do you use policy to drive behavior change in a market? The short answer is that it’s not easy; the long answer is that behaviorally-informed policies, product regulation, and market monitoring tools can help.

But what about the committed leadership of organizations that have signed on to the Smart Campaign (which include providers we have visited during these mystery shopping exercises)? If mystery shopping shows that sales staff do not always keep the customer’s best interests in mind, can we fix this with provider or industry-level changes in sales practices or perhaps through sales staff training? I would like to take advantage of this forum to hear from providers who have implemented policies to fix sales staff misconduct so we can start to document good practices for monitoring sales staff behavior. To help kick things off, here are a few ideas from my side, based on our mystery shopping work:

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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are a new publication from GSMA that outlines operational guidelines for mobile money providers offering interoperable services, the Bank of Ghana issuing logos to licensed microfinance institutions so that they’re discernible from unlicensed ones, and, in the United States, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to target incidences of redlining (the practice of lenders charging minorities more for products or excluding them from services altogether). Here are a few more details:

  • Account-to-account mobile money interoperability can bring significant benefits to providers and customers if conducted correctly, but weak implementation can bring a slew of negative ramifications; the new GSMA report highlights key requirements for effective interoperability and actions for providers to realize them.
  • To combat unlicensed microfinance institutions frauding clients in Ghana, the government revealed a new system of logos to be issued to licensed MFIs, helping clients know which institutions they can and can’t trust.
  • At a recent conference, officials from HUD and CFPB, citing recent cases of redlining, announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding to work together in sharing information and investigating mortgage lending discrimination.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to Eric Zuehlke at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Shameran Abed, Director, BRAC Microfinance Program

Shameran Abed, BRAC’s Director of Microfinance, joined the Microfinance CEO Working Group in January. He joins the Working Group’s efforts to support the positive development of the microfinance industry and brings tremendous insight into the discussion on pathways out of poverty.

This month, the results from six randomized control trials (RCTs), published in Science magazine highlighted a model of development that is an adaptable and exportable solution able to raise households from the worst forms of destitution and put them onto a pathway of self-reliance. The graduation approach – financial services integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services – is gaining steady recognition for its astonishing ability to transform the lives of the poorest.

These findings can be contrasted with the results of six RCTs published in January by the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, which cited limited evidence of “microcredit” alone transforming the lives of the poor.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Last week some Democrats blasted conservative U.S. Senator Rand Paul for saying that many people who receive Social Security disability benefits are gaming the system. “What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts — join the club,” he said, drawing a few laughs from the audience. “Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has back pain.”

Hyperbolic and a little mean. Okay, a lot mean. And Rand Paul’s opposition to the Senate’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an outrage, but we should not overlook that on this issue of fraud and waste in the Social Security disability system, there is a lot of truth to what he says – and the system is in need of reform.

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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.