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> Posted by Kimberly Lei Pang, Digital Learning Specialist, UNICEF

In the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the magical word “sesame” was used to open the seal of a cave where Ali Baba found hidden treasure. In China today, the same word is connected to another kind of magic, one that reveals hidden identities of the socially and economically disadvantaged. Sesame Credit (“芝麻信用” in Mandarin) is a product launched by Alibaba that pulls from transaction records on e-commerce platforms to understand a person or company’s creditworthiness. Such innovation in credit scoring is part of the “social credit system” that the Chinese government is building to make up for the longstanding shortage of credit data.

Access to credit, a major indicator of financial inclusion, has gained increasing attention from Chinese policymakers in recent years. For a country experiencing an economic slowdown and widening income gap between the rich and the poor, credit accessibility has the potential to spur growth and level the playing field for the poor. However, despite China’s efforts to improve financial access, a large portion of its population neither uses nor has access to credit. Data from the World Bank’s Global Findex study showed that Chinese people (aged 15+) have relatively high levels of formal bank account ownership (79 percent, 2014) but low levels of credit usage (14 percent, 2014). In fact, China’s formal credit use is the lowest among the five BRICS economies. Aside from the rigidity and costliness of financial institutions, a significant barrier to borrowing is the lack of reliable credit scoring in China. Established just 11 years ago, China’s credit bureau CCRC covers credit profiles for only a quarter of China’s 1.4 billion population and shares that information only with selected banks. Lenders thus often have no access to borrowers’ financial histories and tend to make rather arbitrary decisions on borrowers’ creditworthiness. As a result, many individuals and microenterprises find it difficult to get a loan, as steady employment and collateral assets are commonly required for formal credit.

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> Posted by Robin Brazier, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

Every year on March 8th we honor women around the world by celebrating International Women’s Day. This international holiday not only recognizes women’s valuable achievements and contributions to society, it recognizes the work that still needs to be done to create a more inclusive, gender equal world.

This day resonates especially strongly this year, with the International Women’s Strike also taking place today. For the worldwide strike, women are encouraged to not participate in paid or unpaid work and to avoid spending money – with the aim of demonstrating women’s integral professional and economic role in society. Over 50 countries around the world are participating in the strike, from Canada to Cambodia.

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> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

sewingLimited access to credit in the developing world is often exacerbated by conflict, which presents a strong demand for microfinance. In Iraq, for example, only 11 percent of adults hold an account at a formal financial institution, according to the 2014 Global Findex. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, is helping to build a more inclusive financial sector in Iraq through its partnership with Vitas Iraq, a subsidiary of Global Communities, which is a non-profit development organization that partners with local stakeholders across a range of topic areas. Vitas Iraq established Al Tamweel Al Saree LLC (ATAS) as the financing vehicle to support expansion of its operations. In 2012, OPIC provided ATAS with a direct loan to enable the expansion of Vitas Iraq’s portfolio of loans to individuals and to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME), thereby expanding financial access in Iraq.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

It is 2017. Why would millions of women around the world feel the need to march for equality? Is half the world’s population actually oppressed? Let’s take a look at the financial inclusion gender gap. And given the relationship between financial inclusion and financial health, let’s also examine how the financial well-being of women is systemically compromised. Here are some of the ways that our financial worlds exclude or marginalize women, ultimately resulting in their being more financially vulnerable and more likely to live in poverty than men. In outlining these ways I pull heavily from an Ellevest guide called “Mind the Gap”, which highlights and quantifies a number of ways women in the United States still face financial inequalities. Though these Ellevest figures are for the U.S., these gender gaps are even more prevalent in nearly all other countries around the world.

1. Gender pay gap – The range varies, with women of color making less, but on average, women in the U.S. make 78 cents to every $1 a man makes. This stems from a number of things, including implicit gender biases and the fact that women are less likely to ask for raises (and when they do, they are more likely to be punished in the workplace for it – see evidence here and here). This current reality costs the average woman in the United States $1,300,000 over her lifetime!

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

Commercial banks that are pursuing financial inclusion strategies are increasingly focused on designing a positive customer experience when targeting underbanked customers in emerging markets. CFI’s most recent publication, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, a joint publication with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), illustrates how this aspect of bank activities has emerged.

Based on in-depth interviews with 24 banks in emerging markets, the report examines 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.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

When it comes to financial inclusion, as is true in many sectors these days, sexy start-ups and disruptive innovators often occupy the spotlight. But away from the glare, traditional banks are getting on with the work and making an enormous difference. In The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, produced in a partnership between the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and CFI, we explore how banks are innovating to include new customers.

Given the headlines, it may be a surprise to hear that even today the overwhelming majority of new accounts are opened at formal financial institutions, not mobile money outlets. Thanks to the Global Findex, we know that over 720 million adults accessed formal financial services for the first time between 2011 and 2014, 90 percent of these new accounts were opened at formal financial institutions. Of the 720 million total new accounts, only 54 million used mobile money as their primary account.

How are banks expanding customer outreach?

Through in-depth interviews, leaders from 24 national, regional, and global banks told us about the opportunities and challenges they face while reaching the unbanked and underbanked. Each bank has its own particular story. In the aggregate, their stories give insight into how banks are evolving to meet people where they are and serve population segments that have been traditionally excluded.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

South Africa’s largest mobile phone operator, Vodacom, announced last month that it will stop offering its mobile-banking product M-Pesa in the country at the end of June. M-Pesa is sustained by large numbers of users but, given the widespread presence of banking services throughout South Africa, fewer customers are taking up the service than in other African markets.

“The business sustainability of M-Pesa is predicated on achieving a critical mass of users. Based on our revised projections and high levels of financial inclusion in SA there is little prospect of the M-Pesa product achieving this in its current format in the mid-term,” CEO Shameel Joosub said in Vodacom’s statement.

M-Pesa, which is a runaway success in Kenya, its flagship country, had more than 25 million customers across 11 countries at the end of March, a 27 percent increase over the previous year.

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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Financial Inclusion Consultant and Sarah Willis, MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation’s goal is to improve financial inclusion across its footprint, which includes economically and geographically diverse markets. Ensuring that low- and moderate-income families in these markets can acquire and successfully use the products and services they need to build a better, more secure life is complex and therefore requires innovative solutions that reach different consumers in different ways.

In China, our newest approach to improving the financial health of everyday consumers is through harnessing the power of social entrepreneurs. As part of a broader global push to strengthen ventures and organizations working in the area of financial inclusion, we’ve teamed up with Verb to run a series of competitions, called Inclusion Plus. Beginning on May 19, 2016 we will invite social enterprises (nonprofit and for-profit alike) throughout China that are focused on increasing access and use of financial services among low- to moderate-income people to enter their products, services, or programs for the chance to win grant capital and mentoring from MetLife advisors.

Opening a competition in China meant we needed to better understand the local financial inclusion landscape. We know that the rapid economic growth in China over the past 20 years has been the envy of the world. More surprisingly, however, is that between 2011 and 2014 China made significant strides toward financial inclusion adding around 180 million adult account holders, bringing the number of adult account holders to 79 percent of the population. According to the 2014 Global Findex, these account holders include marginalized groups such as women and poorer rural households, though the bulk of China’s unbanked population resides in rural areas, and over half of whom are women. As such, the Foundation’s focus for the Inclusion Plus competition is on ensuring the unbanked or underserved populations, such as low-wage workers, smallholder farmers, small business owners, and migrant workers have access to affordable and convenient financial services and products which focus on day-to-day financial well-being.

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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 David Tuesta, BBVA, and Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

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

YOU are a beneficiary of data. The materials in those shoes you are wearing were chosen over other materials because of data on cost, durability, and consumer opinion. When you go to the supermarket, you can easily find the chocolate bars because data told company marketers that if the chocolate bars are at the front of the store, consumers will be more likely to buy them. When you use public transportation, the fare you pay is based on data on the cost of the system and estimates of how many riders there will be.

Some people think data is boring. For those people, we say “tough luck.” Data is inevitable. Data provides the information on which economic decisions are based. More data provides more knowledge, information and transparency, helping all economic agents make better decisions, and through this, increasing society`s welfare.

It is no wonder, therefore, that data is critical for financial inclusion, as the financial services industry expands its focus toward harder to reach and lower income populations. The data we have on consumers helps to better understand how quickly financial inclusion is catching on and to tool financial services products appropriately to different market segments. Data at higher levels helps too: information about financial services providers is essential for regulators to monitor the market. Data matters, and it will shape the path of financial inclusion.

Last month at the invitation and of the Inter-American Development Bank we met at the IDB’s Washington, D.C. headquarters with a group of people from many institutions across the financial services industry from large international organizations to small research institutions to global banks to take stock of what data is out there, how much information could be available, how it can best be used, and how data efforts can be improved. There have been strong efforts to improve data from the demand side (customers), such as the Global Findex. Despite many data collection initiatives on the supply side (providers), there are still gaps that could be important for improving and evaluating convenience and
accessibility of potential financial services for those who are unbanked.
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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.