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

Ant Financial, the Chinese inclusive finance powerhouse founded by Alibaba Group, and Euronet Worldwide, a U.S. giant in the money transfer game, are in a bidding war over MoneyGram. Financially, this makes sense as the global remittance market is estimated at about US$600B and MoneyGram commands a market share of roughly 13 percent of the world’s largest remittance route, from the U.S. to Mexico.

When two large companies compete to acquire another large company you might hear about it on CNN Money and promptly move on to other thoughts. But this particular news struck me because it touches on three of the (many) insights about the future of financial inclusion that I took away from attending this year’s Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance just last month.

Big players will increasingly drive the financial inclusion sector moving forward while, in the past, only small companies served the financial needs of the low end market. Microfinance has shown the poor to be a commercially viable customer segment, and as competition heats up, many big financial players are looking for ways to better tap into the commercial potential of new clients at the base of the pyramid. These big players have the deep pockets to innovate, experiment, and take the risks required to figure out how best to serve the billions of people still financially excluded. In addition to Alibaba’s Ant Financial, China’s WeChat, the social messaging app which connects over 800 million people, now allows for money transfers.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2017 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place April 17 – 21, 2017 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2017 HBS-Accion Program builds on 11 successful years and over 700 alumni – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming.

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> Posted by Gracie Raver, Program Coordinator, CFI

Last week 69 financial inclusion leaders from 31 countries arrived at Harvard Business School’s campus to attend the 11th annual HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. The 2016 class brought together a diverse group of experienced leaders including financial service providers, investors, network practitioners, policy makers, and technology innovators to discuss the most pressing issues in the inclusive finance industry. The intensive six-day course was once again led by world-renowned HBS professors, Michael Chu and V. Kasturi Rangan, both senior affiliates of the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative. As the program coordinator for the 2016 program, I had the pleasure of attending the course as an observer.

The energy of the classroom was contagious, and thought-provoking conversations turned up everywhere. Even in the limited break time the schedule allowed, you found participants sharing thoughts in elevators or asking follow-up questions over the dinner table. Through immersion in case studies and group discussions, the participants explored some of the current challenges facing the field of financial inclusion. Each day’s topic focused on a new theme, and the professors asked class members to put themselves into the shoes of the executive leadership of organizations they were studying.

Participating in this extraordinary program has changed how I view inclusive finance, and in many ways, provided just as many questions as answers.  Below are some of my personal takeaways:

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2016 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place March 28 – April 2, 2016 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2016 HBS-Accion Program builds on ten successful years and over 600 alumni – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. Financial service providers participating in the program will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of today’s financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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> Posted by Nelly Agyemang-Gyamfi, Program Coordinator, CFI

On the 6th of April, 68 financial inclusion stakeholders from 23 countries across the globe arrived in (a thankfully snowless) Boston to commence the 10th annual HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. Over the past decade, the deeply immersive, week-long program has trained over 660 high-level executives from more than 250 organizations spanning 90 countries. As in past years, this year’s program was held on the beautiful campus of the Harvard Business School and led by world-renowned HBS professors Michael Chu and V. Kasturi Rangan. As a Center for Financial Inclusion staff member who helped organize the course, I was privileged to take part, and I offer these reflections on what I saw and learned.

Participants were exposed to a wide range of issues pertinent to inclusive finance, from managing political uncertainty to impact investing and measurement. This year, reflecting the changing landscape of inclusive finance, the course included seven new sessions including cases on China’s CreditEase, Massachusetts’ Pay-for-Success, and Peru’s Edyficar.

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> Posted by Alex Counts, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation

With increasing regularity, I hear people talking about a new concept: deploying funds to earn profit while at the same time solving complex social and environmental problems, also known as impact investing. One article that stood out for me, and in fact prompted me to write this, is “Good Investments” by Dan Morrell in the Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin. At one point the author writes: “What impact investing really needs, all agree, are pioneers.”

Impact investing advocates can sometimes give the impression that they have “outsmarted poverty” (and other societal problems) by discovering the need for this profit-making approach, one that allows high net worth individuals to further increase their assets while also having (in the words of another impact investor quoted in the HBS article) a “fabulous social impact.”

Count me as someone who does not feel that what “impact investing” needs now are “pioneers” per se. Rather, it needs pragmatic, risk-taking, deeply curious, and disciplined people with access to funding who can work collaboratively to move an old idea forward, bearing in mind the lessons of the past and the opportunities of the present.

In fact, the actual pioneers of impact investing began laying the groundwork for this latest incarnation decades ago. Think of the Ford Foundation’s work in the 1960s to establish, legitimize, and get U.S. government policy support for Program Related Investments, the “Philanthropy at Five [Percent]” movement in nineteenth century America and England, the Russell Sage Foundation’s financing of low-income housing in New York in the early 1900s, or, in more recent times, the Calvert Foundation, just to name a few.

Or simply consider the modern microfinance industry and how an ecosystem of financing mechanisms – including dozens of “microfinance investment vehicles” (MIVs) – grew up around it in the 1990s and 2000s. Even today, according to an important study by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and JPMorgan Social Finance, close to 40 percent of impact investments are in microfinance institutions (MFIs) or funds. Microfinance is the largest single sector for receiving impact investments, and is larger than its two closest competitors combined. Clearly there are strong linkages between microfinance and impact investing, and additional opportunities for sharing lessons.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The 2015 Harvard Business School – Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance is now accepting applications for what will be another exceptional week of learning and exchange among world leaders in financial inclusion. The program will take place April 6-11, 2015 at the HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 2015 HBS-Accion Program builds on nine successful years and over 550 participants – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, and other high-level professionals – from roughly 100 countries.

Today’s landscape of financial services for the base of the pyramid is increasingly complex, with a diversity of products, providers, and support organizations extending services to previously excluded populations. Disruptive technologies and new ways of doing business are creating new possibilities for reaching more people with more types of services. It’s an exciting time for financial inclusion, though for leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. Financial service providers participating in the program will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of today’s financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

What are the most important unanswered questions in financial inclusion?

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the small, idea-packed Conference on Financial Inclusion at Harvard Business School, organized by Professor Rajiv Lal. The attendees were a high-level microcosm of the financial inclusion world, a sort of mini-Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum. A prime purpose of the gathering was to identify a potential research agenda.

Among the ideas emerging from very rich conversations, I identified three distinct areas of research: business questions that could be addressed through HBS’s famous case method; research focused on regulation; and social science research focused on consumers. Because what one says at HBS stays at HBS, I cannot identify who offered what idea, but here is a brief summary.

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> Posted by Sarah Samuels, Operations Specialist, CFI

A few weeks ago, 70 financial inclusion leaders from around the globe made their way to Harvard Business School’s freshly blooming campus for the ninth annual HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. This year’s class was a diverse group of financial service providers, investors, regulators, policymakers, risk managers, and technology innovators, bringing their vast experience from 35 countries. The program content mirrored the industry’s transition from a microfinance focus toward a broader financial inclusion and impact investing scope. Renowned professors Michael Chu and V. Kasturi Rangan, both senior affiliates of Harvard’s Social Enterprise Initiative, led the six-day course.

The week began with vigor, with the group engaged in a lively discussion on the case of Grupo Elektra, a Mexican retail and finance corporation that began offering financial services after first creating a consumer retail network. The case sparked a lively debate about whether social intention is necessary for social impact. Elektra has brought financial services to millions of Mexicans, but has never identified its purpose as social. Can it receive recognition as a social venture? The question of whether social and financial returns work together or whether they are at odds reappeared throughout the week. It was an undeniably controversial but important concept, and increasingly so as it’s nearly impossible to talk about poverty alleviation these days without impact investing coming into the conversation. One day of the course was focused on the role of impact investors and their investee companies, both within the financial sector and beyond.

2014 HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance participants

As an observer of the course this year, I had the opportunity to see firsthand what hot-button issues prompted the most debate and disagreement. It is truly incredible how rich the quality of discussion is when you bring leaders from 35 different cultures together.

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> Posted by Center Staff

After eight programs spanning over 500 participants from roughly 100 countries, we are proud to announce that the annual executive education program jointly run by Harvard Business School (HBS) and Accion is now accepting applications for 2014. The program will take place April 21-26, 2014 at the HBS campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This year, the program has a new name. It is now the HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. This name change confirms a shift in course focus and approach that has been underway for some time, from an exclusive focus on microfinance to a broader financial inclusion scope.

Today’s financial inclusion landscape is changing rapidly, as new entrants, disruptive business models, and deeper understanding of client needs all challenge conventional wisdom. It is an exciting time, with new possibilities for reaching more people with an increasing array of financial services. For leaders steering their organizations through this landscape, the pace and magnitude of change may look overwhelming. In this program senior financial service providers will benefit from the guidance of some of the world’s best business minds to better understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of a more complex financial services marketplace. Policymakers, regulators, and investors will find it valuable to get a closer look at how the industry is evolving in countries around the world.

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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.