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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 Lizzy Bolze, CFI Analyst

Africa Board Fellows at the HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. Pictured left to right: Felix Achibiri, Fortis Microfinance Bank, Nigeria; Titos Macie, Socremo, Mozambique; Elijah Chol, South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility; Charles Njuguna, Faulu Microfinance Bank, Kenya

It seems almost commonplace for financial institutions across sub-Saharan Africa to be confronted with currency devaluation, interest rate caps, political conflicts, increasing capital requirements, and disruptive technologies – not to mention the impact of wars, disease, climate change, and natural disasters. With all these complications and risks, I am left to wonder how can boards of financial institutions in Africa focus on anything other than constantly extinguishing crises?

In March, alumni of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) attended the HBS-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance. During the weeklong executive education program, CFI staff had the opportunity to sit down with the four fellows pictured above to discuss some of the challenges they are facing.

A common challenge was the hardship caused by currency devaluations. MFIs often receive loans in U.S. dollars, and so as the value of local currency diminishes, squaring their balance sheets becomes increasingly tough. Elijah Chol of South Sudan reported that the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning announced a 500 percent devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound last December. At the South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility’s annual meeting a day later, the board was unable to take immediate action because the devaluation was so unexpected. Though prices in South Sudan’s market have since improved slightly, the impact of such extreme devaluation has posed great challenges across the microfinance sector.

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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 Center Staff

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.

We’re two days in! FI2020 Week thus far has been a whirlwind few days, with events all over the world, a handful of public webinars, and robust social media conversations. We hope you’ve had the opportunity to take part in the action!

To get you up to speed, though certainly not comprehensive, here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening.

In Bangladesh, BRAC conducted an internal debate about the impact and benefits of its own microfinance program.  Answering tough questions like “Does BRAC risk doing more harm than good by using microfinance in its model of fighting poverty?” staff shared their perspectives, providing insights into how to improve the program. Check out some of the presented arguments on BRAC’s Twitter feed.

In Nigeria, Accion and Accion Microfinance Bank discussed financial inclusion strategies for the country. The three biggest industry gaps identified were the lack of mobile and agent banking infrastructure, human capital in the microfinance banking sector, and a spirit of collaboration and partnership among the various players.  Moving forward, the discussion participants will apply greater focus on savings as a necessary service offering that can be improved.

The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) conducted a webinar on the lessons drawn from a six year project (2009 – 2015) carried out with 12 WSBI member banks aimed at creating usable savings services in the hands of the poor. One call to action from the webinar was the need for greater connectivity to combat the challenge of reaching clients in rural communities. As WSBI aims to add 400 million customers to its network by 2020, it will need to partner with more organizations in order to reach very remote village groups.

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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.