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With the weakening of institutional watchdogs and regulations for mortgage lending in the U.S., the future of consumer protection in financial services is jeopardized.

Free standing house with driveway

> Posted by Carmen Paraison, Senior Program Associate, The Smart Campaign

Can your skin color help predict whether you may be financially exploited in the United States? Unfortunately, even in 2018, the answer is still yes.

In February of this year, Wells Fargo was sued by the city of Sacramento, California for allegedly discriminating against black and Latino mortgage borrowers since 2004. The specific charge, raised against the country’s third-largest bank in terms of assets, was providing these clients with more expensive loans compared to those offered to white borrowers.

Across the country, in Baltimore, Maryland, a study that found that black homeowners were charged higher interest rates and disadvantaged at every stage in the borrowing process compared to similarly qualified white borrowers – even taking into account factors such as credit scores, income and down payments. Over the span of a 30-year loan, the researchers say, discrimination against black borrowers cost them an extra $14,904 each, compared with white borrowers.

Homeownership is one of the most important ways for working and middle class families to build generational wealth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 69 percent of a household’s net worth in America lies in the net equity in their home. And investigations have repeatedly shown that people of color pay a heftier price to achieve wealth than their white counterparts.

What are the economic implications of financially exploiting people of color in home ownership? More expensive mortgage loans translate into higher monthly payments, lower savings, and a higher risk of default and foreclosure. On a macro-level, consequences include a stagnant homeownership rate among people of color, a yawning (and growing) racial wealth gap, and continued institutional discrimination against people of color in the United States.

As a national consumer advocacy entity, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) is designed to investigate claims of nefarious behavior among financial service providers and ensure that providers treat consumers fairly. However, its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity was stripped of its power earlier this year, with the removal from its mandate of oversight and enforcement. Commenting on the move, Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform remarked, ‘‘These changes . . . threaten effective enforcement of civil rights laws, and increase the likelihood that people will continue to face discriminatory access and pricing as they navigate their economic lives.”

The burst of the U.S. housing bubble yielded the Great Recession, which spread throughout world. Its origins in reckless lending in the subprime market convinced many people involved in the financial sector that consumer protection was urgently needed. In response to this gap, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law was passed. However, the current administration has since rolled back banking regulations, making it harder to detect discriminatory mortgage lending practices. Signed in May 2018, the new Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act would exempt 85 percent of banks from reporting detailed information about mortgage loan applicants. This means it will be more difficult to identify systemic issues, conduct research about them, and respond with corrective action.

As borrowers of color in the U.S. continue to access credit with the goal of owning a home, and the steady deliberate weakening of institutional watchdogs and regulations continues, the future of consumer protection in financial services for all remains in jeopardy. As banks continue to backslide into more discriminatory and predatory practices towards people of color, we as consumers and advocates should continue to be aware of and vigilant about them.

Image credit: David Sawyer via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

> Posted by Habitat for Humanity International

Microfinance in Cambodia has seen tremendous growth throughout the past two decades. The first microfinance institutions were initially established by relief organizations to provide cash transfers to poor families, to build incomes and reduce poverty. Fast forward to 2015, and the financial landscape is thriving with over 45 regulated microfinance institutions (MFIs) operating in the country. Improved financial access is contributing to 7.3 percent GDP growth and reducing poverty rates for those living under $2 per day.

Despite impressive economic growth, housing quality for many Cambodians remains below standards. A 2014 study conducted by the Ministry of Planning in Cambodia revealed that nearly 27 percent of homes in rural areas still use temporary materials for walls and roughly 83 percent have temporary floors.

As migration brings more people to urban and peri-urban areas, and as a young population seeks to build new housing, there is a growing need for financial products that match the term and usage that housing requires. Recently, housing microfinance (usually characterized by larger loan amounts and longer terms than traditional microfinance) has gained traction in Cambodia as a funding source for home construction and home improvements for low income families.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Good morning! Freshly published is the latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. Among the stories in this week’s edition are the World Council receiving a USAID award to catalyze affordable housing in Haiti, a multi-partner initiative to train women across Nigeria to become mobile banking agents, and Tanzania setting a new financial inclusion goal. Here are a few more details:

  • The World Council with support from USAID and others will work directly with financial institutions and housing developers to help expand affordable housing financial products and services in Haiti.
  • The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is working with FirstBank to provide technical, business, and financial literacy training to 2,500 women across Nigeria to become agents for FirstBank’s mobile banking platform.
  • Last week Tanzania set a new goal of extending financial services access to 75 percent of the population in 2016 – as a follow-up to the goal of 55 percent in 2016, which was surpassed in 2014.

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 Bruce MacDonald, Senior Vice President, Communications, Accion

Embed from Getty Images

My first love was Susan Morasky, but my second – and far more enduring – has been Africa. For that I credit Mrs. Walden, my third-grade teacher, who encouraged us to think big.

Sadly, even the loves of your life can let you down. In Nairobi last week to promote the Africa Board Fellowship, our new program on governance for sub-Saharan MFIs, all went well. Until, that is, I tried to go home. A 20-minute taxi ride to the airport became an hour, then two, then four.

I missed the KLM flight to Amsterdam, and of course the connecting flight home. As I sat in the cab, fuming in First-World frustration, I peppered the driver with questions. “What’s the cause of this?” Rain. “Can’t you go another way?” This is the only way. “Where are all the policemen directing traffic?” Incoherent response. And, finally, snippily, “How on earth do you people put up with this?” Obviously embarrassed, he finally stopped answering my questions.

Everything’s relative, especially in Africa – something I should have remembered, given the banking and finance conference I’d just come from, and the presentation by Amish Gupta, head of investment banking at Standard Investment Bank in Nairobi.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 40 percent of families live in houses to which they have no title or that lack sewage systems, water, electricity, or proper building materials, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). However, current annual investments in living solutions by the base of the pyramid in LAC total $56.7 billion, confirming the increasing buying power of this segment and the growing opportunity in developing housing finance business models.

A few weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the IDB to launch the report Many Paths to a Home: Emerging Business Models for Latin America and the Caribbean’s Base of the Pyramid. The report was written by Christy Stickney for the Opportunities for the Majority Initiative (OMJ), a part of the Private Sector Group of the Inter-American Development Bank. OMJ provides finance to small, medium-sized, and large companies, as well as financial institutions and funds to support the development and expansion of business models that serve BoP markets.

The report analyses cases within OMJ’s housing portfolio in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. Stickney found  two main housing solutions for the BoP, a “complete” housing solution and an “incremental” housing solution.

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> Posted by Patrick Kelley, Director of Housing Finance and Market Development, Habitat for Humanity International

This post is part of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Expert Exchange: Building A Movement Toward Financial Inclusion by 2020, cultivating conversation around the goal of reaching full financial inclusion by 2020. For further questions about this series, write to Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion.

June 2012 has been on my calendar for a while. Three years ago this month, I was lured into my first home purchase with the federal homebuyer tax credit, and all my requirements as a purchaser will now soon be over.

Before committing to buying a home, I poured hours into research, comparison shopping, and badgering friends and family for advice. I was aware that prudent research and good decisions could be a springboard for the financial future of my family. A misstep could be treacherous and weigh on us for years.

Indeed, buying a home is usually the largest financial decision in our lives in the U.S. And, we are increasingly finding that housing and property play a similar role in the financial lives of the poor. Consider the following evidence: Read the rest of this entry »

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