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> Posted by Saborni Poddar and Brett Hudson Matthews, Associate at MicroSave and Executive Director at My Oral Village

The financial inclusion industry often asks the question of how can we best configure mobile money products and services to support increased adoption and usage. But how about when prospective users are illiterate and innumerate (unable to decode large written numbers), as is the case for many unbanked individuals at the base of the pyramid?

In search of insights into designing mobile wallets for such illiterate and innumerate (oral) populations, we traveled through the Indian states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, interacting with potential users. As our conversations got underway, and we began to understand the implications of designing a mobile wallet that an oral individual can use with ease, we could visualize why a conventional mobile wallet design would not be as clear to a daily-wage unskilled laborer as it is to the readers of this blog.

To start with, almost everyone we talked to had a feature phone, but most used it only for voice calls and were unfamiliar with basic syntax and navigation rules. Most could not use an address book; each time they make a call, they dial numbers from scratch. This gave us a first-hand glimpse into the potential intimidation caused by technology.

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> Posted by Shreya Chatterjee, Senior Research Associate and Misha Sharma, Project Manager, IFMR LEAD

Group of people waiting to make their transactions at Padma’s house

It was almost three in the afternoon when we arrived at Padma’s house in the sleepy village of Katpadi in Tamil Nadu. In a state where 55 percent of women in rural areas don’t participate in the labor force, Padma is the only business correspondent (BC) in her village, working for the sole bank in the area. In 2006, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) passed guidelines that allowed banks to employ third party agents, using decentralized technology to provide banking services in rural and remote areas.

Padma works 12 hours a day, providing localized basic banking services to her immediate community. As a business correspondent, she helps customers open bank accounts, deposit and withdraw cash often linked to government schemes, link Aadhaar IDs with banking accounts, and even pay utility bills.

As part of our CFI Fellowship study on effective human touch in India’s digital age, we made a visit to Padma’s village to understand her work process as a business correspondent, the challenges she faces in her work, and how she perceives her customers’ readiness to move from cash based to digital financial services channels. There are pockets in India of staggering innovation and adoption of digital financial services. But they aren’t widespread, and the optimal mix of human touch versus digitized customer experiences remains elusive. Our CFI Fellowship project aims to better understand the barriers impeding digital financial services and how human touch can help to overcome these obstacles and improve client outcomes more broadly.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

At CFI we often talk about financial health as if it is a crisp, free-standing concept. Moreover, by connecting financial health to financial inclusion we imply – and hope – that we can affect financial health by offering the right kind of financial services and/or developing a person’s financial capabilities. However, while there is truth to this view, it is sometimes easy to overestimate the power of financial services. We need to think about how both financial and economic factors intertwine to create outcomes. If we compartmentalize financial actions, we ignore the very powerful economic factors that influence financial health.

As defined by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – and embraced by us at CFI – three elements must all be present to declare a person, family or microenterprise to be financially healthy:

  • Balanced day-to-day money management – outflows balanced with incomes over time.
  • Protection from shocks – ability to draw down, borrow or call upon resources to lessen the blow when bad things happen.
  • Pursuit of goals – ability to accumulate resources for medium to long-term purposes, whether personal or productive.

In speaking with low income people around the world, we find that many people intuitively define financial health in these terms, and nearly everyone tries to pursue financial health in their own lives. But achieving these three elements is not just a financial task. It requires both economic and financial actions. (It also hinges on personal choices and capabilities, but we will set these aside for now.)

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

Path to Bhutan’s top government offices

In 2014, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA), the country’s central bank, made a commitment under the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Maya Declaration to develop a national financial inclusion strategy. It backed the overall pledge with specific commitments detailing the main pieces of the strategy. Since then, it has diligently put these pieces into place. Over the past three years, the RMA created regulations for microfinance organizations (deposit-taking and non-deposit taking) and agent banking. It set up a mobile payments system, a credit bureau and a collateral registry. This is an impressive set of accomplishments for a country starting from a relatively blank slate in these areas.

But is it enough? I wonder whether these initiatives will spark the provision of financial services that contribute to the inclusive economic growth Bhutan is seeking.

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> Posted by Sabine Spohn, Senior Investment Specialist, Private Sector Operations Department, Asian Development Bank

The following post was originally published on the Asian Development Bank blog.

In late 2016, many presumed Indian microfinance institutions would be adversely affected by India’s sudden demonetization law. Surprisingly, events unfolded quite differently to expectations.

On November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal from circulation of all Rs500 and Rs1,000 bank notes in a bid to combat black money and curtail the use of counterfeit cash. The objective was also to slowly introduce the country’s population to a digital economy. The action was driven by good intentions, although it initially caused many disruptions in the economy.

In India, where ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department has been carrying out the Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program since 2012, many of our partner microfinance institutions temporarily stopped lending to low-income people as they were not clear how those loans would get repaid – in particular in rural areas. In the first few days and weeks, collection rates dropped to as little as 10-20 percent.

Five months after demonetization, the uncertainty has started to fade.

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> Posted by Sarah Rotman Parker, Director, the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and Sonja Kelly, Director, the Center for Financial Inclusion

The following post was originally published on the CGAP blog. 

Over the past year, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) have explored financial health in emerging markets. We wanted to understand whether the concept of financial health, promoted widely in the United States by CFSI, could be used as a relevant framework to understand consumers. Financial health is defined as coming about when your daily systems help you build resilience and pursue opportunities. Our working hypothesis was that financial health could serve as a method of tracking progress in emerging markets since it is what people strive to attain, and therefore is one of the core aims of financial inclusion.

Our work took us to rural and urban areas in Kenya and India. With the help of the Dalberg Design Impact Group and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we asked consumers in these markets questions about their financial lives. These questions ranged from how much money they could come up with if they liquidated all of their assets to whether their friends would help them financially in the case of an emergency (and about a hundred other questions in between these two ends of the spectrum).

The aim of the research was to identify the key indicators of financial health in a developing world context, similar to the eight key indicators that CFSI had identified for the U.S. market. We found that while financial health as a concept holds in countries like India and Kenya, the indicators to define and measure financial health look somewhat different from those in the United States. The resulting framework can be summed up as follows (and the full report is here).

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> Posted by Tanya Ladha, Senior Manager, ‎Center for Financial Services Innovation, and Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

Meet Shabana. She is a middle-aged woman, lives in a large metropolis and works at one of the city’s bustling train stations. One day, she suffered a severe workplace injury and wasn’t able to work for weeks. With no support from her employer, she realized how financially vulnerable she was, and decided at that moment to make a change. After recovering from her accident, she began saving almost 30 percent of her income, and after a year was shocked – and empowered – by the considerable financial cushion she had built herself.

Shabana’s story is one of resilience in the face of vulnerability, one of adapting daily habits, one of planning and achieving goals. It is a story of financial health, and it is universal. While Shabana lives in Mumbai, India, her story is relevant for millions of individuals around the world, both in developing and developed countries, including here in the U.S. It is this core concept that pushed the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), in partnership with the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore how a U.S.-oriented financial health framework could translate into a developing world context.

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> Posted by Deepak Saxena, George Cheriyan and Amol Kulkarni, CUTS International, India

The Consumer Care Center managed by CUTS International in Jaipur, Rajasthan

When a business makes a mistake, does that influence your decision to keep using its product or service? How about if that mistake costs you money and you can’t get the business to correct the mistake?

To date, the importance of efficient and effective grievance redress as a building block for consumer trust has unfortunately remained understated. Across sectors, focus remains predominantly on enabling access to goods and services, with limited thought on post-sale customer engagement and grievance redressal.

This holds true for the financial inclusion sector as well. The success of financial inclusion efforts have mostly been calculated in terms of number of accounts opened or the amount of credit disbursed. Limited thinking goes into putting in place timely and effective recourse processes capable of dealing with fraud and related consumer protection issues. In many countries, state capacity in managing consumer grievances has also remained limited. This is a huge missed opportunity. In the inclusive finance sector, more than in many other industries, establishing trust among first-time users of services is essential.

Consumer Care Centers in India

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> Posted by Lisa Kienzle and Gigi Gatti, Grameen Foundation

Nanays will use the Panalo system to conduct transactions for clients and provide them with receipts.

Women make great digital financial service (DFS) agents: they are often savvy at managing liquidity, effective at building trust, and perhaps most importantly, they are more effective at onboarding other women into DFS than men. This makes the recruitment and training of women agents an important strategy for closing the gender gaps in digital financial services and technology, and for ultimately ensuring universal financial inclusion.

Men in developing markets still outpace women in account ownership by 9 percent. The technology gap is even larger – women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Given the growing emphasis on digital solutions to drive financial inclusion, this technology gap could further widen the financial services gender divide if not explicitly taken into account in the design of digital solutions. Women agents are a crucial element of that design.

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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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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.