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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign
This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.
Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.
It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.
> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, CFI Analyst, with contributions from Alex Silva, Calmeadow Foundation
Are you a microfinance institution in the Middle East or North Africa (MENA) region? Would you like to improve your bottom-line and attract more investors? Here is one simple trick: improve your governance! A recent International Finance Corporation (IFC) paper focusing on MENA, Corporate Governance Success Stories, concludes that “good corporate governance can help companies improve their [financial] performance and gain access to capital,” and various stakeholders, such as institutes and regulators have been actively promoting strong corporate governance in the MENA region. As a result many MFIs in MENA have experienced an increase in access to finance, higher profitability, a reduction in organizational inefficiencies, and an increase in impact on sustainability, among other important growth factors.
One such MFI is the Pakistan-based NRSP Microfinance Bank, which went through a rigorous transformation in 2007 and set goals to improve corporate governance. NRSP focused on restructuring board and management roles, establishing board committees and governance policies, and developing a risk management framework with internal audit functions. Within two years of implementing these governance changes, NRSP saw a $1.7 million profit in the first year, a credit rating improvement from “stable” to “positive”, and an increase in board effectiveness with the inclusion of women and independent directors. At the same time its ability to leverage equity increased. Access to finance grew to four times equity.
> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI
A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.
In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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> Posted by Center Staff
Credit reporting systems are a critical component of a financial system’s infrastructure. They facilitate access to credit for all who can use it, protect clients from overindebtedness, and help providers manage risk and decrease costs. What’s the state of credit reporting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region? That’s the focus of the Arab Credit Reporting Guide, a new resource from the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The guide was launched earlier this week alongside a meeting between the region’s central banks’ governors. In short, the guide finds that MENA countries have come a long way in developing credit reporting systems in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go.
The guide examines the region – 19 countries in total – in the context of global trends and best practices in credit reporting. A regional overview sheds light on credit reporting as well as credit access and risk management in MENA, while the guide also provides detailed investigations into the practices and progress of individual countries. A composite index comprised of the key elements for a comprehensive credit information sharing system is applied to each of the studied countries, offering a quantified status on credit reporting in each.
What were the big findings?
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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla, Tahira Dosani, and Vikas Raj, Accion Venture Lab
Small businesses are the engine of employment, contributing up to 85 percent of new full-time jobs in low-income countries, and two out of three new jobs in countries like the U.S. The IFC finds a strong correlation between the health of the small business community, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.
Despite these Herculean responsibilities, micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) the world over struggle to access the financing they need to maintain cash flow, hire new employees, purchase new inventory or equipment, and grow their businesses. The IFC estimates that the unmet demand for MSME finance in emerging markets is $2.1-2.6 trillion (around 1/3 of outstanding loan balances to this segment). Unlike larger firms that can access capital markets, MSMEs must seek financing from banks or non-bank finance companies (NBFCs). Yet traditional lending approaches often fail to address this “missing middle” because the cost of diligence and underwriting is too high relative to the potential revenues from the smaller loans that MSMEs need. This situation is worse in emerging markets because of a lack of reliable financial data and high levels of informality. According to the Harvard Business Review, the financial crisis only exacerbated the situation: borrower balance sheets are still recovering, and banks, faced with new regulatory requirements, have reduced the share of lending to MSMEs in 9 out of 13 OECD countries.
> Posted by Center Staff
A new micro-pension platform targeting those working as domestic laborers, appropriately named Gift a Pension, launched in India last month. The platform is run by the Micro Pension Foundation (MPF) nonprofit and gives employers of domestic laborers a convenient way to support their workers in enrolling for the National Pension Scheme (NPS) Lite government product, a smaller version of the NPS offering. Across the country an estimated 40 million work for households in roles including maids, guards, cooks, and drivers. In the weeks since the program opened, over 1,000 domestic employers have registered themselves and gifted pensions to their workers. The platform offers more than its name suggests, as gifting workers five-year term life insurance is also available.
Here’s how the service works. First, MPF encourages employers ensure that their workers understand the structure and benefits of any accounts before enrollment happens. The Gift a Pension site includes a collection of educational tools and videos for employers to use to aid their workers’ familiarity with products and with the importance of managing finances for the long-term. Once this initial learning phase is complete, the employer registers themselves with the Gift a Pension site and enrolls their worker using information from the various documents that satisfy the necessary know-your-customer requirements. To open the account, the employer pays a one-time servicing fee (Rs 300) as well as the first contribution into the account. The worker then receives in the mail a guide to go along with their new account and their personal prepaid pension card. In a few weeks’ time the worker will also receive a government-issued Permanent Retirement Account Number (PRAN).
> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI
I have written in the past about some of the advantages of having women on boards, including research correlating women on boards with better bottom lines. I recently came across a fantastic piece published by the IFC, Women on Boards: A Conversation with (Male) Directors, which does a wonderful job of explaining more precisely how women add value to boards. Here are a few quotes from the male directors that contributed their thoughts to the publication.
- “When women are at the table, there is less joking around and more objective discussion. I’ve also found that women tend to be more sensible and more thoughtful. I think they care much more about how decisions made in the boardroom will impact people.”
- “Diversity brings more energy to the boardroom.”
- “Women provide good balance. The dynamics change because women are more willing to give the other side a chance than men.”
- “Women are more strategy oriented. They tend to look at where the company is heading, whether things are on the right track, and why the company might be diverging from its strategic goals.”
- “Women are more likely to be conservative and more attuned to good risk management. I don’t think they are more risk adverse but they have more of a long-term and sustainable approach to issues and less short-termism.”
So, how do we get more women on boards? All hands on deck.
> Posted by Anna Koblanck, Communications Officer, International Finance Corporation
The Sakombi neighborhood in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is not an area where traditional banks spend their marketing money. The people who live and work here are street hawkers and day laborers, low-income people in the informal economy who are generally considered risky and expensive customers by most financial institutions.
Microfinance institution FINCA thinks differently. It conducts regular sales drives in Sakombi and in similar neighborhoods across Kinshasa, offering new customers the chance to open a bank account with just a one dollar deposit. These marketing drives build on a network of agents that FINCA is rolling out with the help of mobile and biometric technology.