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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following is part of a blog series spotlighting views from participants in the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF).

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Two experiences with interest rate caps – in Kenya and Zambia – demonstrate the power of political forces to shape financial inclusion policies and may hold lessons for MSME lenders in other countries.

In a recent unpublished study, the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (formerly the Microfinance CEO Working Group) examined commonalities in the origins of interest rate caps in these two countries. In both cases, signs were clear that the general public was upset about the current state of loans and interest rates. Approaching elections increased the will among political leaders to make regulatory changes that would appeal to the public.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly and Elisabeth Rhyne, Director of Research and Managing Director, CFI

The World Bank is just days from releasing the next version of its Global Financial Inclusion Index (Findex), the authoritative data source on global progress toward financial inclusion. The dataset, which tracks financial inclusion in 150 countries, is released once every three years, and we have been waiting eagerly to see how things have changed since 2014. We are confident that the numbers will show enormous progress on the World Bank’s goal of universal access to financial accounts. But we wonder whether the news will also indicate that people are actually using those accounts and whether financial services are helping them achieve financial health, gain resilience and pursue opportunity – the ultimate goals of financial inclusion.

After we high-five the World Bank team for a job well-done, here are a few things that we will be looking for when we examine the new Findex numbers:

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New data shows mobile money is increasingly becoming a gateway to more advanced financial services in Kenya

> Posted by Beatrice Cheronoh and Nadia van de Walle, Research Associate and Senior Research Manager, InterMedia

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Financial access in Kenya is already very high, especially when compared to other countries in Africa and Asia. In this setting, the momentum around expanding access has plateaued, but a new narrative is taking hold – around deepening engagement with financial services, more active use, and use of a wider range of more advanced services. Although there was no increase in the share of the population that holds a registered financial account, the 2016 Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data shows that financial engagement is becoming more meaningful for those customers who are already included.

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If digital financial services are so convenient and affordable, why are uptake and usage rates among individuals with lower incomes so low? Monique Cohen explores the mismatch between products and money management needs.

> Posted by Monique Cohen

This maxim governs much of our financial lives, rich or poor. Yet, we offer financial services to the unbanked and underbanked, largely ignoring it. The thinking around customer centrality as it affects financial services for the poor emphasizes appropriately responding to people’s needs and wants for financial services. But, as Kim Wilson pointed out, this is still not happening:

We have an agenda, which is this: please be our customer, have your needs, express them so long as they are about digital payments or failing that, using a bank account – a lot – and preferably, digitally. Else, we don’t give a damn. We don’t care about your archaic methods… We desperately want and need you to modernize, to become just like us. Otherwise we have no justification for all the work we do and all the money we spend.

Until now the perceived drivers of uptake of digital financial services (DFS) have been their assumed attributes of convenience, timeliness and affordability, relative to current formal and informal financial service offerings. However, with uptake and usage levels of only 30 percent for digital financial services, it is clear that this rationale falls short. Impediments to high usage continue to be overlooked.

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Insights from new CFI Fellows research on integrating human touch in Kenya’s digital financial services landscape.

> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow

Mbugua, owner of a restaurant, a butchery, and a dry goods store in Nairobi, Kenya has actively used financial services to grow his businesses from the meager beginnings of a small stall selling boiled cow heads. He is currently juggling four digital loans and two microfinance loans. Whenever possible, Mbugua prefers to interact with his financers digitally to save time. Yet, like most of the Kenyans my research associate and I spoke with as part of our CFI Fellows research project, Mbugua considers in-person interaction to be critical at certain stages. “Face-to-face is tiresome. There’s a time factor,” he said. “But it’s 100 percent perfect. Your questions will be exhausted. And you can’t negotiate with the phone.”

Our research seeks to understand when and why customers prefer human over digital interfaces across their financial services customer journeys – and vice versa. We focused on value-added financial services, including loans, savings, and insurance, and we chose Kenya because of the country’s deep penetration and market maturity of mobile phone-based financial services. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 104 respondents.

We discovered that a “centaur” solution—one that unites the strengths of both tech and human touch—offers the most promise for both customers and financial service providers (FSPs) targeting the base of the pyramid.

Digital interfaces outperform human interaction in a number of areas: digital services are often more convenient (once you learn how to use them), more predictable and consistent (with the exception of loan approvals and rejections, which are often opaque), and less stressful for customers during collections. However, most Kenyans – even those who already use low-touch digital products – prefer to interact with a person face-to-face at key stages in their customer journey. We found that while Kenyans are very comfortable conducting transactions digitally, other key aspects of the financial service customer journey are not adequately handled by digital means alone.

Like most of our respondents, Mbugua wants to interact directly with a person to accomplish three critical tasks:

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> Posted by Brigitta Nyawira, Program Manager, Grameen Foundation

Alice is a smallholder farmer in Machakos, a semi-arid town east of Nairobi, where subsistence farming is prevalent. Most farmers in Machakos grow maize and other drought-resistant crops for domestic consumption and sell whatever little surplus they have at the gates of their farms and in local markets. Until recently, Alice struggled to make a decent living from her small plot of land and small grocery. She did not have the inputs required to increase her productivity, and her farming skills were basic at best, learned through season after season of trial and error. Farming was frustrating because it barely gave her enough money to feed her three children, take them to school, and pay hospital bills. But without capital and the requisite skills to expand her income sources, it was the only thing she could do.

Alice’s story is not uncommon. Smallholder farmers across Africa still face obstacles accessing suitable, affordable financial services. This is especially acute for women.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Client of Akiba Bank in Tanzania

Around the world today, financial service providers, technology entrepreneurs and policy makers are engaged in building a financial system that reaches out to previously excluded people, such as lower income people, very small businesses, rural dwellers, and women. Although this work is carried out in the name of the consumer, all too often, scant attention is paid to the real needs and desires consumers and very small enterprise owners have.

With that in mind, here is a thought experiment. A thought experiment is an “exercise of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” The question for this experiment is this:

Imagine that consumers were the creators of the inclusive finance system. What would such a system look like?

What characteristics would emerge if the needs, desires and preferences of the target customers of financial inclusion were the driving force to shape their services? The observations here are drawn from consumer research conducted or commissioned by the Center for Financial Inclusion, including research in Peru, Pakistan, Georgia and Benin for the Client Voice project of the Smart Campaign, in Kenya and India for our project on financial health, in India and Mexico for our study of financial capability, and again in Kenya and India for two CFI Fellows’ projects on the role of human touch in the digital age. I offer ten propositions based on this research.

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> Posted by Akhand Tiwari, Bhavana Srivastava, and Vijay Ravi, MicroSave

Loyalty Programs

In today’s world, loyalty programs are a dime a dozen, with everyone from retail stores to luxury hotels offering membership for even the smallest of transactions. A publication from Smith School of Business suggests that the average Canadian household is enrolled in no less than eight loyalty programs. In this context, it is pertinent to examine if loyalty programs actually serve their intended purpose. If yes, how specifically do they impact a company’s business?

The premise of all loyalty programs is that they promote continued patronage. In a world where there is often little variation between competitors’ offerings, a well-designed loyalty program could make all the difference for your business. After all, a good loyalty program could very well decide which airline you choose for your next business trip!

We make an important distinction here – between loyalty programs and rewards. While loyalty programs aim to instill continuous engagement, the focus of rewards is on pushing specific action. Rewards are target-oriented and last only for a limited period. To illustrate this, think of offers, such as zero-processing fees, which are designed to increase adoption of a credit product, and higher interest rates on term deposits, which promote savings.

Based on MicroSave’s experience on how low-income households exhibit loyalty towards their financial service providers – we have some useful insights.

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> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow and Independent Consultant

Building the right channels to serve the financially excluded is one of the most important (and daunting) challenges facing senior executives, boards and investors in the financial inclusion space. They are not alone. As digital technology disrupts a wide swath of industries, leading global consulting firms have engaged in research to understand how best to help companies configure and prioritize digital and human-based customer engagement channels. While affirming the importance of digital innovations and ongoing investment therein, Accenture also sees a need for curbed enthusiasm. “Customers aren’t as predictable as we like to think,” cautions a recent Accenture Strategy paper. “Profitability resides in the digital / physical blur.” Verint also commissioned research in twelve countries that found customers want “a human element” to remain part of customer service and that “those who receive more ‘human’ or traditional customer service display more positive behaviors toward brands.”

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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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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.