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> Posted by Tilman Ehrbeck, Partner, Omidyar Network

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

The digitization of the retail financial services front-end has the potential to unlock access to formal financial services for the 45 percent of working-age adults in emerging markets who are currently disconnected from the global economy. A recent McKinsey & Company study estimates that digital finance could reach the bulk of today’s excluded, mobilize new deposits and expand credit, adding six percentage points to emerging market GDP in 10 years-time, worth some $3.7 trillion. The driving force behind the digitization of retail financial services in emerging markets is the mobile phone. Already today, more people worldwide own a mobile phone than a bank account and by 2020, 80 percent of working-age adults will have a smartphone in their pocket. But to capture this opportunity, a lot still has to come together.

To begin with, the mobile infrastructure needs to be expanded. Data plans can still be very expensive in emerging markets, and low-cost smartphones have limited memory, which means people can use only a few apps. In fact, most emerging market users are connected via 2G feature phones, hindering a number of financial innovations from running on them.

But things are looking up.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects mini campaign. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

Digital credit is growing fast in developing markets, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lenders such as M-Shwari, Jumo, M-Pawa, Eazzy Loan, Branch, EcoCashLoan, Timiza, KCG M-Pesa and others are attracting interest and investment. They are seen as having the potential to improve financial access and to make banking with poor clients more feasible and sustainable through technology that reduces underwriting and infrastructure costs. They offer small or nano loans starting as low as $5 or $10 dollars, make use of simple mobile user interfaces, and provide funds in real-time.

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, The Smart Campaign

The following is the first post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced.

The unresolved Syrian conflict and the slow collapse of nation-states on Europe’s periphery have brought the topic of refugees back into the media spotlight. Whereas previously, refugees were often seen as a problem of the Global South, events have now brought migrants to Europe’s doorstop, forcing OECD countries to consider new strategies to provide for and integrate this population. Yet as refugee assistance becomes a hot topic once again, old myths and fictions have reemerged. Refugees are often described as highly transitory populations with few marketable skills who will inevitably rely on long-term government assistance. But these stereotypes are frequently inaccurate.

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> Posted by Steve Waddell, Principal, NetworkingAction

Financial inclusion is a large systems change challenge – it’s one that integrates a basic new goal into the working of the financial system. This is a very different challenge than simply opening a new branch or even policy reform. What are the implications of large systems change for traditional governance structures? Put another way, if an industry is significantly disrupted, does this affect the way it is governed? I recently dived into the question looking at the impact of financial inclusion on financial sector governance, including central banks. The was done in collaboration with Ann Florini, a governance expert and professor at Singapore Management University, and Simon Zadek, a visiting professor there and Co-Director of the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System.

The three of us have common interest in how multi-stakeholder processes might impact governance. Such processes in the case of financial inclusion involve business, government and civil society interests. With many diverse parties at the table, and many more such multi-stakeholder processes, is financial sector governance also becoming more multi-stakeholder? We decided to investigate the question of financial inclusion with a descriptive analysis of what has been happening in Kenya. We came to the topic with the understanding that multi-stakeholder process governance in itself is not necessarily good or bad compared with traditional government-dominated governance, but experience might indicate that it is necessary for advancing public good. The Center for Financial Inclusion defines full financial inclusion as:
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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI, and Michael Mori, Senior Designer, Dalberg Design Impact Group

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

From a mathematical point of view, borrowing and saving are mirror images. In both cases many small payments allow for one or more large payouts. Only the sequence differs. Stuart Rutherford’s classic description involves “saving up” (saving) and “saving down” (borrowing), both for the purpose of assembling “usefully large sums.” When viewed in this way it is clear that saving and borrowing can serve much the same purpose, and at times can even substitute for each other.

This is true, as far as it goes, and it underscores the importance of disciplined payments of small amounts as a path to obtaining the lump sums needed for major purchases.

We recently traveled to India (Mumbai and rural Maharashtra) and Kenya (Nairobi and farming villages outside of Nyahururu) as part of a research project led by the Center for Financial Services Innovation and the Center for Financial Inclusion, and conducted by Dalberg. In speaking with a variety of residents, we were struck by vast differences in the way people make borrowing and savings decisions.

The people we talked with carried out most of their financial actions through informal instruments, though many were members of cooperatives and some did have (largely inactive) bank accounts. Instead of using these formal options, they borrowed mostly from friends, family and moneylenders. They saved in cash stashed at home, livestock, land and gold, amongst other assets. We asked how they decided where and how to save and borrow. They very willingly described their thought processes and the considerations that guide them in making decisions. As it turns out, their decisions about borrowing hang on surprisingly different criteria from those about saving, bearing on very different realms of their lives.

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> Posted by a Nairobi-Based Consultant

Kenya and Nigeria are often heralded as two of the most dynamic economies in Africa. They could soon have something else in common: interest rate caps.

Banks in Kenya have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to dismiss a new bill which caps loan interest rates and provides for sanctions (fines and prison) directly to the CEOs of banks that fail to do so. This is not the first time such a proposal has come forward; the last one having come at a time the incumbent president was Minister for Finance. Should the President sign off on the bill it will become law, and lending rates will be capped at 400 basis points above the Central Bank discount rate which now stands at 10.5 percent.

Understandably, the prospect of such limits has caused anxiety amongst lenders. Through the Kenya Bankers Association, Kenya’s bankers immediately lodged appeals to the government arguing that capping interest rates is counterproductive and against the free market economy premises Kenya enjoys. We are yet to see how the financial markets react.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

South Africa’s largest mobile phone operator, Vodacom, announced last month that it will stop offering its mobile-banking product M-Pesa in the country at the end of June. M-Pesa is sustained by large numbers of users but, given the widespread presence of banking services throughout South Africa, fewer customers are taking up the service than in other African markets.

“The business sustainability of M-Pesa is predicated on achieving a critical mass of users. Based on our revised projections and high levels of financial inclusion in SA there is little prospect of the M-Pesa product achieving this in its current format in the mid-term,” CEO Shameel Joosub said in Vodacom’s statement.

M-Pesa, which is a runaway success in Kenya, its flagship country, had more than 25 million customers across 11 countries at the end of March, a 27 percent increase over the previous year.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

To create sustainable impact in the financial inclusion landscapes of emerging markets, providers must engage, train, and/or learn from vast networks of customers. Prospective customers must develop the skills to effectively use financial products. Doing this well is both difficult and expensive. Arifu, based in Kenya, attempts to minimize this challenge by bringing together providers and consumers in a cheap, efficient way. Arifu is a new kind of platform that provides customer capability-building through mobile technology. Arifu tests, refines, and hosts content developed by various educational organizations via SMS on mobile phones. Arifu’s business model is designed with scalability in mind, and it claims that it can be 90 percent cheaper than conventional customer outreach programs.

Arifu’s digital learning experts work with providers to design and develop behaviorally-informed training, advertising, and data collection programs. Department-level financial accounts, budget controls, custom alerts, and cost-benefit analytics help organizations minimize, measure, and justify their programs down to each interaction.

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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 Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

In recent months several prominent banks in Kenya have collapsed, with Chase Bank (no relation to JPMorgan Chase) most recently placed under receivership by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) earlier this month. Additionally, this month it was announced that three majority government owned banks will be consolidated, and that voluntary mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry will be encouraged as a way to strengthen institutions. To better understand what this all means, I sat down with John Lwande, Director of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program.  

DP: From your perspective, can you update us on what is happening?

JL: It appears that following an extended audit tussle last month, Chase Bank, which had established itself as the jewel among small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) lenders in the market, and attracted funding from big name international investors, collapsed on the 7th of April. While Chase pushed the blame towards the accounting surrounding the bank’s Islamic banking assets, more serious implications point towards governance problems. To illustrate the severity of these governance issues, for instance, we are told that the bank made a staggeringly large amount of loans to its directors, an average of KES 1.35 billion per director (USD 13.5 million). This is not a routine staff and associate loan. Actually, Chase had a loan program for staff. Its average loan size was KES 1.9 million (USD 19,000). How could an SME bank, a financial inclusion flag bearer, allow its directors to lend tens of millions of dollars to themselves?! In a recent interview, three leading Kenya bank executives decried the lack of governance and fiduciary responsibility of bank directors in the country and called upon auditors to be firm in their opinions to mitigate the risk of bank failures and avoid panic.

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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.


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.