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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

WeBank started piloting facial recognition for KYC (“know your customer”—verifying that a customer is who they say they are) last year—we heard about it when we talked with Jared Shu, a partner with McKinsey, as part of our deep dive about the different ways banks pursue financial inclusion. At that point, the technology was mere possibility, with some question about whether the regulator would allow it. Now, it seems, facial recognition is indeed serving as a form of identity in China. With the help of technology, customers can quite literally authorize a transaction using their face.

Alipay, a mobile payment app launched by Alibaba in 2004 and used by 120 million people in China, is partnering with Face++ (pronounced “face plus plus”) to allow people to use their face as a credential to make payments. The technology is a natural extension of using a fingerprint to verify a person’s identity, and it is far more secure than just comparing a signature on the back of a credit card to a signature on a receipt.

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> Posted by Center Staff

What are the most important questions that need to be researched in the financial inclusion arena?

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will soon launch a fellows program to support research and thought leadership in financial inclusion – and we are calling on you to help! The purpose of this program will be to encourage independent researchers and analysts to examine some of the most important challenges in the financial inclusion arena. We plan to select a few priority research topics for fellows to examine.

Here’s where you come in. Below is a list of research topics that members of our Financial Inclusion 2020 team believe need answering. We’re checking in with you – our blog audience – to find out which topics you think are the most important to investigate. Please consider this list a starting point. Give us thumbs up or down on the topics listed, and propose topics of your own. Once we select the top priority questions, we will issue a call for proposals. Meanwhile, we offer this list to provoke a broader conversation about research needed in the financial inclusion field.

You can respond either in the comment block below, or by email to erhyne@accion.org.

Technology-related topics

  1. Impact of ubiquitous internet access on the business models for financial inclusion. By 2020, the vast majority of the world’s people will have access to internet through smart phones and tablets. Internet access could transform the way financial service providers and customers interact and facilitate a richer interface with customers. What scenarios are possible and are providers ready to respond?
  1. Under what conditions do “on-ramps” lead to deeper inclusion? With the World Bank’s commitment to Universal Financial Access focused on connecting people to transaction accounts, the next question is how (and whether) such connections lead to active account usage or access to additional products. What are the cases of successful access expansion that have led to deeper inclusion and why did they succeed?

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> Posted by Ignacio Mas, Senior Research Fellow, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, and David Porteous, CEO, Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA)

In a recent new paper, we look at identity from two opposite but complementary perspectives. The first is a narrow biological perspective, under which identity is associated with one´s uniqueness as an autonomous living organism with a unique genetic makeup. The legal basis for identity tends to be based on this perspective, and leads to questions that focus fundamentally on the confidence with which identities can be asserted and confirmed.

Beyond the definitional question of what it is about one´s person that creates his or her individuality, there is the empirical question of how it can be verified by someone else, such as a financial service provider, through observation. Generally your identity is established indirectly, by demonstrating your command over some proxies (e.g. a signature, a card, a PIN) that have been linked to your identity. The core decision for providers is therefore to determine when they consider that they know someone with good enough probability.

The second perspective is information-based, and views individuals as an irreducibly complex web of personal information and attributes. Digital markets tend to take this view of identity, with customers characterized more in terms of defined attributes, preferences, and transaction histories that can drive customer segmentation than on intrinsic uniqueness. This perspective leads to questions that focus fundamentally on what information about themselves it is legitimate to expect people to reveal to build up their identity, and what information they have the right to keep private.

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This is our first in a series of responses to the provocative post last week from Ignacio Mas. Ignacio asks why the “current innovation frenzy in digital financial services in the U.S.” does not translate into action in BoP markets across the world, and puts forth a number of hypotheses.

“There are three things none of these digital players want to deal with – and never will. They do not want to get a banking license that embroils them in onerous regulation. They do not want to conduct primary identity checks on their customers (Know Your Customer, or KYC), which require physical customer contact. And they do not want to touch their customers’ cash.”

What follows is a response from Tahira Dosani and Vikas Raj of Accion’s Venture Lab, which invests in new fintech start-ups.

While it is true that much of the current innovation in digital financial services has been focused on higher-end consumer segments and less on financial inclusion, in our view this has not been a result only of digital players’ intentions. In fact, mainstream digital financial service companies’ difficulties in serving the financially excluded arise primarily from three key factors – cost, connectivity, and capability. Simply put, these customers are more expensive to acquire, harder to access, and require targeted products, pricing, and distribution. Customers that are banked, connected, and well-understood are the low-hanging fruit today, and that is why they are targeted by large players.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

What are the most important unanswered questions in financial inclusion?

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the small, idea-packed Conference on Financial Inclusion at Harvard Business School, organized by Professor Rajiv Lal. The attendees were a high-level microcosm of the financial inclusion world, a sort of mini-Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum. A prime purpose of the gathering was to identify a potential research agenda.

Among the ideas emerging from very rich conversations, I identified three distinct areas of research: business questions that could be addressed through HBS’s famous case method; research focused on regulation; and social science research focused on consumers. Because what one says at HBS stays at HBS, I cannot identify who offered what idea, but here is a brief summary.

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

Mobile money services have spread like wildfire, making people less cash-reliant and able to easily carry out transactions like bill payments and money transfers. GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked program identified 14 mobile money sprinters – leaders of some of the fastest growing mobile deployments in the world. Among these, three case studies from mobile money services in Pakistan, Somaliland, and Zimbabwe have been published. The case studies highlight the reasons why these particular schemes have achieved significant customer bases and transactions volumes since their deployments.

Easypaisa (Pakistan). After only 11 months, Easypaisa registered 5 million transactions and by the end of 2012 it had 100 million transactions with a volume of $US 1.4 billion. Easypaisa was created in late 2009 by the MNO Telenor Pakistan and Tameer Bank, after Telenor acquired a 51 percent stake in Tameer. Telenor acknowledged that launching a mobile wallet product wouldn’t be the ideal way to set up Easypaisa since they only had a 22 percent market share and so the product wouldn’t encompass 40 million non-Telenor customers. Furthermore, regulations in the country called for very comprehensive Know-Your-Customer (KYC) procedures, creating the additional obstacles of increased registration cost and time.

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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla and Vikas Raj, Senior Investment Analyst and Senior Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

In May, India’s new government, led by Narendra Modi, was elected in a landslide. Popular frustration with the Congress Party’s increasingly ineffectual 10-year reign, made most visible by persistently low GDP growth, allowed for one of the most lopsided victories in Indian history, and the first time a non-Congress candidate had an outright majority in parliament. Wisely, Modi focused his election campaign rhetoric on economic issues and more efficient governance to revive GDP growth. The markets have reacted positively: the bell-weather BSE stock-index is up 20 percent since the start of the year. Two weeks ago, the government finally proposed a budget for the next year – the first real concrete recommendations for the economy since coming to power two months ago.

India is a key market for financial inclusion investors like Accion Venture Lab because of the size, depth, and strength of its entrepreneurial pool, as well as the persistent lack of financial services for the poor. Despite the huge success of microfinance in India, two-thirds of the working-age population lacks a bank account, mobile payments have yet to take off, and access to credit for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) remains abysmal.

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> Posted by Ashutosh Misra, Principal Consultant, Interactive Forum on Indian Economy

New modes of payments, such as electronic cards, mobile money, and internet-based payments, are in some cases causing financial exclusion for those who prefer, or are only able to pay in cash. This is the major finding of a study commissioned by the European Foundation for Financial Inclusion (EUFFI) on the impact of new payment systems on financial exclusion in the U.K., France, Italy, Poland, and Sweden.

The report is of interest to India for three main reasons: the Reserve Bank of India’s emphasis on financial inclusion when granting new bank licenses; Indian banks expanding their use of electronic payments and non-branch interaction with customers; the Indian government’s focus on promoting direct electronic transfer of social benefits. The five European nations of the study are smaller than India in size and population, but they’re ahead technologically and in financial services market development. Nonetheless, millions of their citizens are restricted from having a bank account and hence do not have access to many new payment technologies. Also, significant populations are unable to perform transactions using the new technologies or would prefer to use traditional methods. If the new payment systems can be so disruptive there, India has miles to go before electronic payments can become the norm here.

For financial inclusion, access to basic banking services must be complemented by the right to use traditional means of payment, such as cash, if that’s the customer’s desired payment form. The EUFFI study finds that cash is often the only means of payment for those at risk of exclusion, but shows it is becoming harder or more expensive to pay in cash. On the other side of this, many merchants still aren’t able or don’t want to accept cards. An example of this shared in the report is unsuccessful asylum seekers in the U.K. who can get financial support from the government only in the form of plastic payment cards. These cards are credited weekly, and enabled to purchase essential goods from a restricted subset of shops. This inability to pay in cash results in hostile behavior towards asylum seekers in some shops and supermarkets.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Africa Specialist, the Smart Campaign

A year ago, Nigeria put forward an ambitious financial inclusion strategy. This National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) is an exciting development, and with this post I want to take a closer look at it and spotlight some areas to watch as implementation progresses in the years to come.

 

So, what is it all about? In October 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) promoted the program as a key driver for achieving their larger Vision 20: 2020 strategy, an ambitious initiative aiming to make Nigeria one of the world’s 20 largest economies by 2020.

The CBN is already one of 36 national institutions that have signed the AFI Maya Declaration, a set of commitments from emerging economies’ governments’ designed to increase access to and lower the costs of financial services, and its governor often makes the case that financial inclusion benefits economic growth. After all, despite being West Africa’s largest economy and holding an impressive mass of natural resources, Nigeria is also home to 100 million people living on less than US$1.25 a day. In the financial sector, only 30 percent of adults have an account at a formal financial institution. Public sector borrowing crowds out private borrowers and lending institutions have become increasingly risk averse, reflecting recent crises and adjustments to new regulatory reform. Credit markets remain underdeveloped with limited products, short-term horizons, and high borrowing costs. Making the financial landscape even harsher, Nigerians must contend with inadequate physical infrastructure, ineffective legal institutions, and everyday challenges like distant bank branches, missing identification documents, and high fees.

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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.