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“Progress happens, just not according to our wishful time frames.” Greta Bull responds to CFI’s paper about the latest Findex data.

This post was originally published on the CGAP Blog and is re-published here with permission.

> By Greta Bull, CEO of CGAP and a Director at the World Bank Group

We can choose to see a glass as half empty or half full. And our perspective often has a lot to do with our initial assumptions.

Beth Rhyne and Sonja Kelly of the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) have generated discussion in the financial inclusion community with their paper exploring the latest Findex data, titled “Financial Inclusion Hype Versus Reality.” In the paper, Rhyne and Kelly express concern that the rate of access to new accounts slowed between 2014 and 2017 and that the usage gap for those accounts appears to be growing. They also highlight stagnation in the growth of credit and a decline in savings, but an increase in the use of payments. While I have very little to disagree with in their paper, I think the financial inclusion community has a lot more cause for optimism than it makes out.

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Key fintech trends include publishing open APIs, which helps to expand customer bases and improve services offerings 

> Posted by Geraldine O’Keeffe, Chief Innovation Officer, Software Group

The following post is part of a blog series spotlighting perspectives and experiences from the Africa Board Fellowship.

Access to financial services in Africa is on the increase, up 10 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the Global Findex. This change can largely be credited to digital financial services. New entrants to the financial sector such as telcos, fintechs, and in the near future bigtechs like Facebook and Google are all offering technology-centered financial services that are changing the landscape and posing a competitive threat to traditional financial services providers (FSPs). At the same time, new technologies can allow traditional FSPs to expand their outreach and radically improve operational efficiency.

Considering both challenges and opportunities, now, more than ever, financial institutions of all stripes have to accept that technology and innovation are integral to their business strategy. These changes require a shift in culture throughout the institution and among the leadership. Board members, for example, have to embrace this change, understanding the current industry trends, experiencing these financial innovations firsthand, and taking concrete actions.

Through our work with board members of financial service providers in the Africa Board Fellowship program, we have identified three key fintech trends especially relevant for institutions in Africa focused on financial inclusion.

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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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A high-level business case for financial inclusion constructed using data on the impact of M-PESA on poverty in Kenya

> Posted by Ethan Loufield, Director of Strategy and Operations, CFI

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In making the case for financial inclusion, advocates often try to appeal to our business sense, rather than just speak to how it can improve people’s lives. In so doing, they often refer to the “business case,” which in some ways feels like an attempt to convince the disinterested or the skeptics. It’s an acknowledgement that in order to muster the resources needed to make the financial system work better for lower income market segments, there has to be a payoff for those who provide the services. The fact is that the future of financial inclusion depends greatly on there being a payoff. And when you stop and think about it, it shouldn’t be that hard to show that there is one.

As the title to this post suggests, the value that financial inclusion can help to unlock could very well be measured in the trillions of dollars. So, what we see is an enormous asset (arguably with the potential to surpass the value of all the gold in the world, for example), and it behooves those of us in the financial inclusion community to capitalize on this to expand our influence in the market.

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> Posted by Rachel Morpeth and Danielle Piskadlo, Analyst and Director of the Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion 

The following post was originally published on the Microfinance Gateway.

As a hub of technology-based innovation, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) leads the world in mobile money accounts. 12 percent of adults in the region have a mobile money account, compared to 2 percent globally. In a recent global survey measuring progress towards financial access and usage, five of the ten highest scoring economies hailed from SSA. However, financial exclusion remains acute.

The fact that most of Africa’s population lacks access to formal banking services but has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world provides the perfect breeding grounds for the use of financial technologies to grow a customer base. However, as disruptive technologies and business models continue to revolutionize the financial inclusion landscape in Africa, they present new challenges to leaders and boards.

These challenges can only be overcome through creative, forward-thinking solutions and active dialogues across governance bodies – boards and regulators. Board members, CEOs, regulators and fintechs will come together to advance these issues in Ethiopia on October 12-13 at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s (CFI) Governing in a Digital World roundtable, a side event to African Microfinance Week. In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at a few of the challenges to be discussed, and their respective solutions.

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> Posted by Chris Wolff

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At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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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 Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Specialist, CFI

Phones are making everything more convenient, but are they also reducing costs? That depends on which service and whose wallet you’re talking about. If it’s the consumer’s mobile money wallet, well, the verdict is still out. In a CGAP paper published last year, Rafe Mazer and Philip Rowan lamented that pricing transparency practices in mobile money services are wholly inadequate across payments, credit, and other product lines. They assert an urgent need for standards and policy to impose better practices on mobile money providers. It’s critical to know how prices are tabulated and what fees are incurred – for the betterment of customers and the industry.

In Kenya, arguably the world’s most robust and dynamic mobile money market, we’ve seen a few recent steps in the right direction.

As of May 2017, per a directive issued by the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK), telcos and financial institutions providing mobile money services were required to ensure that their users are informed via real-time notifications of the price of their transactions – after they are initiated by the user, but before the transactions are completed and money is transferred. This order by the CAK was permitted to be carried out in stages: first, mobile money providers were asked to let users know the price of their money transfers and bill payments after their transactions occurred; then, providers were required to provide pre-transaction pricing for these two services; and finally, this pre-transaction price disclosure was extended to “value-added” mobile money services like micro-loans and micro-insurance. The new rule applies to mobile money services offered through apps, USSD codes, and SIM toolkits.

You might not think that getting notified about relatively small fees is a big deal. After all, mobile money services in Kenya like M-Pesa are used so often that users probably have a strong grasp on pricing. But this is unclear. When CGAP queried mobile money users in Kenya on M-Pesa pricing changes in 2014, despite claiming to be aware of current pricing figures, many respondents in fact were not.

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> Posted by Todd A. Watkins, Paul DiLeo, Anna Kanze, and Ira Lieberman

Fintech is a shiny attractor for impact investors. Emerging financial technologies shimmer with disruptive potential for the delivery of a wide array of financial, educational, health, and social services for the poor. While microfinance still makes up a major share of impact investing portfolios, many investors appear to have moved on to fintech, the next wave of creative destruction. Rather than be toppled by it, microfinance institutions (MFIs) look to ride that wave too, to extend reach, reduce costs and prices, improve and deepen client services, and improve risk management.

Fintech, whether new digital services or proprietary software used to evaluate and underwrite credit, brings glittery potential for MFIs, no question. But in fairy tales unicorns glitter too. Are MFIs chasing something equally illusory? Microfinance has decades of success growing and strengthening a high-touch business model. As growth slows, should MFIs now abandon that approach and use high-tech to go low-touch for cost efficiency? If MFIs stay their course, will they be overtaken by new entrants with new models, like Chinese online peer-to-peer lender Yirendai, which went IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last year? Or instead, will MFIs find innovative high-tech ways to further leverage their deep relationships with clients and understanding of client needs?

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> Posted by Jason Loughnane, Special Projects Manager, DAWN

In 2011, a SIM card in Myanmar cost $1,500 and mobile phones were used by less than 5 percent of the population. Following the entry of two foreign mobile operators in 2011, the price of a SIM card dropped to $1.50. Today, over 90 percent of the country’s population has a cell phone, and over 80 percent of those users have smartphones. And yet, only 6 percent of the population uses a formal financial institution, making the country ripe for adoption of mobile financial services.

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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.