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Customer research offers insights into the drop in financial product usage in Mexico.

> Posted by Pablo Antón-Diaz, Research Manager, CFI

Man sells fish at a stall in an outdoor market

Fish market on San Gregario Street in Xochimilco, a southeastern municipality of Mexico City, one of the places we visited for our user research.

According to the Global Findex, the percentage of adults in Mexico who are saving money at a formal institution plunged from 15 percent to 10 percent in just the past three years—despite financial inclusion strategies enacted by the government. This steep decline in usage of savings accounts came as a surprise, and hit close to home for me as a Mexican. This trend is a cause for concern, and it’s also a call to action. At Accion, we took this as an opportunity to listen to the people we’d like to see benefit from financial services. With support of MetLife Foundation, we wanted to understand why fewer people were saving in banks, what products and services people were using, and who was providing those services if it wasn’t formal institutions.

To get answers about what people in Mexico want from their financial service providers, I recently traveled home to Mexico City as part of a team of researchers. We listened to small merchants map out their entire financial lives—their motivations, goals and aspirations, how they feel about various types of financial services, the strategies they use to stay financially healthy, and more.

Our biggest surprise? The individuals we talked with know about and can access a lot of financial products—they just aren’t using them.

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Person at laptop using OPTIX tool.> Posted by Jorge Hernandez & Gabriela Zapata, BFA

Most financial institutions recognize that data should lie at the heart of strategic decision-making. With technology playing an increasingly central role in every aspect of business operations, data can make a business more agile, more client-centric, and ultimately, more profitable.

However, the use of advanced data analysis tools is still relatively new and many institutions are finding their way.  This prevents them from making well-informed, strategic decisions, often at a high cost to themselves and their clients. But how can an institution create an environment in which data-driven decision-making becomes the norm rather than the exception?  To start with, institutions must craft data analysis tools that meet the needs and preferences of the users within the business to ensure that they are relevant and actually utilized. Read the rest of this entry »

Report cover pageNew CFI/IIF report examines the role that alternative data plays in helping mainstream financial institutions reach underserved customers.

>> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

With the explosive growth of data and the breakneck pace of digitization, mainstream financial service providers (FSPs) are increasingly turning to new and alternative data sources and analytics tools to more efficiently reach emerging markets and help bring the world’s 1.7 billion underserved people into the formal financial system. This “new data,” largely separate from traditional credit bureau data, represents a tremendous opportunity for commercial banks to identity new customers, many of whom were previously “credit invisible,” and to better understand and serve the needs of their existing client base. However, the path to greater data utilization is not always clear, as FSPs must weigh the benefits of embracing a data-centric approach with significant operational challenges, including changing a risk-adverse banking culture, recruiting top technical talent, upgrading legacy IT infrastructure and navigating a complex regulatory environment. Building upon in-depth interviews with banks, fintechs and other actors, Accelerating Financial Inclusion with New Data—the newest joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF), supported by MetLife Foundation—examines the data landscape and evaluates the progress FSPs have made in innovating around data and areas where they have faced obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »

Country-specific scores across regulations that enable, promote, and prevent financial inclusion

> Posted by Liliana Rojas-Suarez and Lucía Pacheco

The following post was originally published on the Center for Global Development’s blog and has been republished with permission.

The most recent World Bank data on financial inclusion shows that by 2014, only 54 percent of the adult population in Latin America had an account at a financial institution. This compares to an average of 62 percent of adults worldwide and 70.5 percent for those countries with a similar level of income per capita (the region’s peers). In developed economies, 94 percent of adults have an account at a financial institution.

Many factors could be cited for the low ratios of financial inclusion in Latin America, but in a recent paper published at BBVA Research, that also came as a CGD working paper, we focus on the potential role of financial regulation. We assessed and compared the quality of the policies and regulations that impinge on financial inclusion in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay). Peru and Mexico came out on top, with what appear to be the best regulatory frameworks for promoting financial inclusion. But even in these top performers, there is room for improvement.

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What the FCC’s net neutrality vote means for financial inclusion, fintech startups

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne and Vikas Raj, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and Managing Director of Accion Venture Lab

In a landmark ruling yesterday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to end net neutrality — the requirement for internet service providers to treat all the content they carry equally regarding access, price, and speed/quality of delivery. This decision, overturning Obama-era internet regulations, is a big deal and may shape the way Americans experience the internet in the future.

It could have significant implications for financial inclusion, too.

Under the new ruling from the FCC, internet service providers (ISPs) may give preferential treatment to content from applications they favor — unlimited access, differential pricing, or faster/better download speeds — while slowing or even blocking other applications.

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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 Nancy Widjaja and Maelis Carraro, Accion Venture Lab and BFA

When we met Miguel Duhalt, CEO of Comunidad4Uno in Mexico City, he was working day and night to launch a company that sought to change the financial lives of domestic workers. His goal was building a platform that could offer financial services such as insurance, direct payments, and bank account access to low-income domestic workers in Mexico. With Comunidad4Uno, people who employ domestic workers in their homes would be able to sign up for the service and, with a small annual fee, insure their domestic workers and give them access to medical check-ups. They would be able to pay their employees electronically via a smartphone app into a newly-opened bank account. Leveraging technology and the personal relationships between workers and employers, Miguel wanted to formalize access to insurance and other financial services for domestic workers in Mexico.

But to achieve his ambitions, Miguel needed two things: to raise enough capital to take his enterprise off the ground and to validate his idea in the market with more users. Like many other startup founders, he faced a Catch-22. Investors wanted to see traction and a proven business model before endorsing his company, but his small team had a hard time focusing on reaching proof points because they needed to raise capital to keep the lights on. Raising seed funding is particularly challenging in Mexico and many other emerging markets. Moreover, challenging regulatory environments, inefficient infrastructure and connectivity, costly supply chains, and consumer distrust add to the operational difficulties.

So Miguel, like other talented entrepreneurs, needed to find an aligned investor who could look beyond quick financial returns and help meet important milestones to attract institutional funding at a later stage.

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> Posted by Center Staff

(click to enlarge)

BBVA Bancomer in Mexico and Bancolombia in Colombia partner with Juntos, a fintech startup, to deepen their customer engagement and product usage. Why wouldn’t the two banks just strengthen their customer engagement capabilities in-house?

A few weeks ago, we released a joint report with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines. As part of the report, CFI and IIF interviewed over 30 individuals from across the industry, including representatives from Juntos, BBVA Bancomer, and Bancolombia. Here’s what their story taught us about the value of successful customer engagement partnerships.

Engaged customers are better customers. Because large portions of the populations in the emerging markets in Mexico and Colombia are outside the formal financial sector, bringing them into it requires financial education and well-designed products and services. Simply providing products and services is often ineffective, as people also need to understand how they work and develop confidence using them. Several financial institutions we interviewed echoed the importance of frequent interactions with new low-income customers to build stronger relationships and increase loyalty, trust, satisfaction, and retention. They hope this kind of engagement will improve public perception and understanding of financial products and services, and ultimately increase the demand for such offerings.

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath and Dennis Ferenzy, Analyst at CFI and Associate Economist at IIF

Contrary to popular rhetoric, banks do not view fintechs primarily as competitors. Increasingly, they seek them as partners. This is the message of How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlinesa new joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The report, launched today, finds that banks, insurers and payment companies don’t see fintechs as “little more than pinpricks for a banking mastodon with trillions in assets,” as The Economist colorfully described the fintech-bank relationship in 2015. The relationships between these players are more symbiotic than combative, because fintechs and mainstream financial institutions bring different strengths. With partnerships, fintechs get to scale their technology and access capital, while financial institutions gain assistance to improve product offerings, increase efficiency, and lower costs.

As it turns out, these are all goals with special relevance to low-income customers who look for products and services that are more convenient, less expensive, and higher quality. That makes financial institution-fintech partnerships a crucial strategy for meeting the financial needs of the unbanked and underbanked around the world. During our in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants, both mainstream financial institutions and fintechs, CFI and IIF identified dozens of effective bank-fintech partnerships working at the base of the pyramid in emerging markets. The report highlights 14 of them.
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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Grameen Foundation

We need to ensure products and services help family units, not just individuals, thrive.

Writing in 1982, about Fred Astaire, Robert Thaves wrote “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels.” Since then, this quote about two legendary dancers has been used to celebrate the skills and talents of women and to demonstrate their ability to juggle complexity and pull it off gracefully.

At Grameen Foundation, we celebrate women for the potential they carry for ending poverty and hunger. In fact, some statistics suggest that if women farmers had the same resources as their male counterparts, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by 150 million. Beyond access to quality farm inputs, credit, and land, we also know that when women have equal access to education, health services, and business services they can thrive economically. Helping mothers be healthy before and during pregnancy also results in healthier children and more productive societies. Women are a key driving force against poverty.

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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.