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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Money changer at the bazaar displays his currency wares

The following post was originally published on Devex.

In his proposed budget, U.S. President Donald Trump is calling for cuts to foreign assistance. In this message I would like to suggest that even with a smaller foreign aid budget, an excellent opportunity exists to work toward financial inclusion as a development goal. Financial inclusion provides wins all around: for business, for national security and for individuals — and it would not be expensive for the administration to pursue it.

Financial inclusion means ensuring that everyone — farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, students, etc. — has quality financial services to manage their lives and become economically productive. Over 2 billion adults worldwide lack a bank account. Financial services, including accounts, savings and credit, have become a gateway for social and economical inclusion, which in turn contributes to prosperity and peace. For the first time in history, financial inclusion is actually feasible: mobile money, e-commerce and digital financial services make it possible for providers to serve enormous new segments of the population.

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> Posted by Center Staff

We’ve written about the unfolding demonetization situation in India a few times now (here and here). Demonetization, the government declaration on November 8, 2016 that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes would become void on midnight of the same day, aims to curb black money and corruption, and support the uptake of digital financial services. However, demonetization has caused a range of harms. These consequences should have been foreseeable because: the declaration was massive in scope, affecting 86 percent of the country’s currency in circulation; the country’s banking industry was given no time to prepare, as the plan was kept secret until November 8; and the vast majority of the country’s labor force works in the informal sector, dealing almost exclusively in cash.

Our previous posts focused on the financial inclusion implications of demonetization and how the government’s move affects Indians’ ability to conduct their finances. But our posts haven’t discussed the non-economic ways that demonetization is affecting citizens. Let us be clear, with the massive population in India living at or below the poverty line, the financial shock caused by demonetization has meant life or death for many. Here is a list of some of the ways demonetization is causing more than economic harm:
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> Posted by Jayshree Venkatesan, Financial Inclusion Consultant

On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister of India made an announcement that notes of denominations Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 would become illegal tender overnight in a move that was termed demonetization. In turn, the government would issue a note valued at Rs. 2000, which would replace the notes taken out of circulation. According to the RBI’s most recent annual report, the total currency in circulation in India was INR 16634.63 billion (~USD 256 billion). The withdrawn notes constituted nearly 85 percent of this currency.

Phasing out old notes and replacing them with new ones is a standard practice followed by central banks globally. In the Indian context, however, there were two factors that contributed to this standard practice resulting in chaos and an economic shock on the poor.

The first was the short span of time given to react. The announcement was made on television after business hours on November 8, and the affected tender was rendered illegal by midnight of the same day. As a result there is enormous pressure on the banking system, and a frenzy of citizens trying to make the necessary adjustments. The second factor was the disproportionately small share of Rs. 2000 notes ready to replace the phased out currency. While the short span of time resulted in an instant shock to several segments of the population that predominantly operate in the cash economy, the limited Rs. 2000 notes translated into a cash crunch that has brought large parts of the economy to a grinding halt.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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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 Ben Lebeaux and Jessica L. Cassel, Senior Communications Specialist and Staff Attorney, Accion

One of the fastest, most efficient ways to promote financial inclusion is to make sure that regulators create policy that encourages innovation and collaboration. Because regulators can singlehandedly affect everything from microfinance institutions to financial technology startups to credit bureaus, helping them make the best possible decisions is one of the best ways to help the two billion financially excluded people access savings accounts, credit, checking, insurance, and more.

That’s why the Microfinance CEO Working Group’s Model Legal Framework and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (MLF), published in the spring of 2015, is such a valuable tool. Regulators can use the MLF as a framework to either evaluate existing regulation or to adopt new best practices. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it allows policymakers to quickly find, adapt, and use the best available legislation. 

Global law firm DLA Piper and its nonprofit affiliate, New Perimeter, were instrumental in creating the MLF. The firm’s dedicated team of roughly 20 lawyers has worked with the Working Group for the last two years, contributing nearly 3,000 hours of pro bono time to draft and refine the MLF. New Perimeter continues to support the project, traveling with Accion’s lawyers and financial inclusion experts to train Latin American regulators on the MLF, and plans to update it periodically.

We spoke with Sara K. Andrews, the Assistant Director of New Perimeter, and DLA Piper Associate Erik Choisy about how they got involved with the MLF, the work they did to support it, and why they dedicated such significant time and energy to support financial inclusion.

Accion: Tell us more about New Perimeter. Why did DLA Piper commit to providing international pro bono legal assistance?

Sara K. Andrews (SA): DLA Piper created New Perimeter in 2005 to expand the firm’s extensive pro bono programs beyond the United States, and to give our lawyers opportunities to address some of the critical issues confronting underserved regions of the world. One of our first projects was in Kosovo, helping to restore the country’s judicial and prosecutorial systems. Since then we have worked on over 100 multi-year pro bono projects involving more than 800 DLA Piper lawyers from across the firm.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) released the 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum Report, distilling the happenings of the network’s largest and most diverse forum to date; new startup PayJoy is attempting to solve the financing problem surrounding the 2 billion individuals globally who have access to the internet but can’t afford a smartphone; The Guardian spotlights how mobile money supported healthcare workers during the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. Here are a few more details:

  • The 2015 AFI Global Policy Forum brought together over 500 senior financial inclusion policymakers, regulators, international organizations, and private sector partners in Maputo, Mozambique. Highlights from the forum include the adoption of the Maputo Accord, making SME finance a larger priority for the network, and sessions on green finance and gender.
  • PayJoy, beginning an initial roll-out in California, is offering an alternative to the tech industry’s equivalent of payday lenders who charge upwards of 500 percent interest on loans to buy smartphones. PayJoy covers 80 percent of the cost of a phone at 50 to 100 percent interest, and if individuals aren’t able to make their monthly installments, the phone locks until the payment is received.
  • In Sierra Leone, payment to healthcare workers combating Ebola was originally largely disbursed inefficiently in the form of cash, resulting in incidences of workers not being paid for months at a time, which caused disruptions to both healthcare and public trust in the system. NetHope, a consortium of NGOs working in IT, enrolled workers into an automated mobile money-based payment system using an open source facial recognition software.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here. This is the final issue of the News Feed. Though if you have any stories or initiatives that you think we should cover on the blog or via our other social media channels, email your ideas to Jeffrey Riecke at jriecke@accion.org.

> Posted by Prateek Shrivastava, Global Director, Channels & Technology, Accion

The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act in 2007. The Act included provisions for the creation of the CBN to ensure monetary stability, issuing and maintaining legal tender, and promoting the implementation of best practices including the use of electronic payment systems in all banks across Nigeria.

In the same year, the CBN developed the Financial System Strategy 2020 wherein the need for electronic financial services (amongst many other reforms) to make Nigeria a competitive economy was identified. Since 2008, the CBN has been extremely active in developing and implementing guidelines and frameworks to support the digitization of financial services (for example, all banks and microfinance banks need to have core banking systems, and the use of ATMs is governed) including mobile money and agent banking. The Guidelines on Mobile Money Services in Nigeria were approved and published in June 2009. Most recently, the CBN has also released a licensing framework for “super agents” that banks and other regulated financial services providers can use to bring services to the markets and streets in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s mobile money market hosts about two dozen licensed mobile money operators (MMOs) that include banks and others, which, in spite of their array, have proven inadequate in terms of country coverage and active adoption.

In the recent words of Dipo Fatokun, Director of the Banking and Payment System Department of the CBN, “Expectations of mobile money [in Nigeria] have not fully been met.” Annual mobile money transactions in the country in 2014 exceeded N5 billion (US$25 million), while in Kenya and Tanzania total annual transactions in 2013 were US$22 billion and US$18 billion.

A report from EFINA published in 2014, a full five years after the CBN guidelines for mobile money were put in place, shows that only 800,000 Nigerian adults currently use mobile money, representing less than one percent of the adult population. Today, even arguably the most successful entity, Pagatech Nigeria with its innovative use of technology and strong management team, is advertised sporadically on the streets of Lagos and even less further afield. Awareness is low and therefore adoption is low.

In my opinion, this lack of progress can be attributed to two key issues:
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> Posted by Magauta Mphahlele, CEO, National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA)

A few weeks ago, South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry published new proposed regulations pertaining to the National Credit Act limiting fees and interest rates on short-term and unsecured loans along with credit cards. The public may lodge comments to the draft regulations up until 30 days after its publishing date of June 25th. The intelligence used to inform the proposals have not been released so it is not clear what policy, cost, or operational factors were taken into consideration to arrive at the outlined changes. Meanwhile, the microfinance industry in the country, which has been lobbying for the flexibility to charge significantly higher interest rates and fees, seeks to understand the regulators’ rationale.

The draft regulations were published after a protracted court battle where one of the industry associations representing micro-lenders requested the court to force the regulator and policymakers to review the fees requirements of the National Credit Act. The fees and interest rates hadn’t been reviewed since the Act became effective in 2007 – a concern when taking into account factors like inflation.

Credit providers have responded with dismay and concern about the proposed changes, especially the interest rate caps on unsecured loans. They have expressed the fear that the proposed interest and fee changes will affect the cost of administering credit, reduce profits, and constrict access to credit for borrowers. Other commentators have viewed the reductions favorably considering consumers are already over-indebted to a large extent and the interest rate cycle is predicted to start trending upwards. On this blog a few months ago, I shared that in 2014, the National Credit Regulator (NCR) Credit Bureau Monitor revealed that out of South Africa’s roughly 23 million credit active individuals, about 11 million have impaired records.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Associate, CFI

GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program recently released the report ‘Mobile Financial Services in Latin America & the Caribbean,’ spotlighting the region’s booming mobile money activity. I talked with the report’s authors, Mireya Almazán and Jennifer Frydrych, to learn more about the project. The first half of our conversation, published last week, is available here. The second half of our conversation follows.

An enabling regulatory environment, as identified in the report, is one where the regulator has taken a functional and proportional approach that allows banks and non-bank providers to compete, as well as establish different types of partnerships for the provision of mobile money services. What does this means in practical terms, and how has or hasn’t Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) met these conditions?

An open and level playing field that allows banks, mobile operators, and third parties to offer e-money is critical for mobile money to succeed. Anecdotal evidence, commercial lessons, and international regulatory principles all speak in favor of opening the market to providers with different value propositions and business models. Best practices are well established at both the regulatory and commercial level to guarantee the soundness of mobile money schemes, as well as the integrity and stability of the financial system.

As of April 2015, six of 19 (32 percent) mobile money markets in LAC have an enabling environment for mobile money, up from only two in 2012 (Nicaragua and Peru). These six include Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay also has enabling regulation for mobile money and in fact issued the nation’s first e-money license to Redpago in April 2015; however, as Redpago has not formally launched, Uruguay is not categorized as a “mobile money market” in this report’s analysis.

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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.