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> Posted by Kim Wilson

Predictably, the long tentacles of financial inclusion have coiled themselves around the most vulnerable targets of humanitarian aid: low income refugees, migrants and displaced populations (hereon: “refugees”).

Just as predictably, the financial inclusion agenda is driven by suppliers (aid providers, donors, financial intermediaries and governments). Few refugees are demanding to be included in a digital/formal ecosystem. That does not mean they don’t appreciate the shelter, food and cash that humanitarian agencies have mustered on their behalf. They do. They also appreciate the efforts of those same agencies to make cash assistance easier. E-cash that can be transformed into physical cash at convenient times and places is an example. Use of debit cards at ATMs to withdraw cash from digital accounts can cut valuable time otherwise spent waiting in long cash distribution queues. Very appreciated, indeed.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

If you had to embark on a journey similar to that of the 65 million people who are currently forcibly displaced, what would you bring? Most likely among your provisions would be a smartphone. Phones are the contemporary map and compass, a gateway to critical information, a means for keeping in touch with loved ones, and a financial toolkit. More and more, aid workers are witnessing refugees arriving at camps with smartphones. For both the refugee journey and the post-journey settlement process, a phone can be vital. With this in mind, you might not be surprised to learn that mobile money usage among refugees, including for cash transfers from governments and NGOs, is on the rise.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Analyst, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog. 

Accion client Ma San Htwe selling fish in Myanmar, one of the key areas discussed at European Microfinance Week 2016.

European Microfinance Platform is celebrating 10 years of supporting inclusive finance innovation, and hosted European Microfinance Week 2016 (EMW) in Luxembourg a few weeks ago. At the conference, I joined discussions about key organizations and challenges in the industry. Here are five of the main takeaways from the week:

1. The Underserved Refugee Population

The Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) is helping to provide financial services to the refugee population, which is now approximately 20 million people. In reality we don’t know very much about the socioeconomic needs of refugees, and much of the research is focused on humanitarian efforts. SPTF is working to research and provide guidelines to financial service providers to better serve the financial needs of this population. The guidelines will be published on SPTF’s website in the coming months. Learn more about leading organizations supporting refugees from CFI’s blog series on refugees.

2. Opportunity in Myanmar

Representatives from VisionFund, Advans, UNCDF, and M-CRIL provided a look at the economic landscape of Myanmar and the future of financial inclusion there. In Myanmar, 70 percent of the population was excluded from formal financial services until 2011, when microfinance rapidly expanded. After 2011, 267 licensed Monetary Financial Institutions (MFIs) opened. This opportunity comes with many barriers to inclusion, such as a lack of government regulation and funds and capacity-building issues. However, there is widespread optimism with an adoption of regulations proposed by the Smart Campaign, as well as further demand for microfinance in Myanmar. Investors should consider moving into the region for long term impact.

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

This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.

Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.

It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.

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> Posted by the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)

The following is the third post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced. The first post can be found here, and the second here.

Overview of refugee populations in Lebanon

The multi-cultural and open economy of Lebanon is no stranger to the need to accommodate refugees. Over the years, Lebanon, which has a population of roughly 6 million, has generously maintained an open border policy and has, until restrictions were introduced in 2014-15 following the very large influx of Syrian refugees, permitted refugees to settle temporarily but freely across the country. The country’s experience in providing financial services to these refugees and internally displaced persons offers insights for financial institutions around the world on serving these vulnerable global populations.

Lebanon’s refugee populations are diverse. The largest refugee group is Palestinian, around half of whom live in the 12 recognized Palestine refugee camps. From Iraq, about 50,000 refugees arrived after American-launched military operations in Iraq in 2003. Many of the Iraqi refugees were at one time middle-class professionals who have self-settled in urban areas in Lebanon. Syrians, who have a long history as migrant workers in Lebanon, have never been counted as foreign workers, and many were known to work in Lebanon before the war in Syria. But when civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, an unprecedented number of Syrians emigrated to Lebanon. As of October 2015, close to 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon had registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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

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

In 1992, sporadic clashes between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh erupted into full scale war. By the time a ceasefire was reached two years later, the territory lay under Armenian control, and between 800,000 and 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced from their homes. Since the end of hostilities, ethnic Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled from Armenian-controlled to Azerbaijani-controlled territory have continued to face difficulties accessing economic opportunity. However, a financial sector inclusive to IDPs is emerging, lessening these difficulties and demonstrating that IDPs can be a bankable client segment.  Read the rest of this entry »

> 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 Darrell M. West, John Villasenor, Robin J. Lewis

On August 4, the Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project (FDIP) team held a public event to officially launch the second annual FDIP report. The report aims to assess country commitment to and progress toward financial inclusion across economically, politically, and geographically diverse countries. The 2016 report highlights recent developments across the financial inclusion landscapes of the 21 countries featured in the 2015 FDIP Report and provides detailed summaries examining the financial inclusion ecosystems of five new countries: the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Haiti, and Vietnam.

Together, the FDIP reports serve as a complementary resource to existing financial inclusion literature by providing detailed, annual snapshots of the financial inclusion environment in a diverse array of countries and by measuring country commitment to financial inclusion at the policy and regulatory levels, as well as the robustness of countries’ digital infrastructure and actual adoption of selected traditional and digital financial services.

The 2016 FDIP Report found that many countries across the geographic and economic spectrum are making progress toward financial inclusion. However, key data gaps, regulatory constraints, and capability limitations with respect to usage of formal financial services pose challenges for the acceleration of financial inclusion. Thus, to advance the availability and adoption of affordable, quality financial services, the 2016 FDIP Report highlights four priority action areas for the international financial inclusion community: identifying quantifiable financial inclusion targets; collecting, analyzing, and sharing data germane to countries’ financial and digital ecosystems; advancing enabling regulatory environments for traditional and digital financial services; and enhancing financial capability among consumers.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

What are the biggest unanswered questions in financial inclusion? This isn’t rhetorical—we want your opinion.

In preparation for selecting three CFI Fellows for 2016-2017, we are developing a short list of questions whose answers would drive financial inclusion forward.

Our Research Fellows Program is an initiative intended to tackle the biggest questions in financial inclusion—in order for the industry to take action in new areas and in new ways. The current cohort of fellows is finalizing research ranging from big data to small enterprises to technology infrastructure to G2P payments.

The questions we put forward for this next cohort will only be relevant if they are essential to the financial inclusion community. So we’re coming to you (yes, you!) for your input.

To get the conversation started, here are some of the questions on our working list. Let us know below in the comments which you think are compelling, and please take the liberty of adding your own.
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> Posted by Brenda Santoro and Ahmed Dermish with Kim Wilson

In uncertain times do developed economies have the resiliency in their financial inclusion processes to withstand rapid change without risking systemic stability and consumer protection?

Modern, nationally integrated systems, high-capacity supervision, and flexible policymaking are helping Germany turn the refugee crisis into an economic opportunity.

The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, commonly known as BAFIN, this fall relaxed requirements for opening a bank account. The new rules allow accounts to be opened with a stamped document from an appropriate German authority, such as BAFIN, along with a picture and personal information. Transitional rules are in effect until the approval of the law, expected this year. A directive in the European Union, which will begin in September 2016, will require similar access to bank accounts across the EU.

Citizens of developed countries may not appreciate the role a bank account plays in providing access to basic financial services. A bank account is more than a place to secure our money – in nearly every country, it provides high social and economic value. When a bank says we are trustworthy, even for a simple bank account, doors open for many services we take for granted such as access to electronic payments, basic utilities, housing contracts, education or small business loans. This works because banks use a vetting process to ensure they know exactly who we are, often referencing a nationally issued document such as a passport or driver’s license. For us, the account becomes another form of identity. For the banks, it ensures the correct people have access to funds. With a passport and a bank account, the world is our oyster, an entrée into other services and for the bank, it is an entrée into cross-selling and more profits as they learn more about us.

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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.