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> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

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Building upon its e-commerce features for businesses, Instagram recently took another step into the digital finance space by rolling out a native (or in-app) payments feature to some of its users. After registering a debit or credit card and creating a security PIN number, users can make payments to a limited number of vendors directly within the Instagram app without being redirected to an external website. Beyond making your impulse buys a much more seamless experience, this native payments functionality can help online retailers and others sell and market their products directly to consumers without needing to build their own website or manage a physical retail location.

Given the intense scrutiny of Facebook’s data protection and privacy policies in recent weeks, it remains to be seen whether large numbers of users and businesses will actually entrust their financial data to Instagram, as, after all, Instagram is owned by Facebook. Instagram’s new payments feature is backed by Facebook’s Terms of Service for payments. However, with the volume of traffic that the platform generates for businesses and the ever-increasing smartphone ownership worldwide, adding this functionality is perhaps an opportunity that’s too good for Instagram to miss. It’s reported that 60 percent of Instagram users learn about new products through the platform, and over 200 million people visit at least one business profile on Instagram daily.

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> Posted by Robyn Robertson, Training and Capability Development Lead, Good Return

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Disruption and breakthrough innovation often comes from huge need, unmet latent demand, and not enough resources for traditional solutions to work!

The financial inclusion space is changing rapidly in Cambodia. Competition is intense, with 36 commercial banks, 11 specialized banks, 38 microfinance institutions, and over 400 NGOs currently applying for financing licenses. As this congested sector moves forward, catering to an increasingly digitally connected and aspirational market, the population is offered a sprawling range of new money management and credit options.

As consumer credit and digital financial products become more accessible in Cambodia, there is increasing risk that Cambodia’s youth (who represent newer and less experienced consumers) and the very poor (who are more vulnerable to economic shocks) can be harmed through becoming over-indebted, falling victim to scams, predatory pricing or poorly suited financial products.

For services perceived to be ‘essential,’ such is the case with financial services, the potential for consumer dissatisfaction is great if there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they experience or observe.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist

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On August 4, Facebook received approval on a patent it had purchased in a bundle from the defunct social network Friendster. It primarily describes a mechanism to weed out content depending on whether it travels via trusted nodes in a user’s social network. This might not have caused much of a stir, had it not been for entrepreneur and blogger Mikhail Avady’s revelation that the patent also includes the following application:

“In a fourth embodiment of the invention, the service provider is a lender. When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.”

Many commentators and journalists reacted with alarm, while Facebook has not offered comment on the story. It is unclear whether or not a product will be developed out of this particular embodiment of the invention. A Daily KOS headline proclaims that “Facebook Gets Patent to Discriminate Against You Based on Your Social Network”, and a Popular Science writer notes that “It’s totally not something straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia”. This MSN article warns readers to purge their less trustworthy friends, though it also notes that the technology could relegate some consumers to riskier lenders. In the non-financial press, less attention is given to the potential upshots for thin-file loan applicants. The list of concerned news outlets stretches well beyond the first page of search results I examined after Googling the patent’s text.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

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Twitter and Groupe BPCE, France’s second-largest bank, are teaming up to enable Twitter’s users to complete person-to-person money transfers using tweets. Payments on the service will be open to anyone in the country, not just Groupe BPCE users, and won’t require senders to know the recipient’s banking details to initiate a transaction. The payments will be managed by S-Money, Groupe BPCE’s mobile money unit.

The development comes amid a wave of new offerings from digital and internet-based payments providers, both newcomers and veterans. In 2012, Western Union experienced a 41 percent increase in online transactions. Venmo, the PayPal-owned smartphone app that integrates users’ social info, reached a transaction volume of US$ 468 million in the second quarter of this year, a 347 percent increase over last year’s Q2 figure. Last month, with a portion of users in the United States, Twitter also began testing its potential to be a retail marketplace with Twitter Buy. The platform update integrates a “buy button” into the tweets of companies selling products or services, harnessing the Twitter stream of tweets as an avenue for online window shopping.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI 

Budding entrepreneurs, vendors, and everyday people in emerging economies are creating new ways of benefiting from the internet, using their own ingenuity in ways that go beyond the original intended use of many web-based platforms. A recent slideshow from Yiibu, a Scotland-based design and consulting firm, offers a dizzying array of examples of how people use the mobile web to sell and pay for anything you can think of, mostly in Asia along with the Middle East, Africa, and Russia.

The growth in traffic from growing economies is a familiar story (Yiibu mentions that Chinese, Indian, and Russian sites now make up almost half of the Alexa “top 20”). What’s new is how the mobile internet has opened up new ways of doing business for anyone with a smart phone. Individuals, small businesses, and major corporations are selling a jumbled mix of products and services, from cars and iPhones to handmade crafts to travel visa services.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

A few days ago news broke that Facebook, the social media giant with over a billion users worldwide, is making preparations to begin offering international money transfer services. Although the development has been dismissed by Facebook as rumor, the prospect of this enormous network enabled for money transfer and the huge global need for this service makes this a story worth following.

The news, initially shared by the Financial Times and sourced from individuals involved in the proceedings, indicates that Facebook is weeks away from securing regulatory approval from Ireland’s central bank to allow its users to store money on the site and use it to pay others. Facebook’s headquarters for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia is in Dublin. If approved, Facebook would be permitted to issue units of stored monetary value represented as “claims” against the company. Regulation in this area pertaining to Europe would allow approval in Ireland to green light services throughout the entire continent. The Financial Times also mentions that Facebook has had discussions about potential partnerships with several start-ups that offer international money transfer services through both smartphone and online platforms.

Facebook’s reach is massive, 1.23 billion at the end of last year, and it’s becoming increasingly diverse. Last week, thanks to increases in internet access and mobile penetration, the company achieved a milestone in India: 100 million users. Some analysts say by the end of this year India will surpass the United States (with 180 million) as the country with the most Facebook users. The social media site is big elsewhere in Asia, too. It is the most popular social network service in all but six of the region’s countries. After the US and India, Facebook’s largest countries by-users include Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines. Facebook has a large presence in Africa, as well, with 13 million users in Egypt, 9.4 million in South Africa, 5.3 million in Nigeria, 1.8 million in Kenya, and 1.4 million in Ghana.

Like Facebook, remittances volumes are increasing on the whole around the world. In a new brief on remittances and migration released last week by the World Bank, it’s shown that remittances to developing countries reached about $404 billion in 2013, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2012. Annual growth is expected to increase to an annual average of 8.4 percent over the next three years. In 2013, India received the most international remittances with $70 billion, followed by China with $60 billion, and the Philippines with $25 billion.

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The following post by Natalie Zuniga was originally published on the Ashoka Changemakers’ blog with the title “Join @Changemakers and @G20Mexico on October 9th for a #SocEntChat about Global Financial Inclusion. 

On October 9, 2012 from 11am to 1pm EST, Ashoka Changemakers will host a multilingual (English, Spanish, Portuguese) #SocEntChatabout promising solutions to achieve full financial inclusion. Experts and social entrepreneurs working in the field will convene and answer your questions during a Twitter-based discussion. Special guests Center for Financial Inclusion (@CFI_ACCION) and FINO (@Jatinhandoo) will join the conversation.

This #SocEntChat follows the closing of the entry period for the G2012 Mexico Financial Inclusion competition, which received 257 entries from 62 countries. Visit the competition page to check out solutions from around the world and to give social entrepreneurs your feedback.

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> Posted by Ignacio Mas

Giving personal credit is about judging people. Banks have established information standards about customers, designed to make the judging process routine. How long have you lived at a given fixed address? What is your level of education and profession? How much salary do you earn? What is your history of past debts? etc.

The problem is that this standard information set is not at all standard for the informal majority in developing countries. People may not have a fixed address, they are likely to be jacks-of-all-trades, no one guarantees them a wage, and prior borrowing and repayments have left no trace.

There is much talk about using online social networks to create a new systematic profile for customers whose data is now invisible to banks (such as Lenddo). The deal seems to be: reveal more to the lender about what you do, how you spend your time, what your interests are, who your friends are, and it will be better able to judge you. With today’s computing machines, the information collected from people can be a lot more bitty and diverse, and the code will crunch it into a standard profile. Powerful stuff: now, pretty much any information can be thrown into the judging machine.
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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.