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> Posted by Center Staff

What’s better than blog posts? As a blogger, I’m inclined to assert that nothing is in fact better than blog posts. Alas, with self-awareness, I think we can all agree that interactive websites are cool. And that interactive websites about client protection in microfinance are especially cool!

Created by Nathalie Assouline of Alia Développement, a new interactive website offers users a media-rich experience for learning about the development of the microfinance industries in Cambodia and Morocco, with a special focus on client protection.

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> Posted by Carmen Paraison, Project Associate, the Smart Campaign

On January 18th, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed suit against Navient, the largest federal and private student loans servicer in the U.S., for “systemically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.” Allegations include:

  • Misallocating student loan payments by failing to follow instructions from borrowers about how to apply their payments across their multiple loans.
  • Steering struggling borrowers toward multiple forbearances instead of lower payments via income-driven repayment plans. (Forbearance is an option that lets borrowers take a short break from making payments, but that still accrues interest.)
  • Providing unclear information about how to re-enroll in income-driven repayment plans.
  • Deceiving private student loan borrowers about requirements to release their co-signer (e.g. a parent or grandparent) from their loans, which can be advantageous given some lenders’ practices surrounding the death of a co-signer.
  • And failing to act when borrowers complained.

Navient currently services more than $300 billion in loans for more than 12 million borrowers.

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> Posted by Pablo Antón Díaz, Research Manager, CFI

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Scott Graham, Daniel Rozas, and Pablo Anton-Diaz at the “Preventing Overindebtedness in the Microfinance Sector in Mexico” panel, XV National Microfinance Summit, Mexico City, Mexico, November 2016

For the past decade, in part fueled by regulatory changes in the financial sector, there has been an explosion in the availability of credit to low-income individuals in Mexico. The Mexican microfinance sector has become increasingly concentrated and highly competitive. In 2015, the 10 largest microfinance institutions (MFIs) in the country represented 81 percent of the total market size, with more than 1,500 smaller MFIs sharing the remaining 19 percent.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Lead, Africa Partnerships and Programs, the Smart Campaign

A keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended described consumer protection as “incredibly important,” before adding that it was also “boring.”  Palpable excitement buzzes around new products or technologies, but consumer protection can be a real buzzkill. After all, it is often viewed as a dry, bureaucratic subject, costly for providers, and entailing barriers to pace of change and convenience.

As the Smart Campaign’s Africa team lead, I’m excited about client protection! And that’s not because it’s my purview. First, I think that client protection should not be seen as pumping the breaks on financial inclusion’s momentum. Rather, it guarantees a longer, more enjoyable ride. Secondly, client protection need not be a dull compliance exercise. It too can crowdsource, beta-test, gamify, and so forth to hack innovative, agile, disruptive approaches. But seriously, as an industry we can consider and engage in client protection practices that are data-driven, and that use behavioral economics, human-centered design, fintech, and other disciplines to not only ensure fair consumer treatment but strengthen financial bottom lines.

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> Posted by Alex Counts

During my final years as President of Grameen Foundation and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG), I advocated that two papers be written that I had neither the time nor the expertise to do justice to myself.

The first paper was a distillation of lessons for practice from recent studies on the impact of microcredit and microfinance. Many papers that set out to determine whether microfinance worked stumbled on important insights about how it could work better. Unfortunately, those discoveries were buried in papers that people barely read beyond summaries and extracts. A paper that presented these “lessons for practice” in a form that was accessible to busy practitioners could make a big impact, by removing friction from the maddeningly difficult process of using research to positively influence policy and practice.

The second paper I advocated for was one that made the case for how philanthropy and social/impact investing, and more broadly, subsidy, could play a positive role in the microfinance industry today. Such a paper would need to start with making the case that such social investments had any role to play, as the conventional wisdom was settling on the idea that it did not have any.

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> Posted by Isabel Whisson, Deputy Manager, Microfinance Programme and Ultra Poor Graduation Initiative, and Onindita Islam, Management Professional Staff, Microfinance Programme

This year BRAC in Bangladesh became the largest microfinance institution, in terms of number of clients, to be Smart Certified, signifying to our country market and to the industry writ large that we treat our clients with adequate care.

As a non-profit dedicated to poverty reduction, client welfare has been central to BRAC’s mission since its inception in 1972. In Bangladesh in general, almost all microfinance institutions are non-profits, and so microfinance has always been seen as a tool for alleviating poverty in the country.

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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 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 Alexandra Rizzi, Deputy Director of the Smart Campaign

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects series. We’re raising awareness about responsible digital financial services, spotlighting work from the Smart Campaign and others, and engaging with industry actors on how fintech can move forward in a way that’s best for clients. For more information on #FintechProtects, and to get involved, click here.

In financial inclusion circles there is palpable excitement around the promise of digital financial services (DFS) – most recently quantified by the McKinsey Global Institute as the potential for 1.6 billion individuals becoming banked, $2.1 trillion in loans disbursed, and 95 million new jobs. Yet, in order for this potential to be achieved, customers must trust the service. For instance, India-based MicroSave conducted research showing that while 85 percent of DFS customers said they would recommend DFS to others, they thought of it as a Plan B due to lack of trust. Issues that can erode or prevent trust from building include gaps in data protection and security, service downtime, insufficient transparency, agent misconduct and unauthorized fees, among others. As Graham Wright of MicroSave writes, “It is clear that there are immediate potential wins for DFS providers who address consumer protection issues.”

In this post the Smart Campaign spotlights a fast-growing fintech company, JUMO, that is helping to define what responsible digital finance means.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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Screenshot from VisionFund International’s webinar (click to watch)

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

On day three of Financial Inclusion Week 2016 we were excited to see conversations happen around the world, including in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Australia. We offer a rundown of these events and the vibrant online conversation below.

The week is nearing a close but there are still plenty of upcoming events and ways to get involved. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter with #FinclusionWeek, join tomorrow’s webinar with Innovations for Poverty Action, or submit a client quote and photo to our collection of client insights.

What’s Happening

VisionFund International hosted a webinar (two webinars, in fact, to accommodate for different timezones) focused on the future of digital financial services. The webinar centered on how VisionFund is using technology to lend to smallholder farmers at the right level, and at the right time. During the webinar, Tom Allen and Justin McAuley, Director of Change and Programs and Director of Global Digital Architecture at VisionFund, highlighted a new application they developed which uses available geographic and market data to better extend their products to smallholder farmers and manage risk. You can watch the full webinar here.
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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.