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> Posted by Kimberly Lei Pang, Digital Learning Specialist, UNICEF

In the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the magical word “sesame” was used to open the seal of a cave where Ali Baba found hidden treasure. In China today, the same word is connected to another kind of magic, one that reveals hidden identities of the socially and economically disadvantaged. Sesame Credit (“芝麻信用” in Mandarin) is a product launched by Alibaba that pulls from transaction records on e-commerce platforms to understand a person or company’s creditworthiness. Such innovation in credit scoring is part of the “social credit system” that the Chinese government is building to make up for the longstanding shortage of credit data.

Access to credit, a major indicator of financial inclusion, has gained increasing attention from Chinese policymakers in recent years. For a country experiencing an economic slowdown and widening income gap between the rich and the poor, credit accessibility has the potential to spur growth and level the playing field for the poor. However, despite China’s efforts to improve financial access, a large portion of its population neither uses nor has access to credit. Data from the World Bank’s Global Findex study showed that Chinese people (aged 15+) have relatively high levels of formal bank account ownership (79 percent, 2014) but low levels of credit usage (14 percent, 2014). In fact, China’s formal credit use is the lowest among the five BRICS economies. Aside from the rigidity and costliness of financial institutions, a significant barrier to borrowing is the lack of reliable credit scoring in China. Established just 11 years ago, China’s credit bureau CCRC covers credit profiles for only a quarter of China’s 1.4 billion population and shares that information only with selected banks. Lenders thus often have no access to borrowers’ financial histories and tend to make rather arbitrary decisions on borrowers’ creditworthiness. As a result, many individuals and microenterprises find it difficult to get a loan, as steady employment and collateral assets are commonly required for formal credit.

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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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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

Going door-to-door to conduct surveys is expensive. Going door-to-door to conduct surveys assessing household consumption and poverty levels in far-flung areas around the world is even more expensive. And reliable data, of course, is crucial to financial inclusion and other international development efforts.

In recent years, the use of nighttime satellite imagery capturing civilizations’ lights or lack thereof has risen as a means to learn more about an area’s poverty levels without cumbersome surveys. But with these images alone, the picture is incomplete. A new project from a research team at Stanford University devised a computer model that brings poverty assessment into sharper focus. The model accurately predicts poverty levels, an ability built through machine learning using nighttime satellite imagery, high-resolution daytime satellite imagery, and household survey data. In fact, the model is able to predict up to 75 percent of the variation in local-level economic outcomes, and beats the nightlight models nearly all the time.

How does the model work and what are its limitations?

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign

The following post was originally published on 100 Million Ideas.

Dignitaries who attended the 1997 Microcredit Summit

Twenty years ago Sam Daley-Harris came to our offices at Opportunity International — where I then worked — and told us of his plans to hold a Microcredit Summit. Working with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and John Hatch, founder of FINCA, he would gather leaders from around the world to inform them of the important role microcredit and other financial services could play in helping people living in poverty. At the time, neither the UN nor the World Bank nor any national governments had any policies related to microfinance. Sam wanted to change that.

We were intrigued by his idea, so we started asking more about his organization. He represented a grassroots lobbying group called RESULTS, which mobilized citizen volunteers to advocate for issues related to poverty and hunger to their representatives in Congress. He told us about how, in 1990, RESULTS volunteers had held 500 candlelight vigils around the country to support the World Summit for Children.

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> Posted by Caitlin Sanford, Bankable Frontier Associates

PUEBLA (91) twitter“Although Paula is experiencing economic difficulties, she says that she will stretch the little money she has to cover household expenses.” -Field researcher’s qualitative journal

Today the Mexican Ministry of Finance (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público), the federal development bank BANSEFI (Banco del Ahorro Nacional y Servicios Financieros), the MetLife Foundation, and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) release the results of the Mexico Financial Diaries at an event at the library at the National Palace in Mexico City. The Mexico Financial Diaries, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank, tracked cash flows of 185 families located on the outskirts of Mexico City, in a small town in Puebla, and in a rural Mixteco community in Oaxaca over the course of about 11 months.

Mexico is the first Latin American country where this Financial Diaries methodology has been used to collect fine-grained household finance data. These data add to the growing compendium of Financial Diaries data from Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Mozambique, Pakistan (all implemented by BFA and partners), the U.S. (implemented by NYU’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation), and Zambia (implemented by Microfinance Opportunities).

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman and Jeffrey Riecke, Project Associate and Communications Specialist, CFI

fi2020_antilogo1In terms of financial inclusion, Haiti has much to be excited about. That might come as a surprise as it is considered to have among the worst environments for financial inclusion efforts, at least according to the Global Microscope. In the 2015 Microscope rankings, Haiti was at the very bottom of the list. Though this 2015 score reflected great progress compared to 2014. In fact, Haiti’s score improved year-on-year more than nearly any other country. This was due in large part to the development of a national financial inclusion strategy. However, Haiti’s path forward, including the implementation of this national strategy, is less than straightforward.

Haiti is still very poor. More than three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and about two-thirds are unemployed. According to the Global Findex, in 2014 only 19 percent of Haitians aged 15 or above had access to a bank account, compared with 51 percent across all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Nine percent of the adult population had formal savings in 2014 (compared with 14 percent regionally), and 5 percent were formal borrowers (compared with 11 percent in the region). Small and medium-sized businesses and microenterprises make up the majority of the country’s jobs, and their access to finance is extremely limited.

But in recent years, Haiti has achieved impressive advances in its policy, regulation, and enabling infrastructure. About a year ago the Banque de la République d’Haïti (BRH, the central bank) passed the national financial inclusion strategy, which was supported by the World Bank and other international organizations. Among the strategy’s priority areas are financial education and consumer protection. In July of last year, USAID and Haiti’s Office of Economic Growth and Agricultural Development announced plans to work towards expanding financial access in support of this strategy. Their effort focuses on harnessing partnerships across stakeholder types to pilot and develop interventions.

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> Posted by Center Staff

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

FI2020 Week is upon us! Around the world, interactive and participatory events are underway to explore the most important steps to achieving financial inclusion. The range of events features representatives from banks, insurance companies, payment companies, telecommunication companies, policymakers, regulators, NGOs, microfinance institutions, investors, financial inclusion support organizations, financial capability experts, and fintech companies. Across events and participants, FI2020 Week’s focus is the calls to action generated from the guiding prompt: What is an important action needed in your country (or industry segment) to advance financial inclusion?

Below are some of the first comments by financial inclusion leaders. But first, here are some ways you can participate.

Join one of the 12 webinars hosted by Accion’s Channels and Technology team, Andares, AVAL, GSMA, the Helix Institute, IFMR LEAD, Innovations for Poverty Action, LeapFrog Investments, MicroSave, MIX, and the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute.

Check out the findings from the web-based FI2020 Progress Report—and see our high-level summary of messages in this new 8-minute video.

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> Posted by Leora Klapper, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, the World Bank

Eroll Asuncion runs a grocery store on the remote Philippine island of Rapu-Rapu. It’s a three-hour boat ride to the nearest bank. Fortunately, that’s no longer a problem – thanks to the mobile phone revolution and new regulations that make it easier for people to open and use an account.

Eroll’s customers now pay bills and send and receive remittances through a mobile money account they access via mobile phones. Eroll’s SuperStore has become something of a bank for islanders using these mobile accounts, allowing them to send and receive cash at the store.

“My husband sends (me) money twice a month, on the 15th and 30th,” Yolanda, a customer, explains.

Hundreds of millions of others like Yolanda are opening new accounts through their phone or at a bank or similar institution. It’s part of a financial revolution that’s sweeping the developing world. Since 2011, 245 million more people in East Asia and the Pacific have become part of the formal financial system by opening an account.

The World Bank has just released our much-anticipated second edition of the Global Findex, the world’s only comprehensive gauge of global progress on “financial inclusion”—how people save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk. The data give us insight into account ownership around the world, and how people are using – or not using – those accounts.

The Global Findex offers good news. As of 2014, 62 percent of adults around the world had access to a bank account. Put another way, the number of people who are “unbanked” has tumbled to 2.0 billion from 2.5 billion in 2011, when the Global Findex was first released.

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> Posted by Michiel Sallaets, Communications Manager, Incofin Investment Management

To continue Sri Lanka’s development in its post-war, post-tsunami era, it’s essential that greater investments be made in the country’s agriculture sector and in its financial services for the base of the pyramid.

In Sri Lanka, about 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Agriculture is the main source of income for these people and many of them work at the smallholder level. Loans are necessary for farmers to adequately invest in seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other productive inputs. Loans can also prove instrumental in compensating for the occasional inadequate harvest. Yet, the proportion of people who have taken out loans in Sri Lanka in the past year is a dismal 9 percent. Only 22 percent of the population in the past year has saved in a financial institution.

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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.