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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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That question is at the crux of a different kind of emergency savings fund. A “f*ck off fund” is savings you can leverage when you need to break away from your current situation – say, when you need to leave a harmful relationship or a problematic job. The term was coined a few years ago and has become popular, in recognition of its distinctiveness from other types of savings and its importance especially among women.

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It’s not just social media. We need a fresh look at how financial data is protected, too.

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s handling of customer data yesterday before the U.S. Senate, and many of us at Accion and the Center for Financial Inclusion were riveted. Not that the testimony was especially compelling as television spectacle, but because the issues at stake are so important both for our own lives and for our work.

I did a quick scan of the staff here in our Washington, D.C. office, and would like to share some of their thoughts.

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The U.S. bail bonds system raises serious consumer protection concerns

> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Specialist, CFI

In a criminal justice system that accepts cash in exchange for temporary freedom, a predatory financial service has taken root and become yet another barrier. In the United States, bail bondsman and global insurance companies are netting between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion annually from vulnerable people who are unable to pay the bail they need to remain out of custody before they are tried. This is not a new problem. It’s been going on since the early days of the modern U.S. criminal justice system.

Those accused of crimes are given an option to stay in jail or put up an amount of money (bail) for their release prior to trial. (It is important to note that people at this stage are presumed innocent under law.) The bail acts as a commitment device for people to show up to their court hearing. The bail amount is returned if the defendant shows up. If they do not, the court keeps it. Bail amounts vary greatly based on the severity of the crime in question as well as the potential flight risk of the accused party. The average bail amount for a felony arrest is about $10,000, roughly two months’ worth of the median annual income in the United States. In a study of nearly 30,000 cases where bail was set in New York City, only 37 percent of defendants could afford to pay bail.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following post was originally published on NextBillion and has been re-published with permission.

Two books published this year, The Financial Diaries, by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, and The Unbanking of America, by Lisa Servon, take on the state of financial inclusion in the United States. Given the professional standing of their authors, we can expect that these books will contribute substantially to the body of knowledge on financial inclusion. What is perhaps more surprising is just how broadly important their messages are. Both books examine what is arguably the top economic challenge in America today – the crumbling of the economic foundation for many working-class and middle-class families – and they do so through the lens of financial services, a somewhat unusual but very revealing perspective.

The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty focuses on the variability of income and expenses, which makes it hard for an increasing number of Americans to maintain a steady standard of living. The weekly and monthly extent of this volatility eluded most national statistics until the Diaries project, with its unique methodology, which was developed initially to study financial behavior in low-income countries. During a Diaries project, researchers record every financial transaction made by participating families each week for a year. This detailing yields intimate portraits of families’ financial lives at a level of magnification not previously available.

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> Posted by Emma Morse, Project Specialist, CFI

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Mavis Wanczyk, a staff member at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts and a mother of two, recently became a multi-millionaire, revealing herself as the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot winner – the largest individual winner ever. Wanczyk quit her job of 32 years less than 24 hours later.

Reflecting on her decision, Wanczyk remarks, “I was just there to buy it, for just luck. Just go in, buy a scratch ticket, and say maybe it’s me, maybe it won’t be me. It’s just a chance, a chance I had to take.”

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in over 292 million. In order to purchase all of the possible combinations, an individual would need to spend $584,402,676 on tickets. You are about 100,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning at some point in your lifetime than you are to hit this particular jackpot.

So why do Americans spend $70.15 billion on lottery tickets annually, while very few of us live in fear of being struck by lightning? Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The recent security breach of credit reporting agency Equifax exposed birth dates, social security numbers and credit card information of up to 143 million consumers. The hackers will likely sell this personal information which could result in financial and medical identity left, and fraudulent credit card activity and tax reporting, along with a slew of other activities. Earlier this week Equifax announced their CEO, Richard Smith will be retiring and could walk away with $18 million in pension benefits. The Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey called it “the most brazen failure to protect consumer data we have ever seen.” As a result, the Federal Trade Commission, members of Congress and multiple states’ authorities are looking into criminal investigations. However, the burden of this breach will fall primarily on individual consumers to ensure they are protected, and only 10 percent of the potential 143 million affected have even checked the Equifax site to see if their information was compromised. (You can check to see if you may have been impacted here.)

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> Posted by Rachel Morpeth, Analyst, CFI

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People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey.

The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey colored headlines across the nation. Two weeks later, Houston, Texas remains partially submerged. The resulting financial damage will likely exceed that of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana coast in 2005. Harvey is taking Katrina’s title as the most catastrophic storm in America’s history. A Politico headline, however, poignantly suggests another message that perhaps we should all be taking away: “Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like.” Harvey is classified as a “500-year flood,” meaning a flood of this magnitude has a 1-in-500 probability of occurring in any given year. Yet this is Houston’s third 500-year flood in three years. Harvey’s successor, Hurricane Irma, has also caused death and devastation, while heavy flooding in South Asia has resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 people across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

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> Posted by Robin Brazier, Communications and Operations Associate, the Smart Campaign

U.S. Capitol BuildingLately, so much has been happening in Washington, D.C. that it feels impossible to keep up. Every day is a whirlwind of new developments. The Smart Campaign has been keeping its eye on one bill in particular: H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE (Creating Home and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs) Act of 2017. Among its other provisions, the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to disarm the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and compromise the well-being of financial service consumers in the United States.

Introduced by House Representative Jeb Hensarling (TX-5) in April, the CHOICE Act, according to its sponsors, would loosen the allegedly burdensome and complicated regulations put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 with the stated goal of increasing financial services access for small businesses and spurring economic growth. These small businesses are said to be having a difficult time getting loans from small banks due to Dodd-Frank, and the CHOICE Act would purportedly lessen these difficulties and allow more small banks to lend to small businesses.

However, from where the Smart Campaign is sitting, the CHOICE Act looks quite different.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

At CFI we often talk about financial health as if it is a crisp, free-standing concept. Moreover, by connecting financial health to financial inclusion we imply – and hope – that we can affect financial health by offering the right kind of financial services and/or developing a person’s financial capabilities. However, while there is truth to this view, it is sometimes easy to overestimate the power of financial services. We need to think about how both financial and economic factors intertwine to create outcomes. If we compartmentalize financial actions, we ignore the very powerful economic factors that influence financial health.

As defined by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – and embraced by us at CFI – three elements must all be present to declare a person, family or microenterprise to be financially healthy:

  • Balanced day-to-day money management – outflows balanced with incomes over time.
  • Protection from shocks – ability to draw down, borrow or call upon resources to lessen the blow when bad things happen.
  • Pursuit of goals – ability to accumulate resources for medium to long-term purposes, whether personal or productive.

In speaking with low income people around the world, we find that many people intuitively define financial health in these terms, and nearly everyone tries to pursue financial health in their own lives. But achieving these three elements is not just a financial task. It requires both economic and financial actions. (It also hinges on personal choices and capabilities, but we will set these aside for now.)

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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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.