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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Money changer at the bazaar displays his currency wares

The following post was originally published on Devex.

In his proposed budget, U.S. President Donald Trump is calling for cuts to foreign assistance. In this message I would like to suggest that even with a smaller foreign aid budget, an excellent opportunity exists to work toward financial inclusion as a development goal. Financial inclusion provides wins all around: for business, for national security and for individuals — and it would not be expensive for the administration to pursue it.

Financial inclusion means ensuring that everyone — farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, students, etc. — has quality financial services to manage their lives and become economically productive. Over 2 billion adults worldwide lack a bank account. Financial services, including accounts, savings and credit, have become a gateway for social and economical inclusion, which in turn contributes to prosperity and peace. For the first time in history, financial inclusion is actually feasible: mobile money, e-commerce and digital financial services make it possible for providers to serve enormous new segments of the population.

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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 Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

It is 2017. Why would millions of women around the world feel the need to march for equality? Is half the world’s population actually oppressed? Let’s take a look at the financial inclusion gender gap. And given the relationship between financial inclusion and financial health, let’s also examine how the financial well-being of women is systemically compromised. Here are some of the ways that our financial worlds exclude or marginalize women, ultimately resulting in their being more financially vulnerable and more likely to live in poverty than men. In outlining these ways I pull heavily from an Ellevest guide called “Mind the Gap”, which highlights and quantifies a number of ways women in the United States still face financial inequalities. Though these Ellevest figures are for the U.S., these gender gaps are even more prevalent in nearly all other countries around the world.

1. Gender pay gap – The range varies, with women of color making less, but on average, women in the U.S. make 78 cents to every $1 a man makes. This stems from a number of things, including implicit gender biases and the fact that women are less likely to ask for raises (and when they do, they are more likely to be punished in the workplace for it – see evidence here and here). This current reality costs the average woman in the United States $1,300,000 over her lifetime!

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> Posted by Center Staff

Number of AML-related fines by U.S. regulators 2000–2014. (click to enlarge)

This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

The root causes of de-risking have been surprisingly hard to pin down. In our previous post in this series, we looked at the role that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and global standards have played. Today we’ll examine the role of the U.S. government.

It is no wonder that decisions by the U.S. government—at both federal and state-levels—have a significant ripple effect. Most international settlement systems—the way that banks move money across borders—are pegged to the U.S. dollar. Furthermore, the U.S. plays a strong role in setting international global norms. Added to this is the massive size of the U.S. financial system and the power that the U.S. government has to govern the system. Finally, banks located in emerging markets, even if they are largely domestically oriented, need to be able to do business with U.S. businesses and banks, and therefore must remain in good standing with American authorities.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Customers wait to collect money at the Juba Express money transfer company in Mogadishu, Somalia. 

This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a comprehensive literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

Are anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) rules to blame for de-risking and the resulting financial exclusion? A World Bank survey of financial institutions says, “probably.” The survey respondents listed concerns about money laundering and terrorism financing risks, including the imposition of international sanctions pertaining to AML/CTF. To say the least, the de-risking phenomenon has huge implications for the advancement of financial inclusion in our current geopolitical climate.

De-risking has been defined as the trend of financial institutions terminating or restricting business relationships with clients or categories of clients to avoid, rather than manage, risk. This can take the form of: restricting or terminating correspondent banking relationships (CBRs) where one bank provides services to another; restricting or terminating money transfer operators (MTOs); and restricting or terminating the accounts of individual clients deemed to be risky. It’s important to note that recently “de-risking” as a term has been called inappropriate by some as there may be other reasons why, to give one example, CBRs are terminated. Nevertheless, we use it here as it is the most commonly used phrase to describe this phenomenon.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

Somalis, who rely heavily on money transfers from abroad, have been severely affected by the closing of remittance companies’ accounts.

This post is the first in a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. Through the Credit Suisse Global Citizens Program, CFI partnered with Rissa Ofilada, who works as a lawyer in compliance in the Philippines, to undertake a study on de-risking. In the series, we’ll discuss the causes of the phenomenon, what it means for customers at the base of the pyramid, how it affects global momentum toward financial inclusion, and what solutions are on the horizon.

The term de-risking may sound arcane and technical, but in fact some observers believe that de-risking is the biggest threat to the progress that has already been made on financial inclusion. We at CFI are worried about it—and you should be too.

De-risking refers to the trend of commercial banks, payments companies, and regulators closing down “suspicious” accounts. These accounts could be suspicious for any number of reasons. The owner may not have had adequate proof of identity—a common problem for lower-income people in countries without well-developed identification systems. Or the owners may not be able to precisely trace the source of the funds they deposit—a frequent issue for those operating in the informal sector. Or the provider had a problem with another lower-income customer who was flagged as suspicious, and as a result decided to close all accounts owned by people with similar patterns or profiles.

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

The following is part of the Smart Campaign’s #FintechProtects mini campaign. 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.

Do you have a credit card you don’t know about? Last week, we learned that over 5,000 employees across Wells Fargo, the United States’ biggest home lender and one of the nation’s largest banks, had opened at least two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts in clients’ names. In an effort to meet high sales targets and earn bonuses, bank employees transferred funds from customers’ existing authorized accounts to unapproved accounts in customers’ names. Clients had not consented and were mostly unaware of this, despite incurring late fees and other charges on these new unapproved accounts. The widespread practice had somehow gone undetected for 5 years.

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> Posted by Julia Arnold, Financial Inclusion Consultant

If I ask you to picture an American who is financially vulnerable, what do you see? Do you see someone living from paycheck to paycheck? Someone who patronizes a payday lender or car title lender? Perhaps a family struggling to decide which bill to pay at the end of each month? Someone with a high school degree working a few part-time, low-wage jobs? And how many people do you think fit into this category in the U.S.? Twenty percent? Thirty percent?

What if I were to tell you that in fact nearly half of Americans report that they could not come up with $400 in an emergency? That’s about 150 million people – a number so large you’re bound to know at least one person in this group. Financial insecurity or vulnerability isn’t just a concept discussed among development professionals looking to support a microfinance institution in Kenya or India; in the U.S., it’s a reality for millions of our neighbors and friends. Those living in perilous economic existences are not just the people we imagined above. The financially vulnerable are hiding in plain sight.

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> Posted by Hannah Sherman, Project Associate, CFI

A financial shock can happen suddenly and at any time, and a single unexpected expense can push many American households into financial hardship. Something as straightforward as a car repair can have a snowball effect on a family’s finances if they are not prepared for it. A 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that in 2014, 60 percent of American households experienced a financial shock, and that the average household spent half a month of income on its most expensive shock.

While most households have at least a loose budget for recurring expenses like housing, food, and transportation, most are not prepared for additional unexpected expenses, a study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found. Consumers’ attitudes and behaviors are typically consistent with their financial health – i.e. those who are financially healthy are more likely to have recovery strategies available when setbacks strike.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

This morning I had the luxury of splitting an Uber with my girlfriend for our to-work transportation. Neither she nor I are affluent by United States standards, but I would say we’re relatively financially healthy. Most months, our expenses like rent, food, medical bills, and student loans are low enough compared to our incomes that we have money left over for things like Uber rides, dinners out, and the occasional vacation. We have formal financial products and understand them well. Financial health for us means the combination of our financial flows and our financial products positions us for financial stability in the immediate and long-term, even as we grow older and our financial demands dramatically change.

Building financial health, for me, requires attention to my day-to-day financial activities that help build my resilience and allow me to take advantage of opportunities. It’s having savings quietly accumulating for a rainy day or for that bicycle purchase. It’s having access to loans that help if I want to go back to school, buy a house, or start a business. It’s the ability to pay up when an emergency visit to the hospital is necessary, and it’s the confidence that if my house is broken into I can replace my possessions.

My own financial health is very much related to the unique day-to-day financial needs, opportunities, and emergencies that exist in my life. Someone who is unemployed, or older, or supporting a child, or enrolled in school would have a much different assessment of their own health. Similarly, someone in a low or middle income country—where the Center for Financial Inclusion focuses most of its attention—would have different financial needs and therefore different financial health. Despite these differences, however, the thing I’ve noticed is that many of the big financial issues around the world are the same. As part of the Center for Financial Service Innovation’s (CFSI) financial health blog contest, I wanted to offer some observations along these lines.

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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.