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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

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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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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

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If you’re based in the United States, you’ve likely heard about how student loan debt is problematic and has been for years. The growing volume of student debt that has become more and more the norm is so high, its effects can be overwhelming. But how bad is it? Is it just a matter of students needing to hunker down (a little longer) and pay their dues (a little more)?

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> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Specialist, CFI

How financially healthy are you? Financial health is a relatively new term in the financial inclusion community, and aims to provide a model for assessing how well one’s daily financial systems enable a person or household to build resilience to shocks and pursue opportunities and dreams. Last month, CFI in collaboration with The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and Dalberg’s Design Impact Group (DIG) launched the results of a year-long study into how to adapt CFSI’s U.S.-based financial health framework to a developing country, BoP context. The study found that the concept of financial health can be applied to lower-income people in emerging markets, though the indicators and measures of financial health in this context were different. We encourage you to check out the full report, Beyond Financial Inclusion: Financial Health as a Global Framework, to learn more about our financial health framework for the developing world.

We also encourage you to engage with your own financial health in order to get a better grasp on the concept. To better understand the concept ourselves, CFI and Accion staff (building on the work of our year-long study and on the U.S. Financial Health Framework of CFSI) recently participated in an organization-wide financial health survey. Over 120 Accionistas took the survey and received assessments of their financial health. After reviewing the responses, we have uncovered some interesting insights into how people’s debts evolve as they age and the diverse set of tools they are using to manage their financial lives.

As a next step in the process of understanding, we want to share this survey with you. We hope it will help you both engage with the concept of financial health and potentially improve your own financial health. We also hope your feedback will help us strengthen our framework and this tool.  Finally, we look forward to reporting back soon on the financial health of CFI’s (anonymous) blog readers!

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Internet privacy rules have just been overturned in the U.S. by Congress and the Administration, and at the same time, struggles over banking privacy are taking place. There are striking similarities as well as crucial differences. As a consumer protection advocate, I am struck by how the narrative about these kinds of conflicts primarily centers on where competitive advantage lies, and which company or industry is made the winner or loser, rather than about the rights of consumers.

The internet case pits telecoms and cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, against internet companies, like Google and Facebook. The Obama-era rules that were just overturned required broadband providers to ask customer permission before tracking, sharing and/or selling their data. These companies complain that the rules disadvantage them relative to internet-based companies, which can collect data without such rules.

The banking case, as reported in The New York Times, pits major banks against fintechs and data aggregators. The question is whether banks will transfer consumer data – at the consumer’s request – to companies that provide personal financial management tools, like Mint, Betterment, and Digit (or to data aggregators that facilitate the transfer – like Plaid and Yodlee). Without this data the financial management apps cannot build the complete portrait of a person’s financial life they need to provide analysis and advice. But banks are reluctant, even after specific consumer requests. You might think this reluctance is to protect their customers or because of data privacy rules for banking, but actually, according to The Times, it’s because the customer data reveals details about banks’ own business models – like pricing and products. The banks fear, probably correctly, that the personal financial management companies will use the information to undercut bank products with their own offerings.

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> Posted by Sarah Rotman Parker, Director, the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and Sonja Kelly, Director, the Center for Financial Inclusion

The following post was originally published on the CGAP blog. 

Over the past year, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) have explored financial health in emerging markets. We wanted to understand whether the concept of financial health, promoted widely in the United States by CFSI, could be used as a relevant framework to understand consumers. Financial health is defined as coming about when your daily systems help you build resilience and pursue opportunities. Our working hypothesis was that financial health could serve as a method of tracking progress in emerging markets since it is what people strive to attain, and therefore is one of the core aims of financial inclusion.

Our work took us to rural and urban areas in Kenya and India. With the help of the Dalberg Design Impact Group and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we asked consumers in these markets questions about their financial lives. These questions ranged from how much money they could come up with if they liquidated all of their assets to whether their friends would help them financially in the case of an emergency (and about a hundred other questions in between these two ends of the spectrum).

The aim of the research was to identify the key indicators of financial health in a developing world context, similar to the eight key indicators that CFSI had identified for the U.S. market. We found that while financial health as a concept holds in countries like India and Kenya, the indicators to define and measure financial health look somewhat different from those in the United States. The resulting framework can be summed up as follows (and the full report is 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.