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

Board members and CEOs of MFIs in the MENA region met at the MENA Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar hosted by CFI, Calmeadow and the Sanabel Network, in Jordan this March

Over the past few years, the financial inclusion landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has rapidly evolved with new market entrants, changing regulations and increased financial risks. The industry aims to expand access to formal financial services and achieve much needed economic stability, and yet the financial inclusion ecosystem in MENA has experienced slower growth over the last 10 years compared to their peers in other parts of the developing world. According to reports by the World Bank and CGAP, microfinance institutions (MFIs) in MENA are currently reaching approximately 3 million borrowers, with a loan portfolio of over $2 billion — far below the market potential estimated at 56 million borrowers. The stakes are getting higher and MFIs need to reconsider their strategic directions in order to reach the unmet clients at the base of the economic pyramid.

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> Posted by Pablo Antón Díaz, Research Manager, CFI

Leonardo Tibaquira Morales, Product Manager at Accion, leads a training for workshop participants who work with pensions

Traditional financial education programs have, at best, a minimal impact on the financial capability of recipients. At least that’s what the research tells us. Still, the vast majority of time and energy contributed towards improving financial capability around the world is channeled through traditional methods. I had the opportunity to take a closer look – and contribute to – one country that is energetically trying to improve financial capability: Colombia.

The Colombian government recognizes that the average level of financial literacy and financial capability in the country is low, especially among rural and low income communities (as a joint-study by CAF and others across several South American countries demonstrates) and that the programs implemented thus far have been insufficient to address the issue. But, the country is poised for change.

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> Posted by Kelsey Truman, HBS-Accion Program Coordinator, CFI

Domestic abuse and violence against women (VAW) are pervasive and shocking. According to the World Bank, 38 percent of murders of women globally are committed through intimate partner violence. Globally, one-third of all women have experienced domestic or intimate partner violence. The World Health Organization even went so far as to call VAW a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” Could financial services possibly play a role in improving this situation?

One of the largest hurdles in combating VAW around the world is women’s inability or unwillingness to seek help when they find themselves in abusive situations. In conjunction with fear, one important reason many women don’t seek help rests on their degree of financial dependency. That is, they don’t have enough money or economic resources necessary to establish themselves independently, much less pay for legal fees and so forth. Furthermore, women’s vulnerability to violence has been shown to increase with their relative level of poverty. If women are given options to easily and discreetly pursue financial options and open bank accounts independently of their husbands and other male family members, it could very well save their lives one day.

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In the following post, John Owens offers an overview of his research project with the CFI Fellows Program.

Background & Research Questions

More and more online credit providers have started to offer loans to not only consumers but also to SMEs around the world.

Outside of digital banking platforms, new alternative online and digital platforms that target consumers and small SMEs include:

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) SME lenders
  • Online balance sheet lenders
  • Loan aggregator portals
  • Tech and e-commerce giants
  • Mobile data-based lending models

While the rise of alternative data-based lending has opened new and innovative credit opportunities for individuals and SMEs, these new technologies and providers also come with several consumer protection challenges. These can be categorized into seven main areas:
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> Posted by Center Staff

Embed from Getty Images

“Despite its recent years of rapid growth, Islamic finance is still in its early stages of development,” the World Bank wrote last year. Today in 2016, this is still the case, but this banking segment is certainly demonstrating advances that might suggest otherwise.

Today and tomorrow in Nairobi, delegates from 35 countries are convening to attend the Global Islamic Microfinance Forum. The event, hosted by the AlHuda Centre for Islamic Banking and Economics, seeks to explore the latest developments and trends in the sector, catalyze innovation in the industry, and boost awareness on how Islamic finance can support social development and poverty alleviation. Once the forum concludes there will be a two-day workshop on how to develop, operate, and sustain Islamic microfinance institutions.

Islamic finance has grown at roughly 10-12 percent annually over the past decade. Between 2011 and 2014, Sharia-compliant financial assets rose from US$ 1 trillion to 2.1 trillion. In many Muslim countries, Islamic finance assets have been growing faster than conventional banking assets. In non-Muslim-majority counties, Islamic finance has also seen substantial progress breaking ground in new countries and growing in already-established markets, including China, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and the U.K. It’s estimated that there are over 1,500 organizations working in Islamic finance across 90 countries – 40 percent of which are non-Muslim-majority countries.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, and Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

As we approach the World Bank Annual Meetings this year in Washington, D.C., one topic world leaders will discuss is how to reach universal financial access by 2020. But there is a resounding dissonance between enthusiasm for one of the most-touted solutions to financial exclusion and the evidence to date.

We’re talking about the fervor with which shifting government welfare payments to electronic form (government-to-person or G2P payments) is put forward as a quick route toward universal access. The evidence we’ve seen suggests that while moving G2P to electronic form has important benefits, clients are not yet benefitting from meaningful increases in financial inclusion.

The argument in favor of G2P electronic payments for financial inclusion is simple. Many governments offer cash transfers to millions of people at or below the poverty line, most of whom are not connected to the formal financial system. If these cash transfers are funneled into bank accounts rather than paid directly out in cash, these people immediately gain an on-ramp to financial services.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Looking Beyond [Universal Financial] Access

CFI defines Financial Inclusion as “a state in which everyone who can use them has access to a full suite of quality financial services…”

The World Bank’s latest edition of the Global Findex revealed that between 2011 and 2014 over 700 million people were newly financially included, at least according to the top line metric of account ownership. The Universal Financial Access program continues to drive home the message that financial access is within reach, even possibly by 2020. We at CFI are now shifting our focus to the other elements of financial inclusion, those which we have always stood by and advocated for, but those that will certainly take longer than 2020 to reach.

Our definition continues:

“… provided at affordable prices, in a convenient manner, with respect and dignity. Financial services are delivered by a range of providers, in a stable, competitive market to financially capable clients.”

In this issue of our ongoing Financial Inclusion 2020 e-magazine series you will find insights from recent or ongoing CFI research projects. In a rundown of our Business of Financial Inclusion report, you will hear what commercial bank managers told us about the opportunities and challenges that they face in reaching unbanked and underbanked customers. You will also dive into how commercial banks are partnering with financial technology startups to serve new customers and broaden their product offerings. In the e-zine’s research spotlight, we take a critical look at how effective G2P payments have been in advancing financial inclusion. We also explore the role of microfinance in microenterprise growth. In addition, we discuss the importance of two emerging concepts, financial health and financial capability, and what these two frameworks mean for regulators, providers, and customers.

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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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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

Despite – or because of – economic growth, booming exports, and increased foreign investments in many African countries, income inequality on the continent, by many accounts, is increasing. As a region, sub-Saharan Africa has a higher level of inequality than the rest of the developing world. Globally, seven of the top 10 countries in terms of inequality are in Africa.

Contributing to the discrepancy is the lack of formal financial services within the region, according to Shaking up Finance and Banking in Africa, a policy brief produced by the Africa Progress Panel, which draws its analysis from the 2014 Africa Progress Report. Only one in five Africans have any form of account at a formal financial institution. Like most parts of the world, the poor, rural dwellers, and women are particularly excluded. The strategic deployment of sustainable and inclusive finance is a vital ingredient to ensuring that Africa’s long-term growth encompasses all individuals equitably.

Between 1990 and 2012, the proportion of Africans who were poor fell from 56 percent to 43 percent, according to the World Bank. However, when you account for population growth, the total number of individuals living in poverty increased. The most optimistic scenario, calculated by the World Bank, indicates that across this 22 year window, the number of Africans living in poverty increased from 280 million to 330 million. On the other side of the spectrum, Africa is now home to over 160,000 people whose personal fortunes exceed USD 1 million, which represents a doubling in the number of individuals of such wealth since the turn of the century.

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> Posted by Beth Porter, Financial Inclusion Policy Advisor for the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Better Than Cash Alliance

The following post was originally published on the Better Than Cash Alliance blog and has been re-published with permission. 

Did you ever wonder why there is not International Men’s Day? There actually is such a day, by the way—it’s on November 19th, but there aren’t too many people marking it with a night off from cooking or cleaning or childcare for the guys!

The reason we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th each year is that the other 364 days look quite a bit like men’s days. In fact, globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend less than half that much time—and the unpaid labor gap is particularly large in developing countries. We are a long way from Planet 50:50 or gender parity. Indeed, the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap will not be closed until 2133.

This lack of parity manifests itself in many ways, including gaps in education, employment, and wages, and in the board room and public high office. And access to finance is no different.

While globally ownership of accounts is on the rise, the gender gap persists in developing countries, with the majority of the 2 billion globally without access to finance being women. We should not simply conclude that women do not want accounts—just as we cannot suppose that they do not want more education, the opportunity for gainful employment, or equal wages for equal work. We know that women living in a cash-only economy do not have adequate control over their finances, do not have the confidentiality they need to save and borrow and can only make or receive payments at others’ convenience, not their own. Wouldn’t a more plausible conclusion regarding the gender gap in financial inclusion be that women face barriers that men do not encounter in accessing financial services? Let’s explore this idea a bit further.

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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.