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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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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Next Thursday we’re launching the Client Voices project, our four-country research investigation that went to the source and directly asked clients about their experiences with financial providers and their thoughts on what constitutes good and bad treatment.

The four studied countries are Benin, Georgia, Pakistan, and Peru. You might have seen our spotlighting the release of the Benin and Pakistan country reports here on the blog in the fall. On Thursday, we’re sharing those for Georgia and Peru, as well as a “synthesis report” that summarizes and analyses the key findings, takeaways, and recommendations across the four comprehensive country reports.

We have a few launch event opportunities for you to participate in. But first, we wanted to give you a glimpse into what’ll be released on Thursday…

Transparency. One of the overarching findings across the studied countries was that clients have an inadequate understanding of the basic aspects of their microfinance products. For example, in Benin, Pakistan, and Peru, 50 percent, 49 percent, and 43 percent of respondents indicated that they either somewhat or didn’t at all understand loan terms at the time of taking out their loan. Even when institutions are following mandated disclosure rules, this lack of understanding persists.

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> Posted by Center Staff

2015 was a year full of great reads (and listens). As we enter 2016, we wanted to take a look back at last year and what we were most excited to explore.  Through our work writing the FI2020 Progress Report, which assesses global progress in five key areas of financial inclusion, we benefited from important research from many in the financial inclusion field.  As part of this effort, we were eager to update our FI2020 Resource Library with the most informative reports and research outputs.  We encourage you to check it out – and in the meantime to review the highlights listed below.  The organizations responsible for these reports cover a wide array of stakeholder types, from support organizations, to telecommunication companies, to financial service providers – proof that progress in financial inclusion is being driven by many.

What Happens to Microfinance Clients Who Default? (January)
The Smart Campaign
Author: Jami Solli
This report looks in-depth at the enabling environment, the practices of providers, and customer experiences in Peru, India, and Uganda, to understand what happens when microfinance clients default on their loans. We were especially interested in the paper’s findings that demonstrate that effective credit bureaus give financial service providers the confidence to treat customers who default more humanely.

Money Resolutions: A Sketchbook (January)
CGAP
Author: Ignacio Mas 
This working paper explores the underlying logic for how people make money resolutions, including how people organize their money and make decisions about financial goals and spending. The paper focuses on peoples’ approaches to making financial decisions – rather than evaluating the decisions themselves – identifying the inner conflicts they face in the process.

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> Posted by Ben Mandell, International Programs Manager, Water.orgAccess to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation are true necessities for healthy families. Yet, access rates for water and sanitation remain stubbornly low in most low-income countries. The negative health implications can be dire and include diarrheal disease which can result in premature mortality and childhood malnutrition and stunting.  From an economic perspective, “The health consequences of poor sanitation are substantial and contribute to over US$50 billion in GDP loss annually,” according to a new India focused learning note jointly developed by Water.org and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).

In the learning note, Water.org and WSP, both active globally in working to expand access to water and sanitation, collaborate to share their research and findings on how household lending can help drive improved water and sanitation uptake as well as provide economic and social benefits to local financial organizations.

Water.org, through its WaterCredit program, provides capacity-building grants and technical assistance to create, pilot, and scale water and sanitation financing. Currently, WaterCredit provides funding to microfinance providers and NGOs to support the creation of programs and these partners then leverage funding from banks and capital markets to disburse loans to people in need. Accordingly, “Water.org has provided US$11.3 million in subsidies to financial institutions and NGO partners worldwide, which in turn have disbursed over US$120 million in loans reaching 2.4 million people.”

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

Of the 700 million new accounts that the Global Findex reports were opened from 2011 to 2014:

  • Banks and other financial institutions accounted for 550 million;
  • Mobile network operators accounted for 100-240 million, depending on your source and methodology;
  • Microfinance institutions accounted for 50 million.

These numbers are rough and involve some overlap—but they point to the continued importance of commercial banks in financial inclusion. Put another way, of the 3.2 billion accounts reported in the 2014 Findex, 3.1 billion were accounts with a financial institution.

That’s why I was so interested in hearing what the commercial bankers had to say at an Institute of International Finance (IIF) roundtable held in Lima on October 9 alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) / World Bank meetings. The strategies they discussed for reaching the BoP were not new to those immersed in the financial inclusion world, but it was heartening to hear their commitment to putting those strategies into operation. Here are a few of the points from the discussion:

Use data to understand customers. Now more than ever, there is a wealth of available data to help us better understand customers at the base of the pyramid. These new customer insights are opening up new practices – from on-boarding, to cross-selling, to risk management. Data analytics can also enable cost reductions on credit and insurance. For example, ecommerce platforms for small manufacturers can facilitate credit offers and then arrange for automatic repayment from the ecommerce activity itself. This innovative use of data allows financing at half the cost.

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> Posted by Joy Kim, Financial Inclusion Analyst, MIX

What’s better than reading about data? Visualizing it! Pardon us, then, as we offer a few words on CFI and MIX’s new FI2020 Inclusion Visualizer, a powerful tool to manipulate, visualize, and download images of data related to financial inclusion.

The Inclusion Visualizer, harnessing publicly available data from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Economist Intelligence Unit, and others, allows users to explore financial inclusion topics across country, region, and income levels. For the adventurous, users are able to customize the range of visualized categories and sub-categories. For example, do you want to know what percent of women with a primary school education or less have their own account at a financial institution? The Visualizer also offers targeted navigation options that focus on key areas, like the financial inclusion infrastructure, the policy environment, and technology.

How to Get the Most Out of the FI2020 Inclusion Visualizer

To get a better understanding of the landscape of financial inclusion around the globe, we suggest you begin by exploring Sections 1A through 1F. One particularly interesting section is Account Ownership (IC) because this metric is, perhaps, the simplest method for measuring financial access. Financial Inclusion Over Time (1B) illustrates changes not only in account ownership, but also with financial activities related to credit, savings, withdrawals, and deposits. As you’ll see, the world has seen growth in all of these activities with the exceptions of withdrawals and deposits, which implies that greater effort is needed on a global scale to increase usage of accounts.

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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

Visitors to our FI2020 Progress Report on Client Protection will have noted our poor math skills. (This is the section of the report that assesses global progress to date in advancing fair treatment for lower-income financial services clients.) We rated regulators a 6 on consumer protection and providers a 3—and somehow averaged those out to a 5. Our averaging skills make even less sense when you consider the three legs of the client protection stool—providers, regulators, and consumers—and realize that consumers are not even on the radar, rightfully earning a 1 at best in terms of their capacity to advocate on their own behalf. So why the optimism?

We were certainly swayed by the impressive momentum among a range of actors at the global level—including policy and private sector initiatives—toward improved consumer protection. But it’s what happens at the national level that really counts. The World Bank’s 2014 Global Survey on Consumer Protection and Financial Literacy reports that some form of legal framework for financial consumer protection is in place in 112 out of 114 economies surveyed. We are not so Pollyannaish as to think that having a legal framework is equivalent to having a regulatory and supervisory system that protects consumers well, but we do think it’s a good step in the right direction.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI

A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.

In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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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.