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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following is part of a blog series spotlighting views from participants in the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF).

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Two experiences with interest rate caps – in Kenya and Zambia – demonstrate the power of political forces to shape financial inclusion policies and may hold lessons for MSME lenders in other countries.

In a recent unpublished study, the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (formerly the Microfinance CEO Working Group) examined commonalities in the origins of interest rate caps in these two countries. In both cases, signs were clear that the general public was upset about the current state of loans and interest rates. Approaching elections increased the will among political leaders to make regulatory changes that would appeal to the public.

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> Posted by Robert Stone, Project Director, Savings at the Frontier

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In his excellent debunking of the myth that technology solves everything, Geek Heresy, Kentaro Toyama argues that “technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces… Even in a world of abundant technology, there is no social change without change in people.” That means a change in their capabilities, in the broadest sense, as defined by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher. In Sen’s work, especially in The Idea of Justice, he argues that justice requires people to have the freedom to do what they would choose to do if they could, if they had the capability to choose.

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> Posted by Lisa Kienzle and Gigi Gatti, Grameen Foundation

Nanays will use the Panalo system to conduct transactions for clients and provide them with receipts.

Women make great digital financial service (DFS) agents: they are often savvy at managing liquidity, effective at building trust, and perhaps most importantly, they are more effective at onboarding other women into DFS than men. This makes the recruitment and training of women agents an important strategy for closing the gender gaps in digital financial services and technology, and for ultimately ensuring universal financial inclusion.

Men in developing markets still outpace women in account ownership by 9 percent. The technology gap is even larger – women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Given the growing emphasis on digital solutions to drive financial inclusion, this technology gap could further widen the financial services gender divide if not explicitly taken into account in the design of digital solutions. Women agents are a crucial element of that design.

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> Posted by Mark Napier, Director, FSD Africa

The following post was originally published on the FSD Africa blog.

Yesterday, Zambia’s central bank announced it had taken over a commercial bank, Intermarket, after the latter failed to come up with the capital it needed to satisfy new minimum capital requirements. Three weeks ago, a Mozambican bank – Nosso Banco – had its licence cancelled, less than two months after another Mozambican bank, Moza Banco, was placed under emergency administration.

At the end of October, the Bank of Tanzania stepped in to replace the management at Twiga Bancorp, a government-owned financial institution which was reported to have negative capital of TSh21 billion. A week before that, just over the border in Uganda, Crane Bank, with its estimated 500,000 customers, was taken over by the central bank, having become “seriously undercapitalised”. In DR Congo, the long-running saga of BIAC, the country’s third-largest bank, continued in 2016, forced to limit cash withdrawals after the termination of a credit line from the central bank. And in Kenya, Chase Bank collapsed in April, barely six months after the failure of Imperial.

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

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is preparing to issue a Guide to Charges for Banks and Other Financial Institutions for providers in Nigeria, which sets out rules for commissions, charges, and rates on various products and services. It has shared the draft Guide on its website for a period of public review and commentary.

As a campaign that seeks to keep the client at the center, the Smart Campaign is always happy to see provisions in such financial sector guidelines or regulations related to thoughtful transparency and disclosure requirements. We are, however, more cautious when it comes to mandated pricing limits, given the unexpected implications we have seen them bring for clients’ lives. We notice that the CBN file introduces monthly interest rate caps.

This is at odds with the suggested policies in the Model Legal Framework for Financial Consumer Protection, which is based on the Campaign’s seven client protection principles. The Framework’s section on pricing procedures advises supervisory authorities to not set price or interest rate ceilings or floors, but rather to seek long-term solutions related to improving disclosures and facilitating market competition.

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> Posted by Eric Noggle, Research Director, Microfinance Opportunities

In 2014, Financial Sector Deepening Zambia and Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) began the Zambia Financial Diaries—a 52-week study of the financial lives of 352 low-income Zambians. The study included 92 smallholder farmers—individuals who own small plots of land on which they grew crops or tended livestock for sale and/or subsistence.

The Zambian smallholder farmers represent only a tiny fraction of the estimated 500 million smallholder households worldwide. Smallholder farmers are a large livelihood group and addressing their diverse needs—from crop diversification to market integration—is a strategic priority for the World Bank Group, country-level governments, and non-government organizations.

Understanding smallholder farmers’ income patterns is critical for designing financial services that meet their financial needs. The common perception of farmers’ income patterns is that they are lumpy and linked to agricultural cycles, but the income patterns identified in MFO’s Zambia Financial Diaries challenge this perception.

Income Patterns

The farmers in MFO’s study had lower and more variable incomes than respondents who earned the majority of their income from informal, off-farm sources (“informal workers”). The farmers had 4.3 income sources on average, often relying on casual labor or running informal shops to supplement their agricultural activities, while informal workers had 3.3 sources. Farmers’ average weekly earnings were low—only about $19 per week on average compared to $50 for informal workers (based on June 2015 exchange rates). The farmers also experienced more week-to-week income variation, as measured by the coefficient of variation (COV), than other respondents who work in the informal economy.

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> Posted by Center Staff

FI2020 Week is a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

FI2020 Week is nearing its end! Today is the final day. We’re sad too, but there are still lots of opportunities to get involved, and it’s been a lively four days. Also, we’ll continue to report out on all that happened, so there’s more to come! Along with the in-person events, there are a handful of webinars today, you can submit a call to action, or take part in the far-reaching social media conversations, which we’re capturing on the FI2020 Week site, here.

Since our last recap there have been dozens of events around the world bringing together stakeholders passionate about advancing financial inclusion. Here is a quick look at a few of those events:

Nkosilathi Moyo, CEO, VisionFund Zambia

Nkosilathi Moyo, CEO, VisionFund Zambia

In Lusaka, Zambia, representatives from a variety of organizations, including the Bank of Zambia, came together at an event hosted by VisionFund Zambia to discuss promoting financial inclusion by leveraging savings groups and microfinance institutions. Participating stakeholders identified three major gaps for achieving financial inclusion in the country: lack of a conducive regulatory framework; poor infrastructure; and information asymmetry between different players in the market. Moving forward, the participants agreed on the importance of convening and decided that an FI2020 event should be held each year until 2020. Additionally, the participants agreed, there needs to be a stronger focus on establishing strategic partnerships between mobile network operators, financial service providers, NGOs, and government to develop cost-effective delivery channels that reach people in rural areas.

Forty-five leaders in financial capability, financial literacy, and financial health came together at a roundtable in Washington, D.C. to review a draft paper on innovations in financial capability written by the Center for Financial Inclusion in partnership with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. The event was hosted by the Institute of International Finance. The draft paper focuses on seven principles to re-orient financial capability building toward customer needs and behaviors, with a call to action to all stakeholders—providers, governments, social sector organizations, financial capability providers, and donors—to make this shift.

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> Posted by Monica Brand Engel and Jackson Scher, Managing Director and Program Coordinator, Frontier Investments Group, Accion

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Innovative payment solutions are proliferating globally. Enabled by the exponential expansion of mobile phones, social media, “big data”, and internet access, financial players throughout the world are inventing new ways to complete transactions. Disruptive innovations such as prepaid options, NFC-enabled payments, and cryptocurrencies are gaining significant adoption and are changing the payments space. These trends are especially pronounced in emerging markets where many new entrants have chosen to “leapfrog” traditional, resource-intensive systems and dive directly into the seamless and nimble world of digital financial services. Although these exciting innovations in digital payments have the potential to increase convenience for customers and dramatically reduce costs, some challenges remain. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Guy Stuart and Eric Noggle, Executive Director and Research Officer, Microfinance Opportunities

In our first post in this series, we described the need for an approach to financial education that was both effective and scalable, and we offered embedded education as a potential solution. Our second and third posts described how the embedded education approach works and showed its potential effectiveness by describing the improved money management behavior displayed by clients in Zambia after participating in our program. We believe that these findings also revealed the potential for a business case for delivering financial education using the embedded approach.

For a business case to exist, two things have to be true: financial service providers (FSPs) need to see a positive, bottom-line impact from an embedded program and a financing mechanism needs to exist that can compete with the current grant-based model for funding financial education.

Bottom-Line Impact

Financial education can positively impact financial service providers in a number of ways (aside from knowing that they’re empowering individuals to take control of their financial lives). Offering training could improve client retention by strengthening loyalty. It could reduce customer service requests by increasing familiarity with a banking process. But our market research suggests that the biggest potential impact is lowering write-off ratios and increasing savings balances.

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> Posted by Guy Stuart and Eric Noggle, Executive Director and Research Officer, Microfinance Opportunities

pictureLast week’s post discussed how we implemented an embedded education program with VisionFund and Zoona in Zambia that leveraged touch points in an effort to improve clients’ financial capabilities. While we hope this blog series has begun to convince you that embedded education can help solve the financial capability gap, one important issue remains: where is the evidence of success? Does this approach really improve outcomes for clients and businesses?

Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) aimed to add to the knowledge base of “what works” in financial education with our evaluation of the Consumer Education for Branchless Banking (CEBB) project in Zambia. The evaluation applied a mixed-methods approach with multiple data sets. We analyzed information from in-depth interviews, focus groups, knowledge surveys, and transaction data from VisionFund and Zoona’s management information systems.

The data tell a compelling story. Qualitative interviews indicated that both clients and branch staff thought the education program was having a positive impact on how clients were interacting with the branchless banking service and on their overall financial capabilities.

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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.