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Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's blog

Financial Inclusion in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

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Those who live in fragile and conflict-affected states face limitations that most of us simply cannot comprehend. Not only do the larger cycles of conflict and insecurity often lie beyond the control of individual adults, but the weak institutions that characterize these economies also severely restrict the opportunities for adults to manage their risks and improve their own lives. Amartya Sen has written that the central aspect of well-being is 'functioning,' defined as the freedom of choice and control over one's life. For adults living in fragile and conflict-affected states, the inability to smooth consumption and make investments through formal savings and credit systems is one of many restrictions on their 'functioning'.

Just 15 percent of adults in these economies have an account at a formal financial institution, compared to 24 percent, on average, in low-income countries and 43 percent in the rest of the developing world. This is the cruel paradox of financial inclusion in fragile and conflict-affected states: it is in precisely these countries that having a safe place to save or a reliable method to receive remittances is most important, yet access to and usage of basic financial services remains incredibly low.

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New, Individual-Level Data on Financial Inclusion Shows What Drives Ownership and Use of Financial Inclusion

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Who uses formal financial services? What policies are associated with greater use of accounts among the poor and rural residents? And why do certain segments of the population remain unbanked? Is it by choice or is it due to barriers such as high costs or large distances to the nearest bank branch? In a new paper we co-authored with Franklin Allen and Sole Martinez Peria, we explore these questions using an exciting new micro-dataset from the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database. This dataset, based on interviews with over 150,000 adults in 148 countries, lets us identify account ownership, the use of an account to save, and whether an account is used frequently, defined as three of more withdrawals per month. (For a detailed description of the data, see our earlier paper, Demirguc-Kunt and Klapper, 2012). Figure 1 shows summary statistics of our financial inclusion measures.

This Just In: The 2013 Global Financial Development Report

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The failure of the investment banking giant Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 marked the onset of the largest global economic meltdown since the Great Depression. The crisis has prompted many people to reassess state interventions in financial systems, from regulation and supervision of financial institutions and markets, to competition policy, to state guarantees and state ownership of banks, and to enhancements in financial infrastructure. But the crisis does not necessarily negate the considerable body of evidence on these topics accumulated over the past few decades. It is important to use the crisis experience to examine what went wrong and how to fix it. This is the motivation of the World Bank’s Global Financial Development Report, released this week, on the fourth anniversary of the Lehman failure.

Small Steps Towards Closing The Gender Data Gap

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Today, Gallup hosted a conference on “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap” where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , World Bank President Jim Kim, and other leaders emphasized the importance and relative lack of gender-sensitive data to support policies for improving the lives of women and girls. Secretary Clinton remarked to a packed house that “data not only measures progress, it inspires it.” She asked participants, national governments, and the international community at large to invest in gender-sensitive data collection, use, and publication. Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup, spoke about the danger of creating policy simply based on our perceptions of what women want and need.

Nick Kristof on microfinance, banking access and a way out of poverty

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In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gives the example of a family in Malawi that improved their lives as the result of a village savings group.  We know that access to banks, cooperatives, and microfinance institutions has allowed many adults like the Nasoni family to safely save for the future, invest in an education or insure against risk, but just how widespread is the use of formal financial products worldwide? How do the barriers to access vary across regions? And how do the unbanked manage their finances?

In the past, the view of financial inclusion around the world had been incomplete. With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) Database we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage save, borrow, make payments and manage risk. As cited in the article, the Global Findex data shows that more than 2.5 billion adults around the world don’t have a bank account.

The Global Findex: The first database tracking how adults use financial services around the world

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The facts are in. 50 percent of adults worldwide have an account at a formal financial institution. 21 percent of women save using a formal account. 16 percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa use mobile money. These are just a few of the thousands of data points now available in the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database, the first of its kind to measure people’s use of financial products across economies and over time.

Thankfully, researchers and policymakers no longer have to rely on a patchwork of incompatible household surveys and aggregated central bank data for a comprehensive view of the financial inclusion landscape. The publically  accessible Global Findex provides comparable individual-level data that facilitate detailed analyses of how adults save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk in 148 economies. The data are based on more than 150,000 interviews with adults representing over 97 percent of the world’s population and was carried by Gallup Inc. as a component of its 2011 World Poll.

Is Bank Competition a Threat to Financial Stability?

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The global financial crisis reignited the interest of policymakers and academics in assessing the impact of bank competition on stability and rethinking the role of the state in shaping competition policies. Competition in the financial sector has a long list of obvious benefits: greater efficiency in the production of financial services, higher quality financial products and more innovation. When financial systems become more open and contestable, generally this results in greater product differentiation, a lowering of the cost of financial intermediation and more access to financial services. But when we turn to the issue of financial stability, it is no longer so obvious whether competition is beneficial or not, with a continuing debate among academics and policymakers alike. Some believe that increasing financial innovation and competition in certain markets like sub-prime lending contributed to the recent financial turmoil. Others worry that as a result of the crisis and the actions of governments in support of the largest banks, concentration in banking increased, reducing the competitiveness of the sector and potentially contributing to future instability as a result of moral hazard problems associated with “too big to fail” institutions.

New Paper on Financial Regulation Recognized by ICFR and Financial Times

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More than three years after the onset of the global financial crisis, a plethora of regulatory reforms are being put in place. The Basel Committee has prepared new capital and liquidity requirements, and the Financial Stability Board has kicked off an impressive agenda of reform. But implementation has been far from straightforward, and domestic priorities have often been in conflict with attempts at regulatory convergence. Against this background, the International Centre for Financial Regulation (ICFR) and the Financial Times invited submissions for a research prize in financial regulation, calling for essays that would consider “what good regulation should look like”.

The call resulted in an interesting set of ten top-rated essays. One of them is a new paper that we co-authored with R. Barry Johnston, based on some of the background work for the World Bank’s upcoming 2013 Global Financial Development Report. In our piece (which of course represents only our views and not necessarily those of the World Bank), we answer the organizers’ question by saying that “good regulation needs to fix the broken incentives.” Or, to paraphrase a 1990s campaign slogan, “it’s the incentives, stupid.”

Has executive compensation contributed to the financial crisis?

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The Question: Has executive compensation contributed to the financial crisis?

In the aftermath of the financial crisis there has been no shortage of finger-pointing in the attempt to identify its underlying causes. The list of potential culprits is long and ranges from bank deregulation to the “alchemy” of credit ratings and structured finance. This debate focuses on one factor that has allegedly contributed to the crisis: greedy bankers and the executive compensation packages that tempted them to, quite literally, bet the bank.

The spectacular collapse of banks whose executives were allegedly paid for performance clearly raises many questions about the link between executive pay and risk-taking. In a recent paper, Thomas Philippon and Ariell Reshef of New York University show that while in 1980 bankers made no more than their counterparts in other parts of the economy, by 2000 wages in the financial sector were 40% higher for employees with the same formal qualifications. The last time such a discrepancy was observed was just prior to the Great Depression—an irony which has not been lost on critics of bank compensation, ranging from regulators to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. But the level of compensation alone may not be the real problem. Many leading economists (see, for instance, op-eds from Alan Blinder and Raghuram Rajan) have emphasized that a much more important (and difficult) question to answer is how the structure of performance pay may encourage excessive risk-taking at all levels of the institution, from traders and underwriters right up to the firm’s CEO.

Economic Development and the Evolving Importance of Banks and Stock Markets

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How should the relative importance of banks and stock markets change as countries develop?  Is there an optimal financial structure—in other words, should the mixture of financial institutions and markets change to reflect the evolving needs of economies as they develop?

Previous research has found that both the operation of banks and the functioning of securities markets influence economic development (Demirguc-Kunt and Maksimovic, 1998; Levine and Zervos, 1998), suggesting that banks provide different services to the economy from those provided by securities markets. Indeed, banks generally have a comparative advantage in financing shorter term, lower risk, well collateralized investments, while arms length markets are relatively better suited in designing custom financing for more novel, longer run and higher risk projects.

However, economic theory also emphasizes the importance of financial structure, i.e., the mixture of financial institutions and markets operating in an economy. For example, Allen and Gale’s (2000) theory of financial structure and their comparative analyses of Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States suggest that (1) banks and markets provide different financial services; (2) economies at different stages of economic development require different mixtures of these financial services to operate effectively; and (3) if an economy’s actual mixture of banks and markets differs from the “optimal” structure, the financial system will not provide the appropriate blend of financial services, with adverse effects on economic activity.

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