Syndicate content

Latin America & Caribbean

How are Financial Capability and Financial Access Linked? Insights from Colombia and Mexico

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Access to formal financial services has been expanding in recent years.  But as people start to use these services for the first time, it has become clear that the challenge is not only providing access to financial services, but also ensuring that people have the behaviors and attitudes to use financial products responsibly and to their advantage. If not, increased access to finance could potentially lead to over-indebtedness and even financial crises.

Two recent nationwide surveys of 1,526 adults in Colombia and of 2,022 adults in Mexico measure financial capability to provide insights on how people manage their finances. The term “financial capability” refers to a broader concept than financial literacy or knowledge alone. It covers a number of different behaviors and attitudes related to participation in financial decisions, planning and monitoring the use of money, and balancing income and expenses to make ends meet.

The financial capability surveys find for example that, in Mexico, many make financial plans, but far fewer adhere to them. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they budget, but just one-third reported consistently adhering to a budget. Similarly, just 18 percent knew how much they spent last week. In Colombia, while 94 percent of adults reported budgeting how income would be spent, less than a quarter of those surveyed actively monitored spending or had precise knowledge of how much is available for daily expenses.

What Do We Know About the Impact of Remittances on Financial Development?

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

Remittances, funds received from migrants working abroad, to developing countries have grown dramatically in recent years from U.S. $3.3 billion in 1975 to close to U.S. $338 billion in 2008. They have become the second largest source of external finance for developing countries after foreign direct investment (FDI) and represent about twice the amount of official aid received (see Figure 1). Relative to private capital flows, remittances tend to be stable and increase during periods of economic downturns and natural disasters. Furthermore, while a surge in inflows, including aid flows, can erode a country’s competitiveness, remittances do not seem to have this adverse effect.

Figure 1: Inflows to developing countries (billions of USD), 1975-2008

As researchers and policymakers have come to notice the increasing volume and stable nature of remittances to developing countries, a growing number of studies have analyzed their development impact along various dimensions, including: poverty, inequality, growth, education, infant mortality, and entrepreneurship. However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the question of whether remittances promote financial development across remittance-recipient countries. Yet, this issue is important because financial systems perform a number of key economic functions and their development has been shown to foster growth and reduce poverty. Furthermore, this question is relevant since some argue that banking remittance recipients will help multiply the development impact of remittance flows.

A Better Way to Benchmark Financial Sector Development

Erik Feyen's picture

 I. The problem of comparing apples and oranges

Comparison of countries lies at the heart of assessing financial sector performance. In doing so, analysts often simply compare financial sector indicators such as credit to the private sector as a percentage of GDP for a given country to a regional average or a set of "representative" countries.

However, such comparisons are only accurate to the extent that the selected benchmark is appropriate. In practice, countries often differ substantially in terms of structural factors that affect financial development. Thus, a simple comparison can lead to inaccurate conclusions.

Figure 1 below displays a simplified example that demonstrates the core of the issue. It shows dots that represent countries with different “structural factors” (e.g. population density) plotted against their “financial development”, i.e. the extent to which the financial sector fosters economic growth via better risk sharing and more productive investments. The figure shows that in terms of financial development, Country B is better than Country A in an absolute sense.