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Financial Sector

Low Cost Banking: How Retail Stores and Mobile Phones Can Transform Access to Finance

Ignacio Mas's picture

More than 3 billion people in the world today don’t have access to savings accounts. Many of these 3 billion fall below the less-than-$2-per-day benchmark of the world’s poorest people. Why are banks not doing a better job to help them manage their financial lives?

The problem is largely one of cost. Providing financial services to the poor is prohibitively expensive for banks. Each time a client stands in front a of a teller’s window it costs most banks from $1 to $3. If poor clients make transactions of $1 or $2, or even less, banks won’t be able to support the costs.

It’s also too costly for the poor. Most poor people, especially those in rural areas, live far away from bank branches. Let me give one example of a woman in Kenya. The nearest branch may be 10 kilometers away, but it takes her almost an hour to get there by foot and bus because she doesn’t have her own wheels. With waiting times at the branch, that’s a round-trip of two hours – a quarter or so of her working day gone.  While the bus fare is only 50 cents, that’s maybe one fifth of what she makes on an average day. So each banking transaction costs her the equivalent of almost half a day’s wages.

Making the Case for Financial Openness

Ryan Hahn's picture

Rich countries and emerging markets alike have participated in a rapid integration into global capital markets over the last 25 years. Proponents of financial globalization believed this would bring a myriad of benefits via improved financial intermediation, with a more efficient allocation of capital to productive firms and increased access to finance to those outside the halls of political power.

But the recent financial crisis has given pause to the pro-globalization advocates. The marked increase in capital flows to emerging markets quickly reversed in the wake of the financial crisis, leaving these countries looking vulnerable. Might the globalizers have gotten their prescriptions wrong?

A recent paper entitled Does Financial Openness Lead to Deeper Domestic Financial Markets? finds that, in fact, developing countries have reaped a number of benefits from financial globalization. In particular, the authors of the paper have found that greater financial openness:

The Fad of Financial Literacy?

Bilal Zia's picture

Financial literacy has become an immensely popular component of financial reform across the world. As a response to the recent financial crisis, the United States government set up the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy in January 2008, charged with promoting programs that improve financial education at all levels of the economy and helping increase access to financial services. In the developing world, the Indonesian government declared 2008 “the year of financial education,” with a stated goal of improving access to and use of financial services by increasing financial literacy. Similarly, in India, the Reserve Bank of India launched an initiative in 2007 to establish Financial Literacy and Credit Counseling Centers throughout the country which would offer free financial education and counseling to urban and rural populations. The World Bank also hasn’t been missing out on the trend – it recently approved a $15 million Trust Fund on Financial Literacy. 

But what do we know about financial literacy? Does it work, and if so, through what mechanisms? Despite the money being ploughed into financial literacy programs, we know very little to address these important questions. While it is true that there is a large and growing body of survey evidence from both developed and developing countries that demonstrate a strong association between financial literacy and household well-being, we are still in the process of learning whether this relationship is causal.

What Drives the Price of Remittances?: New Evidence Using the Remittance Prices Worldwide Database

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

Remittances to developing countries reached U.S. $338 billion in 2008, more than twice the amount of official aid and over half of foreign direct investment flows.1 Numerous studies have shown that remittances can have a positive and significant impact on many aspects of countries’ economic development. Hence, monitoring the market for remittance transactions has become critical for understanding the development process in many low-income countries.

Remittance transactions are known to be expensive. The Remittance Prices Worldwide database collected by the World Bank Payment Systems Group shows that, as of the first quarter of 2009, the cost of remittances averaged close to 10 percent of the amount sent.2 At the same time, the data also reveal a wide dispersion in the price of remittances across corridors, ranging from 2.5 percent to 26 percent of the amount sent (see Figure 1 below the jump).

The Status of Bank Lending to SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Roberto Rocha's picture

Editor's Note: The following post was submitted jointly by Roberto Rocha, Senior Adviser, MENA, Rania Khouri, Director, Union of Arab Banks, Subika Farazi, Consultant, MENA, and Douglas Pearce, Senior Private Sector Development Specialist, MENA.

Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly a priority for policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, who see SMEs as key to solving the challenge of improving competitiveness, raising incomes, and generating employment. Data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys suggest that access to finance for SMEs is more constrained in MENA than in other emerging regions, with only one in 5 SMEs having a loan or line of credit. Yet until recently there has been no comprehensive survey of the supply of SME finance in MENA. SME policymakers may therefore lack comprehensive information to design reforms, while SME finance providers may not have access to valuable market information to inform design of SME financial services and delivery channels.

To fill this knowledge gap, the Bank recently carried out a survey in cooperation with the Union of Arab Banks of SME lending in the region. We were fortunate to receive a very high response rate – we have data from 139 banks, which account for about half of MENA banks and almost two thirds of the banking system loans in 16 countries. The survey covered the following themes: i) strategic approach to SME lending, ii) main products offered to SMEs, iii) risk management techniques employed, and iv) SME lending data. This is the first dataset of its kind for this region, and builds on similar efforts in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Same All About Finance Blog, New Blog Platform

Ryan Hahn's picture

Readers of the All About Finance blog may have noticed a change in our format over the weekend. That's because we have moved to the platform that supports the World Bank Group's family of blogs, located at We'll share a common face with the Bank's many blogs, but continue to bring you the same content from Asli and colleagues.

Can the Business Environment Explain International Differences in Entrepreneurial Finance?

Leora Klapper's picture

It is well established that financial development is necessary for the efficient allocation of capital and firm growth, yet firm-level surveys have repeatedly found access to finance to be among the biggest hurdles to starting and growing a new business. For instance, in the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys standardized dataset for 2006-2009, 31% of firm owners around the world report access to finance as a major constraint to current operations of the firm, while this figure is 40% for firms under three years of age.

In a recent paper with Larry Chavis and Inessa Love we address two types of questions: (1) What is the relationship between firm age and sources of external financing? and (2) Is there a differential impact of the business environment on access to financing by young versus old firms? 

To summarize, we find systematic differences in the use of different financing sources for new and older firms. We find that in all countries younger firms rely less on bank financing and more on informal financing. However, we also find that young firms have relatively better access to bank finance in countries with stronger rule of law and better credit information and that the reliance of young firms on informal finance decreases with the availability of credit information.

Reforming Bank Regulations

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

It is no surprise that the recent financial crisis has sparked a new round of regulatory reform all around the world. The crisis has certainly exposed significant weaknesses in the regulatory and supervisory framework and led to a debate about the role these weaknesses may have played in causing and propagating the crisis. As a result, reform of regulation and supervision is a top priority for policymakers, and many countries are working to upgrade their frameworks. But there are more questions than answers: What constitutes good regulation and supervision? Which elements are most important for ensuring bank soundness?  What should the reforms focus on?

The Basel Committee – a forum for bank supervisors from around the world – has been trying to answer these questions since 1997. The Committee first got together that year to issue the Core Principles for Effective Bank Supervision (BCPs), a document summarizing best practices in the field. Since then many countries have endorsed the BCPs and have undertaken to comply with them, making them an almost universal standard for bank regulation. Since 1999, the IMF and the World Bank have conducted evaluations of countries’ compliance with these principles, mainly within their joint Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP). Hence the international community has made significant investments in developing these principles, encouraging their wide-spread adoption, and assessing progress with their compliance.

In light of the recent crisis and the resulting skepticism about the effectiveness of existing approaches to regulation and supervision, it is natural to ask if compliance with this global standard of good regulation is associated with bank soundness. This is what I have tried to do with Enrica Detragiache and Thierry Tressel, two of my colleagues from the Fund. Specifically, we test whether better compliance with BCPs is associated with safer banks. We also look at whether compliance with different elements of the BCP framework is more closely associated with bank soundness to identify if there are specific areas that would help prioritize reform efforts to improve supervision.

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.

Prospects for Recovery in Eastern Europe

Ryan Hahn's picture

According to a new paper by World Bank economists Paulo Correa and Mariana Iootty, the recovery won't look pretty. The financial crisis and concomitant global economic crisis have had a disproportionately harsh impact on young and innovative firms in Eastern Europe, and this does not bode well for future growth prospects.

A few weeks ago, our corner of the World Bank hosted an event where Correa and Iootty presented their findings. (This was the first in a new series called FPD Academy that will highlight excellent new analytical work on financial and private sector development.) Video of the event appears below the jump. The presentation itself starts at 4:30 and runs to 27:30. A discussant provides remarks immediately after the presentation, and a Q&A follows.