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Understanding Banks in Emerging Markets: Observing, Asking, or Experimenting?

Thorsten Beck's picture

Empirical banking research stands and falls with high-quality data. The recent years have seen a large number of new data sources and empirical methodologies being applied to understand how banks operate in the often challenging environment of emerging and developing economies.

A recent conference at the EBRD, jointly organized with the European Banking Center at Tilburg University, the Review of Finance, and the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, brought together researchers using three types of data sources asking a variety of important questions. Vox has now published an eBook that provides an overview of the different topics discussed during the conference. The studies presented at the conference and in the eBook use data from existing data repositories such as credit registries ('observing'); from large-scale surveys of bank CEOs and bank clients ('asking'); and from randomized experiments ('experimenting'). All three methods try to prise open the banking 'black box' in different ways — each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Using these different data sources allows researchers to address relevant policy questions, and also to better understand the micro-mechanisms of financial contracting and the supply- and demand-side constraints that (potential) borrowers in emerging markets face on a daily basis.

What financial products do Muslim adults want?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

"Islamic finance" is a phrase that you hear a lot in development circles these days. Indeed, many policymakers are interested in the potential of Sharia-compliant financial services to expand financial inclusion among Muslims adults. Our colleagues down the street are no exception:  earlier this year the International Finance Corporation (IFC) announced its first partnership with an Islamic finance institution in Sub-Saharan Africa, a $5 million equity investment with Gulf African Bank in Kenya with the explicit goal of expanding Sharia-compliant banking products and services to small and medium businesses.

Yet little is actually known about the degree to which individual Muslims are not accessing conventional financial institutions, and even less about how much they demand and use Sharia-compliant financial products, particularly within the realm of household finance. In an attempt to add some empirical rigor to the Islamic finance conversation, we recently published a Working Paper and Findex Note that explore these questions using Findex and Gallup World Poll data.

Fresh off the Press: Global Financial Development Report 2014

Martin Cihak's picture

Global Financial Development Report 2014Today, the World Bank Group is issuing Global Financial Development Report 2014: Financial Inclusion. The report is the second in a new series on global financial development. It follows up on last year’s inaugural issue, which focused on rethinking the state’s role in finance.

Financial inclusion is a logical choice for the report’s theme. Access to financial services is crucial for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, as demonstrated by recently available data and evidence showcased in the report. At the same time, real-world financial systems are far from inclusive. Globally, 2.5 billion people—more than a half of the world’s adult population—have no bank accounts, lacking efficient mechanisms to save money and pay bills. A vast majority of the “unbanked” live in the developing world (figure 1).
The report comes at a propitious time, because financial inclusion has become a subject of heightened interest. Over 50 countries have recently committed to formal targets and goals for financial inclusion. And last month, during the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings, President Jim Yong Kim put the issue into spotlight by calling for universal financial access for all working-age adults by 2020.

Will hard cash go the way of the compact disk?

Ignacio Mas's picture

Hard cash certainly has its drawbacks. Poor people mired in a cash economy find it difficult, in times of need, to support or seek support from distant relatives and friends. The size of the market they can sell their products and wares into or source their inputs from is limited by how far they can easily and securely transport cash. They are captive to local financial organizations and moneylenders, because more distant financial institutions don’t find it cost effective to go collect their saved-up cash and have no visibility of their prior cash-based financial histories on which they might otherwise grant credit.

Finance, Growth, and Fragility: What Role for Government?

Thorsten Beck's picture

When I was invited to give the Maxwell Fry Global Finance Lecture in Birmingham last year, I decided to stay in the tradition of Maxwell Fry (1988) and focus on the role of government in the financial sector, a continuously controversial issue. Maxwell Fry was one of the first economists drawing the attention to the importance of the financial sector for economic development, well before the empirical finance and growth literature took off in the 1990s, while at the same time documenting the negative effect of excessive government intervention into financial markets, also referred to as financial repression.

Financial development has been identified as a key policy area for economic development, while at the same time rapid credit expansion often results in systemic fragility and economic crisis. The critical issue has been the question of what explains the variation in financial sector development (both shallow markets in some, but also over-expanding markets in other countries and periods). Economists have provided three different kinds of answer. In the following I will refer to them as the (i) policy approach, (ii) political approach and (iii) historical approach. While these three views are not incompatible with each other, they imply very different views on the nature and role of government within the financial system.

Avoiding the “Planning Paradox”: The New World Bank Strategy Must Take Risk and Uncertainty into Account

Norman Loayza's picture

While effective risk management is essential for development, countries and institutions tend to ignore risks and uncertainty when planning ahead. A recent blog from Norman Loayza discusses the importance of strengthening the integrated assessment of various types of risks at regional and national levels. Norman’s blog can be accessed in this link.

How to Bring Financial Services to the Poor: Go Digital

Jason Lamb's picture

Most of us in the developed world don’t think twice about how we conduct our financial lives. Our paychecks appear automatically in our checking accounts; bills are paid with the tap of a few keys; we swipe our debit card and a barista hands us a cup of coffee. Simple. Convenient. Low cost. Digital. For people in the developing world, it’s another story. It’s much more complicated. It’s hardly ever convenient. And rarely digital.

I’m speaking at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Global Policy Forum today to share the results of a new report from the Gates Foundation and McKinsey & Company, Fighting Poverty, Profitably: Transforming the economics of payments to build sustainable, inclusive financial systems, completed about payment systems around the world. We wanted to learn more about the costs associated with current payment systems and find ways to provide poor people in developing countries with affordable, efficient and secure ways to send and receive money.

Financial Inclusion for Financial Stability: Improving Access to Deposits and Bank Resilience in Sync

Martin Melecky's picture

From 2006 to 2009, growth of bank deposits dropped by over 12 percentage points globally. The most affected by the 2008 global crisis were upper middle income countries that experienced a drop of 15 percentage points on average. Individual countries such as Azerbaijan, Botswana, Iceland, and Montenegro switched from deposit growth of 58 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent, and 94 percent in 2007 to deposit declines (or a complete stop in deposit growth) of -2 percent, 1 percent, -1 percent, -8 percent in 2009, respectively.

In times of financial stress, depositors get anxious, can run on banks, and withdraw their deposits (Diamond and Dybvig, 1983). Large depositors are usually the first ones to run (Huang and Ratnovski, 2011). By the law of large numbers, correlated deposit withdrawals could be mitigated if bank deposits are more diversified. Greater diversification of deposits could be achieved by enabling a broader access to and use of bank deposits, i.e. involving a greater share of adult population in the use of bank deposits (financial inclusion). Based on this assumption, broader financial inclusion in bank deposits could significantly improve resilience of banking sector funding and thus overall financial stability (Cull et al., 2012).

Islamic Finance and Financial Inclusion: A Case for Poverty Reduction in the Middle East and North Africa?

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou's picture

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is home to about 70 million of the world’s poor (living on less than two dollars per day) and 20 million of the world’s extremely poor (living on less than US$1.25 per day). According to a recent Gallup survey, 95 percent of the adults residing in MENA define themselves as religiously observant. The combination of these two facts has produced a growing interest in Islamic finance as a possible tool for reducing poverty through financial inclusion among the region’s religiously conscious Muslim population (see Mohieldin et al. 2011).

Uneven access to financial services and instruments that are compliant with Shari’ah, or Islamic law, could be one of the contributing reasons for the low number of bank accounts in the MENA region. A mere 18 percent of adults (above the age of 15) have accounts in formal financial institutions, the lowest in the world (Figure 1). There is ample evidence that, if done correctly, increasing access to and the use of various financial services can help both reduce poverty and its severity (for example see Burgess and Pande 2005 and Beck, Demirgüç-Kunt and Levine 2007 among many). With no access to financial services, many of the poor in MENA will continue to be trapped in poverty with little to no chance of escaping it in the foreseeable future.

Do Matching Grants Programs Increase Firm Productivity and Growth?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Matching grant programs are one of the most commonly used policy tools for boosting productivity and technological upgrading in small firms. A matching grant typically consists of a partial subsidy to a firm for the use of business development services, such as management consultants or technical experts.

Despite their common use, there is currently little evidence as to whether or not matching grants actually improve firms’ productivity and growth prospects. One worry is that the money may simply be used for services that the firm may have hired even without a subsidy. Together with Dean Karlan and Antoinette Schoar, I conducted a randomized impact evaluation in Mexico that is among the first to document the positive effects of a matching grants program.

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