For a very long time, the rich have known to some extent how the poor around the world live. What’s new in today's world is that the best-kept secret from the poor, namely, how the rich live, is now out. Through the village television, the Internet and hand-held instruments, which a rapidly increasing number of the poor possess, life-styles of the rich and the middle class are transmitted in full color to their homes every day.
Last year, when I traveled with President Evo Morales to a Bolivian village 14,000 feet above sea level, villagers snapped pictures on their smartphones of our arrival. In Uttar Pradesh, the state in India with the highest number of poor people, I found Indians watching Korean soap operas on their smartphones.
We live in an unequal world. But while the rich world may be blind to the suffering of the poor, the poor throughout the world are very much aware of how the rich live. And they have shown they are willing to take action.
access to finance
South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than 2% of GDP compared to over 20% in East Asia. Labor mobility and regional travel is minimal, with few exceptions. Even remote communication is low – only 7% of international telephone calls in South Asia are to countries within the region, compared to 71% for East Asia. The case for closer integration has remained strong for a while now, and it is refreshing to see that some movement, albeit watchful, in addressing some of the region's deep rooted political economy issues, particularly between India and Pakistan.
The discussions around closer integration have centered on energy, trade, connectivity and stability. All of these offer strong potential to enhance growth in the region. However, financial sector integration overall, and access to finance in particular, hardly ever make it to the agenda of regional integration forums and deliberations. This is unfortunate, because the region has a long way to go in providing adequate access to financial services and insurance products, especially to the vulnerable segments of the population. Given that South Asia is home to more than half a billion of the world’s poor, this becomes a poverty reduction goal as much as a financial inclusion goal.
‘Imagine you have a lot of mangoes on your farm and your neighbor has lots of tomatoes. You make a bargain and he says he will give you three tomatoes for every mango you give him. If you give him fourteen mangoes, how many tomatoes do you expect him to give back to you?’
This question, amongst others, has been asked in the 2009 and 2011 Kenya FinAccess surveys. If you got the answer to this question right (see end of the blog for the correct answer), congratulations! It may be an indication that you are financially literate. Or would you rather be financially capable? ‘Financial Literacy’ and ‘Financial Capability’ are two terms many have heard about and usually they are used interchangeably. However, in a recent World Bank publication, which tries to ‘Make Sense of Financial Capability Surveys around the World’, the authors (Perotti, Zottel, Iarossi, and Bolaji-Adio) reviewed key approaches to measure financial literacy and capability. In doing so, they identified Financial Literacy to be often associated with financial knowledge.
To reduce asymmetric information problems associated with extending credit and increase the chances of loan repayment, banks typically require collateral from their borrowers.
Movable assets often account for most of the capital stock of private firms and comprise an especially large share for micro, small, and medium-size enterprises. Hence, movable assets are the main type of collateral that firms, especially those in developing countries, can pledge to obtain bank financing. While a sound legal and regulatory framework is essential to allow movable assets to be used as collateral, without a well-functioning registry for movable assets, even the best secured transactions laws could be ineffective or even useless.
Given the importance of collateral registries for moveable assets, 18 countries have established such registries in the past decade. However, to my knowledge there is no systematic empirical evidence on whether such reforms have been effective in fulfilling their primary goal: improving firms’ access to bank finance.
- access to finance
Islamic finance can connect millions around the globe to the economy (Credit: The Reboot, Flickr)
In the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, the need for a new development model which is more sustainable and also fosters inclusive growth has become more apparent. Could Islamic finance be the answer? Islamic finance promotes risk-sharing, connection to the real economy and emphasizes financial inclusion and social welfare. Can these dimensions contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development?
Islamic finance is based on two intrinsic features: risk-sharing and the link between financial transactions and the real economy. Because all financial contracts are backed by real sector assets and risk-sharing among partners, including financing institutions, Islamic financial instruments have relatively more stability than conventional instruments and tend to be more flexible against unanticipated shocks. This critical link brings prudence to the system, promotes equity relative to debt, broadens financial participation, and minimizes overall vulnerability.
Can Islamic Microfinance give more people access to the financial services they need to grow their business? (Credit: DFID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Research has shown that financial sector development and the efficiency of financial systems are closely linked to economic growth. Ensuring the provision of financial services to the poor can also address the challenge of poverty alleviation and directly target financing towards economically and socially underprivileged groups. Appropriate financial services, such as savings services, investment, insurance, and payment and money transfer facilities, enable the poor to acquire capital to engage in productive ventures, manage risks, increase their income and savings, and escape poverty.
Will improved identification accelerate financial inclusion? ( Credit: Kkalyan, Flickr Creative Commons)
Wherever individuals are excluded from formal financial services the source of the problem is usually a lack of information. Without reliable information about a borrower’s identity or credit history, lenders will compensate for their inability to evaluate risk by raising collateral requirements, charging higher interest rates, or by refusing to lend to certain borrower groups altogether. This leads to financial exclusion, even among otherwise creditworthy borrowers. Technologies that reduce asymmetric information between borrowers and lenders are therefore some of the most powerful tools to reduce financial exclusion. In recent years, much progress has been made to improve credit reporting institutions around the world. But in many countries the challenge is much more basic: much of the world’s population lacks even the most basic identity proof. To address this problem, many countries have experimented with innovative solutions for improved personal identification.
Last April 21, representatives from government, the private sector, and the financial inclusion world came together for Financial Inclusion Pathways for Women and the Poor. Panels covered a range of topics, including financial education, mobile banking and SME finance. But at the heart of all the discussions was the challenge posed by 2.5 billion unbanked people around the world –1.35 billion of them women. What actions can the public and private sector take to give the financially excluded—especially women who have the potential to transform economies-- access to finance?
Financial education is important, yet there is a considerable knowledge gap in determining how best to deliver it. Recently, the literature on careful evaluations of financial education has started to move away from classroom based interventions to more innovative delivery mechanisms such as videos, DVDs, and mainstream media. The advantage of entertainment media – television and radio – is that it offers a broad outreach since nearly every household nowadays has a TV and also a captive audience that establishes emotional connections with the show and closely follows the behavior of their favorite actors. Given that entertainment media has been shown to be successful at improving social behavior in the health and education fields, an interesting research question is whether it can also be used for positively influencing financial knowledge and behavior.
The difficulties faced by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in getting finance, especially in the developing world, have been well documented. The causes are equally well known. First, traditional bank financing (secured or cash-flow based) is often not available due to the lack of adequate collateral or the opaque modus operandi of many SMEs. Also, financial markets may not be sufficiently well developed to facilitate traditional private equity (PE) financing of SMEs. A typical private equity (PE) firm or fund requires controlling positions in a company it invests. But in Sub-Sahara Africa, most small businesspeople are both owner and operator of lifestyle businesses and have little interest in letting go of control of their company. Another constraint to the traditional PE financing model is the lack of exit channels such as a well-functioning initial public offering (IPO) or merger and acquisition (M&A) market.