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.
The countries of Europe and Central Asia have made undeniable, if uneven, progress in expanding financial inclusion in recent years. The well-developed microfinance industry and relatively widespread use of wage accounts in some countries are signs of success, though low savings rates and high levels of mistrust in the formal financial sector signal that much work remains to be done. The exclusion from the formal financial system of more than 175 million adults—disproportionately located in Central Asia—presents particularly difficult challenge for policy makers in the region. Our recently published Findex note takes an in-depth look at financial inclusion in the ECA region.
After 25,000 interviews in 23 ECA economies, a subset of the larger Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database , we now know that 45 percent of adults in that region have an account at a formal financial institution. This is on par with the rest of the developing world. But of course we know that there is more to financial inclusion than account ownership, it is equally important to have data on how accounts – and other basic financial tools - are used. Account holders in ECA are much more likely to use their account to receive wages or government payments, as compared to account holders in the rest of the developing world (77 percent vs. 41 percent). This is an interesting insight as to what mechanisms are already working to engage adults with formal financial systems, and something to keep in mind when we think about how to move forward.
Governments and private sector actions can drive down remittance prices for migrants (Credit: DFID-UK, Flickr Creative Commons)
An estimated 215 million people – 3 percent of the world’s population – have emigrated far from home in order to earn enough to support their families. They include workers from Bangladesh who go to Saudi Arabia to work in the construction trade, Afghans who go to Iran to work in the oilfields, and workers from Burkina Faso who go to Cote d’Ivoire to work on the cocoa or coffee harvests.
Toiling far from their loved ones is not their only burden. When migrants send their money home, they are often charged exorbitant fees, which can account for a large portion of the small sums being sent - sometimes upwards of 20 percent – and can inflict a punishing burden on poor migrants.
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?
What breakthrough will involve barefoot banking for millions of people, allow welfare and other benefits to be electronically transferred to some of the poorest people in the world and be scaled up in a few years time to reach 1 billion people or more? The answer is 'Aadhaar', the Hindi name that the Unique Identification Authority of India has given to the massive project that will provide unique I.Ds to 600 million by 2014 and eventually to the entire population of the country if all goes as planned.
An increasing number of countries are developing national strategies for financial education and implementing programs to enhance people’s financial capability. At least 36 countries have already established or are in the process of designing a national strategy for financial education according to the OECD. Boosting people’s ability to take sound financial decisions has emerged as a new policy objective, both in developed and developing countries. The recent financial crisis has reinforced the view that being financially capable is important. However, let’s take a step back. What do we know about how capable people are in different countries across the world in managing their finances? Which knowledge and skills gaps exist that could be filled with financial capability enhancing programs? Which populations are the least financially knowledgeable and capable and would benefit the most from any interventions?
Do men and women use financial services differently? This is the question we set out to answer when we conducted six country studies on gender finance in sub- Saharan Africa.
The purpose of our study was twofold. First, we wanted to explore the reasons behind differences in usage of financial products. Second, based on these underlying reasons, we wanted to formulate workable intervention strategies that we could recommend as gender-sensitive financial sector policy approaches for policymakers and stakeholders. The countries we studied included Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. Based on 50 to 75 interviews per country with individuals from both urban and rural areas, we analysed how and why men and women are using credit, savings and insurance products.
Image courtesy of UPU
In October 2012, when the first version of the Global Panorama was published, several news agencies and papers wrote: “UN urges increase in role of financial services across global postal sector” or “Posts must exploit untapped potential for financial inclusion”. The surprise was not in the titles but in the interest generated by reports on the postal sector. The intersection between two things which the general public does not automatically associate: the Post and financial services, especially for the poor, seemed to spark interest.