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Financial Sector

Shaping a procurement plan for emergencies

Felipe Goya's picture
Volunteers unload relief materials in Nepal
Volunteers transporting relief supplies. Credits: Rajib Upadhya. World Bank​

Nepal is coping with the consequences of a disastrous earthquake. During the next months the government will be under a lot of pressure to respond quickly to the needs of the population.

Public procurement units across the country will also feel this pressure. They will be deciding over the purchase of goods and services with taxpayer money. On the one hand, the purchases are urgently needed. On the other, there is a risk that taxpayer money can be wasted if decisions are taken too hastily.

One instrument that can be helpful in this kind of situation is a framework agreement. This should be part of any country’s Disaster Risk Management plan. Its aim is to have a procurement system ready that responds quickly to an emergency. But this quick response should not increase risks beyond what policymakers have defined as acceptable. Special procurement procedures for emergencies should be part of disaster management systems and should especially include tailored framework agreements.

Financial risk, resilience and realism: ‘New Economic Thinking,’ amid ominous tremors from the eurozone

Christopher Colford's picture



How safe and how stable is today’s international financial system? Eight years since the global bond markets started quaking – and almost seven years since the Lehman Brothers debacle triggered a worldwide meltdown – is the financial system resilient enough to recover from sudden shocks?

These are not just rhetorical questions, but urgent ones. Amid the ominous recent tremors within the European Union – with the intensifying risk that insolvent Greece could soon “crash out” of the eurozone if it fails to extract more bailout money from its exasperated rescuers – the global financial system may be about to get another real-life lesson in riding out traumatic turbulence.

So mark your calendars for this Wednesday, May 6, when a top-level conference with some of the world’s leading financial luminaries will be livestreamed online at (click here) this website from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Many of the world’s top regulators, policymakers and scholars – brought together by the Institute for New Economic Thinking – will gather at the International Monetary Fund for a day-long exploration of “Finance and Society.”

A sense of déjà vu might seem to surround the conference agenda, especially for World Bank and IMF colleagues who recall the nonstop financial anxiety that consumed the Spring Meetings just a few weeks ago. A similar economic dread reportedly pervaded last week’s Milken Global Economic Conference in Los Angeles.

Yet the INET conference may be poised to offer a somewhat different perspective. The Spring Meetings featured the familiar lineup of business-suited, grim-and-greying Finance Ministers – mostly male, mostly middle-aged, mostly mainstream moderates – but the group of experts at the “Finance and Society” conference will reflect a welcome new dose of diversity. Every major speaker on the agenda is a woman.

The economists at the pinnacle of the world’s most powerful financial institutions – Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Janet Yellen of the U.S. Federal Reserve System – will keynote the conference, and the proceedings will include such influential financial supervisors as Sarah Booth Raskin of the U.S. Treasury and Brooksley Born and Sharon Bowen of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There’ll also be a pre-conference speech by the woman who has suddenly galvanized the Washington economic debate: No, not Hillary Clinton, but Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The new global roster of financial leaders – in this conference's case, all of them women – illustrates how economic policymaking is now, at last, drawing on the skills of an ever-wider-ranging talent pool. The economic expertise featured this week is bound to mark a positive step forward, considering the ruinous impact of the recent mismanagement by middle-aged mainstream men. (Sorry, guys, but can you really blame people for noticing that the pale-stale-and-male crowd allowed the world to drift toward the Crash of 2008?)

This week’s conference agenda is admirably forthright about the challenge: “Complexity, special interest, and weak systems of governance and accountability continue to interfere with the ability of the financial system to serve society's needs.” With Lagarde and Yellen setting the tone – and with Warren adding an injection of populist vigor – this week’s INET conference seems likely to offer some imaginative insights that go beyond the familiar Spring Meetings formula.

If ever there were a time when an INET-style dose of “new economic thinking” might be needed, it’s now. Growth is sluggish and sometimes even stagnant in many developed nations, amid what Largarde calls “the new mediocre.” Markets are fragile and currencies are volatile in many developing countries. A commodity-price slump may drain the coffers of many resource-rich but undiversified economies. As mournful pundits have been lamenting seemingly ad infinitum and sans frontières, the global economy is suffering from a prolonged hangover after its pre-2008 binge of irrational exuberance.

As if the worries about “secular stagnation” were not enough, there’s also the tragedy of Greece, where an economic calamity has unfolded like a slow-motion car wreck as financial markets breathlessly await the all-too-predictable collision. Regular readers of this blog will surely have noted that fears of Greece’s potential crashout from the eurozone have been nearing a crescendo – and the possible default-to-the-drachma drama may soon reach its catharsis.

Three Lessons Learned on the Road to Gender Equality

Bahar Alsharif's picture
What is a game changer for women in business and management? That was the topic on everyone's mind at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) HQ in London this week. I had joined private sector leaders, including representatives from employer organizations around the world, for a one-day conference organized by CBI, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Together, we reflected on latest research, shared best practices, and identified approaches to overcoming "stubborn bottlenecks" in achieving greater gender diversity at top. 
 

South-South investment: development opportunities and policy agenda

Anabel Gonzalez's picture
Worker in a factory in India. Photo - Ray Witlin / World Bank.The growing phenomenon of investment by developing country firms in other developing countries – sometimes referred to as ‘South-South investment’– offers significant development opportunities for the World Bank Group’s client countries. Obtaining a detailed picture of South-South investment flows and stocks is difficult because in many countries data on foreign direct investment (FDI) are inaccurate and insufficiently disaggregated. Still, the overall trend is fairly clear:
  • South-South FDI is seeing important growth. According to OECD stocktaking, the share of South-South FDI in total world FDI has grown from some 3% at the beginning of the century to around 14% in 2009. See the OECD’s Development Co-operation Report 2014
  • South-South FDI has stayed strong even as global FDI has been volatile. Despite a fall in FDI from OECD countries by 57% below 2007 levels in 2012, FDI from developing countries rose by 19 percent, according to the OECD’s Development Co-operation Report 2014.
  • South-South mergers can lead to economic upgrading. In 2013, over two-thirds of gross cross-border mergers and acquisitions by Southern multinational enterprises (MNEs) targeted partners in developing and transition countries, and half of these involved foreign affiliates of MNEs from developed countries passing their assets on to MNEs from developing countries, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2014.

The short-term objectives of long-term investors

Alvaro Enrique Pedraza Morales's picture

Effective management of retirement savings is fast becoming an important agenda in many countries due to a rapidly ageing population. In addition to fulfilling this critical function, pension funds, which are theoretically long-only investors, perform an important role by providing long-term financing and liquidity to the rest of the financial system.

These large institutional investors are often thought of as stabilizers for the financial system and are expected to behave in a patient, counter-cyclical manner, making the most of cyclically low valuations to seek attractive investment opportunities. Moreover, since pension funds are expected to invest with a long-term perspective, these institutions have generally not been thought of as adding to systemic risk.

Cheap money: Addiction and ‘cold turkey’ risks

Erik Feyen's picture

The U.S. Federal Reserve System has taken new steps toward raising interest rates, but there is a disconnect between what the Fed and markets think will happen. What does it all mean for emerging and developing countries?
 
Central banks in developed economies have created an environment of ultra-low interest rates to rekindle economic growth and to battle falling inflation. They’re doing this by keeping policy rates close to zero and “printing money” on an unprecedented scale via a veritable alphabet soup of programs, such as QE, CE, LTRO and TLTRO.
 
These low interest rates have put a lot of pressure on investors, such as pension funds, to generate a decent return, setting off a massive search-for-yield frenzy.
 
This search for yield has created a cash tsunami that has also rolled on the shores of many emerging and developing economies.


 

Greek tragedy: 'Sleepwalking' toward an economic abyss, with eurozone fears pervading the Spring Meetings

Christopher Colford's picture

“All roads lead to Rome” may have been true in ancient times, but policymakers during this Spring Meetings season in Washington have been focused on another classical crossroads: All roads now lead to Athens, as the intensifying eurozone crisis is again stoking fears that Greece may soon “crash out” of the European common currency system – potentially dealing a severe shock to the still-fragile global financial markets.

“The discussions about Greece have pervaded every meeting” during this fast-forward week of finance and diplomacy, said the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. That viewpoint was reinforced by a studious chronicler of the Greek drama’s daily details, Chris Giles of The Financial Times, who asserted – in an unusually dismissive swipe – that “the antics of Greece dominated the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.”

The Greece-focused anxiety was palpable to many Spring Meetings attendees, judging by the number of corridor conversations and solemn sidebars that dwelled on the eurozone drama – especially on the Fund’s side of 19th Street NW. While most forums and panels on the Bank’s side of the street focused on the progress of many developing countries, events at the Fund seemed consumed by the policy contortions within Greece's faltering economy, as Meetings-goers monitored every tremble of their text messages to follow the week’s the week’s staccato bulletin-bulletin-bulletin news of Greece’s financial flailing.

“The mood is notably more gloomy than at the last international gathering,” said Osborne, “and it’s clear . . . that a misstep or miscalculation on either side [of the Greece negotiations] could easily return European economies to the kind of perilous situation we saw three to four years ago.” Having received a $118 billion bailout in May 2010 and a second package of $139 billion in October 2011, Greece is now at an impasse with its creditors: the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. A new government in Greece – having denounced the loan conditions reluctantly accepted by its predecessor governments – is debating how, or whether, it should comply with lenders’ pressure for far-reaching reform. Greece's foot-dragging has exasperated the lenders even as Greece envisions a potential third bailout program.

As the Greek tragedy unfolds, the doleful observation of Wolfgang Münchau in the FT seems all too apt: “Until last week, discussions with Greece did not go well. That changed when the circus of international financial diplomacy moved to Washington for the Spring Meetings. Then it became worse.”

Achieving Universal Financial Access by 2020: what the private sector, governments and multilaterals must do

Nina Vucenik's picture
What needs to happen for everyone in the world to have access to a transaction account by 2020? And, more importantly, why does it matter?

This was the issue the president of the World Bank Group, UN Secretary-General, UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, private and public sector leaders discussed at an event, Universal Financial Access 2020, during the 2015 World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings.

Institutional Investment in Infrastructure: A view from the bridge of a development agency

Jordan Z. Schwartz's picture

The Buzz on the Street: Can institutional investors really close the infrastructure gap? 

Once again, infrastructure is a hot topic.  Not since the first waves of energy, water and transport privatizations in the early 1990s has infrastructure been a central topic in the daily discourse of the media, of the development community, of economists and financiers.  Now, governments are crying for more of it, new development institutions are being built around it and even the IMF is asserting its central role in economic growth.

Not only has infrastructure re-emerged as a popular, nearly consensus solution to the economic and societal woes of developing countries and industrialized nations alike, but the font of the resources needed to fill the infrastructure financing gap has also been identified.  Suddenly, it is impossible to walk through London, Washington, Paris or Singapore without bumping into a conference on institutional investors in infrastructure.  The G20 has discovered the link along with their business counterparts at the B20.  So too has the World Economic Forum, the OECD, the UN and the international financial institutions.  Match the long-term liabilities of pensions and insurance plans with long-term assets, the mantra goes, and the infamous infrastructure gap will close.  Win-win.

If only life were so easy. 

Closing the gender finance gap: Three steps firms can take

Heather Kipnis's picture
Despite eye-opening market potential — women control a total of $20 trillion in consumer spending —  they have somehow escaped the notice of the private sector as an engine for economic growth.  Women are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. Yet a bank account is the first step toward financial inclusion.

Why is it important for the private sector to help with this first step?
 
In increasingly competitive global markets, companies are searching for ways to differentiate themselves, to deepen their reach in existing markets and to expand to new markets. Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies. The size of the women’s market, and the resulting business opportunity, is striking:
 
  • Business credit: There is a $300 billion gap in lending capital for formal, women-owned small businesses. Of the 8 to 10 million such businesses in 140 countries, more than 70 percent receive few or no financial services.
  • Insurance Products: The Female Economy, a study in the Harvard Business Review, reported that the women’s market for insurance is calculated to be worth trillions of dollars.
  • Digital payments: Women’s lack of cellphone ownership and use means that millions cannot access digital-payment systems. Closing the gap in access to this technology over the next five years could open a $170 billion market to the mobile industry alone.
 

Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies.


For the past several years at IFC, I’ve been working with the private sector, namely financial institutions, to address the supply-and-demand constraints that women face when trying to access the formal financial system. IFC tackles these constraints in three ways:
 
  • Defining the size of the women’s market, female-owned and  -led SMEs, and as individual consumers of financial services
  • Showing financial institutions how to tap into the women’s market opportunity by developing offerings that combine financial products, such as credit, savings and insurance, with non-financial services such as training in business skills
  • Increasing women’s access through convenient delivery channels, such as online, mobile and branchless banking


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