Paraguay’ s progress towards developing a National Financial Inclusion Strategy received a boost of energy and analytical rigor last week, as the Central Bank released new demand-side data describing the current state of financial inclusion for the country’s 4.8 million adults.
According to the EIF (Encuesta de Inclusion Financiera) data, 29 percent of adults in Paraguay have an account at a formal financial institution, 28 percent of adults use a mobile money product, and 55 percent use some type of financial service (including both of the former but also credit, insurance, and other payment products). This puts Paraguay below the average for account penetration in Latin America (39 percent as of 2011), but suggests that the country is a regional leader in the expansion of mobile financial services.
The EIF was conceived of last fall when the Paraguayan authorities, eager to paint a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of financial inclusion in their country, expanded the Global Findex questionnaire to cover additional topics including financial capability, insurance, and domestic remittances. Efforts were also made to align the EIF questionnaire with the unique financial-sector landscape in Paraguay, which features a strong cooperative sector and a fast-growing mobile financial service industry led by mobile network operators (MNOs) Tigo and Personal.
The resulting EIF data, collected in late 2013 in partnership with the World Bank and Gallup Inc., represents a valuable update and extension of the 2011 Global Findex.
On June 4, the data and related analysis were presented to the public by Santiago Peña, board member of the Central Bank of Paraguay, in an event that included key stakeholders such as the Minister of Finance, the President of the Cooperatives regulator (INCOOP), the World Bank Resident Representative, and representatives from the public and private sector as well as a wide range of civil society actors.
The data and event – described in detail the next day on the front page of a national newspaper – also served to renew momentum toward the development of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The authorities plan to use the EIF data to define targets, identify priority populations, and develop policy actions. The data will also act as a baseline from which to measure progress and as a means to hold the government accountable for its financial inclusion commitments.
The Global population growth numbers forecast for the coming years can be extremely daunting, with 2 billion more people on our planet by 2050. When one considers that each of these global citizens will require shelter, health care, education, sanitation, transport, the numbers become even more formidable. Looking at housing needs alone, for the period 2015-2020, global population will grow by 350 million people, amounting to around 70 million new households each requiring a home. Breaking down the numbers annually means 14 million new houses. Based on a conservative estimate of $30k per unit, the total investment needed per annum over coming years is $420 billion. This is a large number but only around 0.6 per cent of global GDP . There are additional costs naturally associated with getting infrastructure and services to new houses, such as roads, water, and sanitation. A recent McKinsey study estimates that in 16 large emerging markets alone there is a $600-700 billion market for affordable housing. Nevertheless, with the right systems in place this level of new investment should be feasible.
So why do we still have market failures in the housing sector which are in plain sight of many emerging market cities in the form of slum housing? Where can the money come from for housing investment? How will it reach the population which is going to need it the most in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, which will see the most rapid population growth and urbanization?
Like seismic waves rippling outward after a tectonic shift, reverberations are roiling the economic-policy landscape after the U.S. launch of the groundbreaking new analysis by Thomas Piketty, the scholar from the Paris School of Economics whose landmark tome – “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – has newly jolted the economics profession.
Any Washingtonian or World Bank Group staffer who somehow missed the news of Piketty’s celebrated series of speeches and seminars last week – in Washington, New York and Boston – received an unmistakable signal this week about what an important intellectual breakthrough Piketty has achieved. President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday cited Piketty while putting the issue of economic inequality at the top of his list of priorities during his review of the Spring Meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Noting that he was already about halfway through reading Piketty’s “Capital,” President Kim sent a clear message that the skewed global distribution of wealth, as analyzed by Piketty and emphasized by many officials at the Bank and Fund's semiannual conference, should be top-of-mind for policy-watchers at the Bank and beyond – indeed, at every institution that hopes to promote shared prosperity.
Piketty’s scholarship is now receiving widespread acclaim as a landmark in economic analysis, and is being recognized both for its “exhaustive fact-based research” and its sweeping historical perspective. More of a patient dissection of hard data than a political roadmap, Piketty’s book has quickly become the subject of multiple praiseworthy reviews, notably in the New York Times and the Financial Times. One usually level-headed Bloomberg View analyst, recoiling from the “rapturous reception” accorded to the book, may have gone slightly overboard this week in asserting that Piketty's insights had been greeted by American liberals with “erotic intensity.”
Predictably, Piketty's book has also quickly become the target – “Piketty Revives [Karl] Marx,” blared a Wall Street Journal headline; “Marx Rises Again,” warned the New York Times’ lonely conservative scold – of the whack-a-mole ideological purists in laissez-faire Op-Ed columns, who forever seem tempted to equate modern-day liberalism with long-gone Leninism. Eager to publish denunciations of any idea, however modest, that might justify (heaven forfend) tax increases on stratospheric income-earners and the top-fraction-of-the-One Percent, the free-market fundamentalists on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board – unabashed cheerleaders for plutocracy – have opened up one of their trademark barrages via their Op-Ed columns (“This book is less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed”; “The professor ought to read ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Darkness at Noon’ ”). The Journal's jihad clearly aims to demean or discredit anyone who might flirt with such Piketty-style notions as restoring greater progressivity to the tax code. (Egad: Progressive taxation? Next stop: Bolshevism.)
The price of sending international remittances has reached a new record low in the first quarter of 2014. The global average cost of sending money across borders was recorded at 8.36 percent. This figure is used as a reference point for measuring progress toward achieving the so-called “5x5” objective – a goal endorsed by the G8 and G20 countries – to reduce the cost of sending remittances by five percentage points, to 5 percent, by the end of 2014.
Most indexes of international remittance costs – published by the World Bank in the new, ninth issue of the Remittance Prices Worldwide report, which was released on March 31 – indicate good progress in the market for remittances.
The global average cost is significantly lower when weighted by the volume of money that flows in each of the report’s country-to-country pairs. The weighted average cost is now down to 5.91 percent, following a further decline in the last quarter. For the first time, the weighted average has fallen below 6 percent.
Nearly one-third of the remittance-sending countries included in Remittance Prices Worldwide have now achieved a reduction of at least 3 percentage points. Those countries include such major sources of remittances as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. This is also the case for 39 out of 89 of the remittance-receiving countries.
With those words, the World Bank Group’s network on Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD) this week kicked off a major knowledge and learning conference on development in Mombasa, Kenya. More than 250 participants – private-sector innovators, government policymakers and development practitioners from throughout the Africa region as well as from the Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington – came together to share ideas about cutting-edge innovations in delivering services; to brainstorm with colleagues on development strategy for Africa; and to consider new tactics to help meet the practical, everyday needs of Africans.
Delivering strong value for the Bank Group’s client countries was the theme of Klaus Tilmes, the network’s Acting Vice President, as the group envisioned the impending FPD transition into two new Global Practices: Trade & Competitiveness and Finance & Markets. Inclusive growth and inclusive finance – which are vital elements in achieving the Bank Group’s mission of eliminating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity – are the twin and complementary themes through which the two new practices will aim to help their clients meet the development challenge.
Promoting inclusive growth and creating jobs – as engines of growth, as key areas of cooperation between the public and private sectors, and as the backbone of the Bank Group’s approach to promoting a world free of poverty – was the conference’s first-day theme. In this context, youth and female unemployment are priority issues for Kenya and for other African countries – from the perspective of equity, certainly, but also from the perspective of social cohesion.
Recent evaluations of a number of worldwide financial education programs reported widely varied outcomes. While some found evidence of effectiveness, others reported mixed or no evidence. Yet an increasing number of developing countries are putting financial education strategies in place or are expanding financial education programs. The quality of design of such strategies and programs is therefore crucial.
Financial education programs can be ad hoc targeted interventions, aimed at addressing specific financial education gaps, or they can be more comprehensive approaches through financial education or literacy strategies that aim to address a number of priorities. Regardless of the approach – which depends on the local context – financial education programs have a higher likelihood of greater positive impact if they are based on reliable diagnostic tools and focused on clearly defined and sequenced priorities.
Over the past two years, the Financial Inclusion and Consumer Protection team at the World Bank Group has conducted substantial technical and diagnostic work in the area of responsible finance. For example, we have developed methodologies for financial capability surveys and impact evaluation, and we have conducted a series of diagnostic reviews in the area of consumer protection and financial literacy on a global scale.
You don’t have to spend very long in Rwanda before you start to be impressed by the financial inclusion landscape in this country – not only by the progress made over the past several years, but by the scale of ambition for the rest of this decade and beyond.
The government has set a target of 90 percent financial inclusion by 2020 and the evidence of progress toward this goal is everywhere: Advertisements for mobile-money products are painted and plastered onto almost every available surface and, if you know what to look for, it doesn’t take long to spot an Umurenge Savings and Credit Cooperative (Umurenge SACCO) – Rwanda’s signature financial inclusion initiative.
Six years ago, the 2008 FinScope survey found that that 47 percent of Rwandan adults used some type of financial product or service, but just 21 percent were participating in the formal financial sector, which was at the time made up mostly of banks but which also included a handful of microfinance institutions and SACCOs.
Largely in response to these figures – and in particular to the large urban/rural divide illustrated by the data – and the government set out to establish a SACCO in each of the country’s 416 umurenges, or sectors. The Umurenge SACCO was born.
How good are the experts at evaluating countries’ anti-money-laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) systems? That was the central question in a new report released last week by the Center on Law and Globalization. The report takes a critical look at the IMF’s evaluations of the AML/CFT systems of 150 countries from 2004 to 2013. Although we may differ on some of the analysis and recommendations, the report provides ample food for thought and raises issues that need to be addressed and, in certain instances, corrected.
It isn’t possible here to provide a full overview of all the points raised in the report, but a few key messages stand out:
The report finds that assessors were too focused on formal compliance (“rules on the books”) and did not, in any systematic fashion, try to ascertain the real impact of a country’s entire AML/CFT regime in practice. In the words of the report, “Reliance (by assessors) was placed on the prima facie plausibility of the claim that adherence to the [international AML] standards would help reduce money laundering and the financing of terrorism.” This criticism goes to a wider point: that evaluations were conducted without a clear articulation of the objectives to be achieved by AML/CFT measures. If you don’t know what a system is meant to accomplish, how can you evaluate it?
These are valid points and they hold true, not just for IMF evaluations, but also for others (including the World Bank) who carried out assessments using the same internationally agreed methodology. However, the report fails to take due account of the considerable work that has been undertaken in recent years to address and correct those shortcomings.
Since 2010, an intensive process of revision has been underway to improve the AML/CFT standards and the assessment methodology. There has been a long and vigorous debate within the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard-setter on these issues, and between the FATF and other bodies, about the best way to remedy the system’s deficiencies to make assessment reports more useful. Both the Bank and the Fund have played a very active role in this discussion.
As a result of this process, the new standards approved in 2012, along with a new methodology approved in 2013, provide a framework to address those concerns: Countries’ AML/CFT systems are to be judged based upon an assessment of their effectiveness in addressing a country’s ML/FT risks. Are government interventions commensurate to the risks faced? For example, a country with a negligible financial sector and a high use of cash should probably not spend too much money and manpower on policing its securities sector. Conversely, a sophisticated financial center providing easily usable incorporation services should probably keep a close eye on company registration. As a participant in this process, the World Bank has been a strong proponent of this pivot toward risk and effectiveness. In our view, only such an approach can help countries make meaningful decisions regarding their priorities and their strategies.
"Financial inclusion." This phrase has been found in several recent reports. But what does “financial inclusion" truly mean? More important, what does it mean for women who constitute nearly half of the global population?
Financial inclusion is defined in the Global Financial Development Report as the “proportion of individuals and firms that use financial services.” It is one of the main catalysts of economic growth and helps to reduce poverty in the world. Access to financial services is one approach to greater financial inclusion. As all formal transactions are tied to accounts, ownership of accounts is an important aspect to measure the degree of financial inclusion. There are several crucial benefits to having a bank account, such as: facilitating the saving process; facilitating the receiving of government payments; and enabling entrepreneurship through the building of credit.
Acess to financial services has been expanding steadily as many countries have been adopting national strategies to achieve financial inclusion. (Financial inclusion strategy is defined as “road maps of actions, agreed and defined at the national or subnational level, that stakeholders follow to achieve financial inclusion objectives.”) Yet large gaps and hurdles to access financial systems remain worldwide. (See female percentages with bank accounts at formal financial institutions in 2011 based on the World Bank’s Financial Inclusion Data.)
These gaps and obstacles are especially arduous for women, for no reason other than their gender! The Findex survey, for example, shows that women refrain from opening personal accounts because they rely on their relatives’ accounts. The Global Financial Development Report of 2014 links this matter to the income inequality and the quality of the economic institutions.
Settlements in cases of foreign bribery cases are big news and growing. More and more countries are allowing these procedures, and their law enforcement agencies are using them forcefully in their efforts to combat foreign bribery. The FCPA, which came into law in the US over thirty five years ago, has paved the way for many other countries to adopt similar legislations, in line with far reaching international agreements such as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. These are very welcome developments, which should continue unabated.
The 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption – to which almost 170 countries have become party to - has created an environment for a radical and universal change in the international landscape of anti-bribery legislation. Actual enforcement is making a difference, as illustrated by the rapid growth in settlements by companies and individuals who have contravened the law and have to face the consequences - without going to a full trial. The figures are telling: over the past decade a total of US$ 6.9 billion has been imposed in monetary sanctions through settlements - which is clearly good news in the fight against corruption.
But in the midst of this positive development, there are a number of troubling concerns (from the perspective of the countries affected by corruption). Research by the UNODC/World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative in our new report ‘Left Out of the Bargain’ has revealed that those countries whose officials have been bribed are most often unaware of the settlements, and receive very little of the moneys involved. Of the US$ 6.9 billion, nearly US$ 5.8 billion came about when the countries where the settlement took place – mostly major financial centers - were different from those of the allegedly bribed foreign public official.
StAR’s analysis of 395 cases reveals that only about US$197 million, or 3%, was returned to the countries whose officials allegedly received bribes.