Private Sector Development
The 2014 Global Financial Development Report, released today by the World Bank Group, presents the most comprehensive review to date of research findings on an increasingly prominent issue in international economic policy: financial inclusion. It also highlights several key topics that are linked to the growing interest in this topic – advances in technology, product design innovations and the role of financial education in financial inclusion.
It’s easy to understand the focus on technology in this kind of report. Mobile phones and other telecommunications and digital technologies offer potential opportunities for the cost-effective expansion of financial services into previously overlooked or under-served markets. Technology is only part of the reason, however, for increased attention to financial inclusion. There is also a new appreciation for the role of financial services in the lives of the poor – an appreciation gained through a pioneering research effort using “financial diaries” methodology. This includes an awareness that even the best supply-side responses – often powered by new technologies – need to understand the demand side of the equation to be commercially successful and to offer value to consumers.
"Project Greenback 2.0 – Remittance Champion Cities" was launched on October 29 in Turin, Italy.
A team from the World Bank's service line on Financial Infrastructure, hosting the launch event, was thrilled to welcome a room full of migrants, market paricipants, public officials, policy researchers and private-sector observers.
Since March 2013, in partnershp with the Turin city government, the World Bank team has been preparing for the launch of Project Greenback 2.0, which aims to foster the development of a sound and efficient market for remittances. The project pursues an important new approach: It focuses on remittance senders, and its priority is meeting their needs.
In the first months of our efforts in Turin, we have been working on a survey among remittance senders, and we have been mapping and monitoring the services that are available to them when they seek to send money home. The survey focused on Romanians, Moroccans and Peruvians – the most numerous immigrant groups in Turin, who together account for more than 60 percent of the city's immigrant population.
Natural disasters – such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and floods – are costly to society, in terms of both human destruction and financial losses. Governments ultimately bear the full cost of the havoc wreaked by natural disasters, which can create an enormous strain on limited government budgets, especially in developing countries. This is even before we begin to contemplate the development impact and how the poorest of the poor are disproportionately affected.
Just last week, the world saw the widespread damage that the St. Jude storm inflicted across Europe, and we witnessed its effect on hundreds of thousands of people. Most advanced economies, however, have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb the financial losses inlicted by natural disasters. Higher-income countries enjoy (relatively) efficient public revenue systems and developed domestic insurance markets.
By contrast, developing countries do not have the same degree of access to financial and insurance markets. They face limited revenue streams, limited fiscal flexibility, and limited access to quick liquidity in the wake of an event. This is particularly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Pacific island nations.
Talk about timing! This week has seen back-to-back initiatives that underscore the growing importance of Islamic finance – and the significant role that the World Bank Group can play in unleashing its potential for financing international development.
This Tuesday, October 29, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom announced that the U.K. will become the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk or Islamic bond, with a £200 million issue planned for early 2014. Cameron also announced plans for a new Islamic index on the London Stock Exchange. These initiatives are all part of a grand plan by the U.K. government to turn London into a global capital of Islamic finance.
The very next day, on Wednesday, October 30, World Bank Group President Jim Kim inaugurated the World Bank Global Islamic Finance Center in Istanbul. Envisioned as a knowledge hub for developing Islamic finance globally, the center will conduct research and training as well as provide technical assistance and advisory services to World Bank Group client countries interested in developing Islamic financial institutions and markets.
When it comes to financing for entrepreneurs, this week marked a major event in the financial industry of the United States with immense potential ramifications for the developing world. This week, the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s unanimously approved rules for equity crowdfunding.
For context, equity crowdfunding allows entrepreneurs to sell equity shares of their company to a group of investors through an internet platform, and is a distinct category of crowdfunding apart from micro-finance (Kiva), perks-based (Indiegogo), and debt (Lending Club). The most notable crowdfunding website is Kickstarter which since 2009 has raised more than $840 million, from more than 5 million people, funding 50,000 creative projects. This platform operates on a pre-sale, perks or donation model where funders contribute funds for a future product, reward, or in-kind. Shares or equity were, until the SEC ruling, not part of the deal.
If we hold true that this SEC measure represents a seismic shift in the way entrepreneurs can raise funds in the United States, the question remains, can emerging markets leap frog the developed world to democratize access to finance for entrepreneurs in their countries?
The answer, we believe, is yes.
On this year’s International Day of the Girl, I was part of the vast audience in the Atrium of the World Bank who had the opportunity to hear Malala Yousafza, the young activist who is inspiring the world with her bravery and courage, speak about her passionate fight for girls’ education.
Just the night before, she had wowed Jon Stewart on his television show with her poignantly articulate and exceedingly wise responses. Among them, she said: “I believe in equality. And I believe there is no difference between a man and a woman. I even believe that a woman is more powerful than men.”
These words, though spoken by a teenager, could scarcely ring more true amid the battle to eliminate poverty. Women are indeed more powerful than men, in the sense that, when you invest in a woman, you also invest in her family, her community and her country at large.
Financial Inclusion Commitments through the Maya Declaration, the G20 Peer Learning Program, and the Better Than Cash Alliance.
Today at 2 o’clock in the Preston Auditorium, Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank Group – along with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development – will challenge the global community to focus on transformational change in the level and quality of financial inclusion.
Why financial inclusion? Because it is an enabler for poverty reduction and shared prosperity, as has been recognized by the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Progress in tackling financial exclusion can be accelerated through the current global wave of nation-by-nation financial inclusion targets and commitments; through improved data availability; and through transformative business models for providing financial services.
Photo: When disasters strike – like floods, tsunamis, earthquakes or cyclones – they can cause, not just human suffering, but financial damage. Using well-crafted Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance (DRFI) instruments can help ease the impact of a potential financial catastrophe. Credit: World Bank Photo Collection.
When Tropical Storm Sendong battered the Philippines in late 2011, catastrophic flash floods claimed more than 1,200 lives and damaged over 50,000 houses. In addition to the human suffering, disasters like this often have a devastating effect on the budget of vulnerable countries, leading to the reallocation of scarce resources away from development programs to recovery and reconstruction. Governments also need immediate resources for rapid response to minimize post-disaster impacts.
But the Philippines had taken steps to prepare against such disasters. Just months before Sendong made landfall on the island of Mindanao, the government signed a US$500 million contingent credit line with the World Bank. This provided immediate access to liquidity to help finance emergency response and recovery operations.
Yet questions remain about financial protection strategies and instruments such as this contingent credit in the Philippines. For example: Does a government need to establish prior rules for post-disaster expenditure, or does it otherwise risk a slow and poorly targeted response with low impact on poverty and developmental outcomes? Was contingent credit the most appropriate instrument to finance this risk, or should other instruments, such as insurance, have been considered instead of or in addition to it? And fundamentally: Is disaster risk financing and insurance (DRFI) a cost-effective way of reducing (expected) poverty and improving (expected) developmental outcomes?