For those who are excited by new datasets (come on, I know you're out there...), these last few weeks have been a bonanza. One month ago, the World Bank Group released the Financial Infrastructure report, which provides cross-country measurements of core financial institutions such as credit bureaus and payment systems. At the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings last week, the IMF announced the launch of the Access to Finance project, which will gather "annual geographic and demographic data on access to basic consumer financial services worldwide." And today CGAP is launching its very own report on financial access, Financial Access 2009.
CGAP's report will present "indicators of access to savings, credit, and payment services in banks and in regulated nonbank financial institutions." While the authors admit that data is still sketchy in many areas, they try to make reasonable guesses about the state of access to finance around the world. One of the main findings (as we might well expect) is that there are many fewer loans to individuals on a per capita basis in developing countries than in developed countries, and the loans that are made in developing countries tend to go to richer clients (Figure 2)
Over the longer run, it will be interesting to see if all these country-level datasets will provide a useful complement to the recent lukewarm findings from a number of randomized control trials (RCTs) of microfinance. David Roodman, a Fellow at the Center for Global Development, explains that RCTs can't tell us everything about the efficacy of microfinance. While cross-country regression analyses can't tell us everything either, perhaps the two approaches together will give us a bit more insight into what kinds of access to finance initiatives are most effective at fighting poverty.