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January 2013

The Unbanked Four-Fifths: Informality and Barriers to Financial Services in Nigeria

Michael King's picture

Estimates from the Finscope surveys suggest that in Africa, the proportion of the population without access to formal financial services ranges from 44 percent in South Africa to 92 percent in Mozambique (see Honohan and King 2012). Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, lies at the higher end of this scale with 79 percent, approximately four-fifths of the adult population, estimated to be ‘unbanked’.

Despite economic theory and an increasing body of empirical research suggesting that access to savings, payment, and credit services facilitates consumption smoothing, helps insure against risk, and allows investment in education and other forms of capital, little is known about the relative importance of different barriers to financial services. Disentangling the roles played by demand constraints, such as income insufficiency, poor education, informality and financial illiteracy, and supply constraints, such as distance and high cost, is a crucial first step for attempts to design effective policies to broaden the reach of formal financial services.

Financial Innovation: The Bright and the Dark Sides

Thorsten Beck's picture

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007 to 2009 has spurred renewed widespread debates on the “bright” and “dark” sides of financial innovation.   The traditional innovation-growth view posits that financial innovations help reduce agency costs, facilitate risk sharing, complete the market, and ultimately improve allocative efficiency and economic growth.  The innovation-fragility view, by contrast, has identified financial innovations as the root cause of the recent Global Financial Crisis, by leading to an unprecedented credit expansion fueling a boom-bust cycle in housing prices, by engineering securities perceived to be safe but exposed to neglected risks, and by helping banks and investment banks design structured products to exploit investors’ misunderstandings of financial markets and exploit regulatory arbitrage possibilities. Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, claims that he can find very little evidence that the financial innovations in recent years have done anything to boost the economy.

Incentive Audits: A New Approach to Financial Regulation

Martin Cihak's picture

Economists often disagree on policy advice. If you ask 10 of them, you may get 10 different answers, or more. But from time to time, economists actually do agree. One such area of agreement relates to the role of incentives in the financial sector. A large and growing literature points to misaligned incentives playing a key role in the run-up to the global financial crisis. In a recent paper, co-authored with Barry Johnston, we propose to address the incentive breakdowns head-on by performing “incentive audits”.

Assessing the Impact of the Euro Crisis on Long-Term Credit Provision in Europe

Erik Feyen's picture

In the run up to the global financial crisis, European banks significantly increased their lending activities both domestically and outside home markets driven by a pro-cyclical spiral of cheap abundant funding, increasing profitability, and economic growth. In the process, European banks became excessively leveraged and reliant on sources of wholesale short-term funding making them more susceptible to shocks which could force them to adjust their operations abruptly and shrink their balance sheets (Le Lesle (2012)).

When the crisis erupted, a process of bank deleveraging was put into motion and European bank lending standards deteriorated significantly during various episodes of financial stress (Feyen, Kibuuka, and Ötker-Robe (2012), Giannetti, and Laeven, (2012)). First lending standards in Europe deteriorated considerably as the US subprime mortgage crisis unfolded in 2007 and reached a peak in 2009 in the wake of the default of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Credit supply weakened significantly in 2011Q4 again when the European crisis deepened.

Gross inflows, financial booms and crises

Favorable growth prospects and higher asset returns in emerging market economies have been led to a sharp increase in flows of foreign finance in recent years. Massive inflows to the domestic economy may fuel activity in financial markets and — if not properly managed — booms in credit and asset prices may arise (Reinhart and Reinhart, 2009; Mendoza and Terrones, 2008, 2012). In turn, the expansion of credit and overvalued asset prices have been good predictors not only of the current financial crises but also of past ones (Schularick and Taylor, 2012; Gourinchas and Obstfeld, 2012).