While there is a consensus among researchers and policy makers that the 2008–2009 crisis was triggered by financial market disruptions in the United States, there is little agreement on whether the transmission of the crisis and the subsequent prolonged recession were caused by credit factors or a collapse of demand for goods and services. On the one hand, a credit crunch, defined as a reduction in the ability of firms to get loans or a sudden tightening of the conditions required to obtain a bank loan, squeezes firms’ working capital and hurts their production. On the other hand, adverse demand shocks to firms come from declines in demand for firms’ products and services. Each type of factor has fundamentally different policy implications. If credit factors are found to play the main role, the solution would be to provide more and cheaper credit. But if demand factors are the main drivers, the focus should be on boosting investors’ and consumers’ confidence. Interestingly, most of the effort to understand the impact of the crisis focuses on credit and not on demand.
Empirical banking research stands and falls with high-quality data. The recent years have seen a large number of new data sources and empirical methodologies being applied to understand how banks operate in the often challenging environment of emerging and developing economies.
A recent conference at the EBRD, jointly organized with the European Banking Center at Tilburg University, the Review of Finance, and the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, brought together researchers using three types of data sources asking a variety of important questions. Vox has now published an eBook that provides an overview of the different topics discussed during the conference. The studies presented at the conference and in the eBook use data from existing data repositories such as credit registries ('observing'); from large-scale surveys of bank CEOs and bank clients ('asking'); and from randomized experiments ('experimenting'). All three methods try to prise open the banking 'black box' in different ways — each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Using these different data sources allows researchers to address relevant policy questions, and also to better understand the micro-mechanisms of financial contracting and the supply- and demand-side constraints that (potential) borrowers in emerging markets face on a daily basis.
"Islamic finance" is a phrase that you hear a lot in development circles these days. Indeed, many policymakers are interested in the potential of Sharia-compliant financial services to expand financial inclusion among Muslims adults. Our colleagues down the street are no exception: earlier this year the International Finance Corporation (IFC) announced its first partnership with an Islamic finance institution in Sub-Saharan Africa, a $5 million equity investment with Gulf African Bank in Kenya with the explicit goal of expanding Sharia-compliant banking products and services to small and medium businesses.
Yet little is actually known about the degree to which individual Muslims are not accessing conventional financial institutions, and even less about how much they demand and use Sharia-compliant financial products, particularly within the realm of household finance. In an attempt to add some empirical rigor to the Islamic finance conversation, we recently published a Working Paper and Findex Note that explore these questions using Findex and Gallup World Poll data.
Today, the World Bank Group is issuing Global Financial Development Report 2014: Financial Inclusion. The report is the second in a new series on global financial development. It follows up on last year’s inaugural issue, which focused on rethinking the state’s role in finance.
Financial inclusion is a logical choice for the report’s theme. Access to financial services is crucial for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, as demonstrated by recently available data and evidence showcased in the report. At the same time, real-world financial systems are far from inclusive. Globally, 2.5 billion people—more than a half of the world’s adult population—have no bank accounts, lacking efficient mechanisms to save money and pay bills. A vast majority of the “unbanked” live in the developing world (figure 1).
The report comes at a propitious time, because financial inclusion has become a subject of heightened interest. Over 50 countries have recently committed to formal targets and goals for financial inclusion. And last month, during the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings, President Jim Yong Kim put the issue into spotlight by calling for universal financial access for all working-age adults by 2020.