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How to Bring Financial Services to the Poor: Go Digital

Jason Lamb's picture

Most of us in the developed world don’t think twice about how we conduct our financial lives. Our paychecks appear automatically in our checking accounts; bills are paid with the tap of a few keys; we swipe our debit card and a barista hands us a cup of coffee. Simple. Convenient. Low cost. Digital. For people in the developing world, it’s another story. It’s much more complicated. It’s hardly ever convenient. And rarely digital.

I’m speaking at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Global Policy Forum today to share the results of a new report from the Gates Foundation and McKinsey & Company, Fighting Poverty, Profitably: Transforming the economics of payments to build sustainable, inclusive financial systems, completed about payment systems around the world. We wanted to learn more about the costs associated with current payment systems and find ways to provide poor people in developing countries with affordable, efficient and secure ways to send and receive money.

Financial Inclusion for Financial Stability: Improving Access to Deposits and Bank Resilience in Sync

Martin Melecky's picture

From 2006 to 2009, growth of bank deposits dropped by over 12 percentage points globally. The most affected by the 2008 global crisis were upper middle income countries that experienced a drop of 15 percentage points on average. Individual countries such as Azerbaijan, Botswana, Iceland, and Montenegro switched from deposit growth of 58 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent, and 94 percent in 2007 to deposit declines (or a complete stop in deposit growth) of -2 percent, 1 percent, -1 percent, -8 percent in 2009, respectively.

In times of financial stress, depositors get anxious, can run on banks, and withdraw their deposits (Diamond and Dybvig, 1983). Large depositors are usually the first ones to run (Huang and Ratnovski, 2011). By the law of large numbers, correlated deposit withdrawals could be mitigated if bank deposits are more diversified. Greater diversification of deposits could be achieved by enabling a broader access to and use of bank deposits, i.e. involving a greater share of adult population in the use of bank deposits (financial inclusion). Based on this assumption, broader financial inclusion in bank deposits could significantly improve resilience of banking sector funding and thus overall financial stability (Cull et al., 2012).

Islamic Finance and Financial Inclusion: A Case for Poverty Reduction in the Middle East and North Africa?

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou's picture

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is home to about 70 million of the world’s poor (living on less than two dollars per day) and 20 million of the world’s extremely poor (living on less than US$1.25 per day). According to a recent Gallup survey, 95 percent of the adults residing in MENA define themselves as religiously observant. The combination of these two facts has produced a growing interest in Islamic finance as a possible tool for reducing poverty through financial inclusion among the region’s religiously conscious Muslim population (see Mohieldin et al. 2011).

Uneven access to financial services and instruments that are compliant with Shari’ah, or Islamic law, could be one of the contributing reasons for the low number of bank accounts in the MENA region. A mere 18 percent of adults (above the age of 15) have accounts in formal financial institutions, the lowest in the world (Figure 1). There is ample evidence that, if done correctly, increasing access to and the use of various financial services can help both reduce poverty and its severity (for example see Burgess and Pande 2005 and Beck, Demirgüç-Kunt and Levine 2007 among many). With no access to financial services, many of the poor in MENA will continue to be trapped in poverty with little to no chance of escaping it in the foreseeable future.

Do Matching Grants Programs Increase Firm Productivity and Growth?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Matching grant programs are one of the most commonly used policy tools for boosting productivity and technological upgrading in small firms. A matching grant typically consists of a partial subsidy to a firm for the use of business development services, such as management consultants or technical experts.

Despite their common use, there is currently little evidence as to whether or not matching grants actually improve firms’ productivity and growth prospects. One worry is that the money may simply be used for services that the firm may have hired even without a subsidy. Together with Dean Karlan and Antoinette Schoar, I conducted a randomized impact evaluation in Mexico that is among the first to document the positive effects of a matching grants program.

Do Relationships Matter? Evidence from Loan Officer Turnover

Alejandro Drexler's picture

One of the most frequent causes of credit constraints is the presence of asymmetric information between businesses and investors. Asymmetric information is particularly problematic for micro-entrepreneurs where the information about cash flows and investment decisions is not formally recorded. Furthermore, micro-entrepreneurs many times have few assets to pledge as collateral and do not have a guarantor with a solid financial condition, making it even more difficult for them to access the credit market.

Microfinance institutions specialize in lending to these types of borrowers and have lending technologies that do not rely on formal records. Instead, revenues and expenses are estimated based on non-verifiable information collected by loan officers during field visits to the borrowers’ houses and businesses.

Shocks abroad, pain at home?

Neeltje van Horen's picture

The U.S. and Western Europe suffered their worst banking crisis since the 1930s with global wholesale liquidity evaporating and Western banks suffering important losses. The crisis followed a period in which the globalization of the financial system dramatically deepened. European banks, in particular, extended their operations in the international wholesale market and increased their presence in many countries through the establishment of a foreign branch or subsidiary. Did this increased dependency on international wholesale funding and the growth of foreign bank presence intensify the international transmission of financial shocks?

Are Banks Responsive to Credit Demand Shocks in Rural Economies?

Sankar De's picture

How effectively does the commercial banking system respond to idiosyncratic shocks to the income and consumption of the households in the rural sector of an economy, and does it make extra credit available at a reasonable cost? This is an enormously important question. Farming operations in emerging economies are still heavily dependent on rainfall. Intermittent failure of monsoons and other weather-related vicissitudes often upset the normal income and consumption patterns of many rural households. However, a survey of the literature on rural financial markets finds few studies on the responsiveness of the financial intermediation system to credit demand shocks.

By contrast, local bilateral credit and insurance arrangements with landlords, moneylenders, family and friends, or group-based mutual savings and insurance arrangements such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs) have received much attention in the literature (see, for example, Coate and Ravallion 1993; La Ferrara 2003; Townsend 1995; Genicot and Ray 2002). However, the risks to income and consumption that rural households face are typically correlated, as they arise from common external shocks such as floods and famines, and the pool of savings is usually limited. As a result, local markets fail to offer adequate diversification opportunities and funds at a reasonable cost. Consequently, individuals and households in the rural economy are left facing considerable residual risk, with no option but to adopt costly and inefficient strategies to smooth income or consumption. A number of such strategies have been discussed in the existing literature, including scattering plots of cultivable land (McCloskey 1976; Townsend 1993) and  opting for a more diversified mix of crops and nonfarm production activities at the price of a lower average return, adjustment of inter-temporal labor supply in response to shocks (Kochar 1999), labor bonding (Srinivasan 1989; Genicot 2002), selling investment assets to smooth consumption (Rosenzweig and Wolpin 1993) and several other options. Not surprisingly, the welfare implications of the strategies are typically very negative.

Does the introduction of movable collateral registries increase firms’ access to finance?

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

To reduce asymmetric information problems associated with extending credit and increase the chances of loan repayment, banks typically require collateral from their borrowers. 

Movable assets often account for most of the capital stock of private firms and comprise an especially large share for micro, small, and medium-size enterprises. Hence, movable assets are the main type of collateral that firms, especially those in developing countries, can pledge to obtain bank financing. While a sound legal and regulatory framework is essential to allow movable assets to be used as collateral, without a well-functioning registry for movable assets, even the best secured transactions laws could be ineffective or even useless.

Given the importance of collateral registries for moveable assets, 18 countries have established such registries in the past decade. However, to my knowledge there is no systematic empirical evidence on whether such reforms have been effective in fulfilling their primary goal: improving firms’ access to bank finance.

More and better financial tools, fewer financial crises: The role of the financial system in managing risk

Martin Melecky's picture

Only by providing useful risk-managing tools and keeping its house in order, can the financial system fulfill its socially beneficial risk management function. Through the provision of useful financial tools, the financial system can shield people from bad shocks, and better position them to pursue opportunities. However, if the financial system fails to manage the risk it retains, it can also hurt people directly by hindering access to finance or indirectly by hampering refinancing of enterprises and straining public finances, and thus make people lose jobs, income, or wealth.

Public policy can stimulate the financial system to broaden the share of people with access to financial services (financial inclusion), so more people have more and better financial risk management tools. It can also promote measures to better control the risk that affects the whole financial system and foster financial stability. However to succeed on both fronts, the World Development Report 2014, in its chapter on the financial system, argues that public policy must take into account the trade-offs and synergies in the financial sector. The first step to balanced and successful policies is to establish an institutional framework that brings together policymakers and experts from the financial industry and academia.

I elaborate on this idea in subsequent paragraphs and encourage interested readers to pick up WDR 2014, in particular its chapter on the financial system, to learn more about the background and justifications for this proposal.

Finance and Poverty: Evidence from India

Thorsten Beck's picture

The relationship between finance, inequality and poverty is a controversial one. While some observers attribute not only the crisis but also rising inequality in many Western countries to the rise of the financial system (e.g. Krugman, 2009), others see an important role of the financial sector on the poverty alleviation agenda (World Bank, 2008). But financial sector policies are not only controversial on the macro, but also micro-level. While increasing access to credit services through microfinance had for a long time a positive connotation, this has also been questioned after recent events in Andhra Pradesh, with critics charging that excessive interest rates hold the poor back in poverty. In recent work with Meghana Ayyagari and Mohammad Hoseini, we find strong evidence for financial sector deepening having contributed to the reduction of rural poverty rates across India by enabling more entrepreneurship in the rural areas and by enticing inter-state migration into the tertiary sector.