Syndicate content

Financial Sector

Sovereign wealth funds: the catalyst for climate finance?

Juergen Braunstein's picture



Following the Paris deal on international climate change, governments are beginning to explore new financing mechanisms for investing in the growing low carbon economy. Over the next decade sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) could become an important game changer in green investing. Recognizing the untapped potential of SWFs, two key questions emerge: how can SWFs increase their exposure to green asset classes? And what are the constraints?
 
Investors and financial institutions are becoming increasingly aware of the risks associated with fossil fuel projects and are showing growing interest in green bonds and other financing tools that facilitate investment in low-carbon energy solutions.
 
Being patient investors, with longer term investment horizons than many others in the financial services sector, SWFs could become catalysts for implementing the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In the November 2016 annual meeting of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds in Auckland, participants highlighted that SWFs are particularly well-positioned to become trailblazers in green investment. The majority of members are oil-based SWFs which are looking to economic diversification of their finite carbon wealth into industries and sectors that would yield broader societal, economic and financial benefits.

Home-grown technology firms help drive eGovernment expansion in East Africa

John Wille's picture



Over the past five years, we have seen the emergence of a number of eGovernment applications and platforms in East Africa, leveraging the growth of internet and smartphone penetration to improve the reach and quality of government service delivery. While a number of these technology solutions, particularly in tax administration, trade facilitation and financial management systems, have been sourced from international providers – based in the United States, India and Singapore – African information and computer technology (ICT) firms have also played a major role in this surge in online service delivery to citizens and businesses.

The use of various “managed service” models, such as eGovernment public-private partnerships (PPPs) and cloud hosting, has allowed even governments with limited in-house ICT capacity to deliver services online in a sustainable manner. The World Bank Group (WBG) has also played an important role in developing the ability of local firms to effectively provide services to government clients by sharing good international practices and by funding the development of these locally grown technology solutions.

Kenya e-Citizen improves revenue generation as it cuts compliance costs for citizens and businesses

This digital services and payment platform – https://www.ecitizen.go.ke/ – was initially piloted in 2014 with seed funding from the Kenya Investment Climate Program of the WBG's Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice. The technology platform was developed and is now managed through an outsourcing arrangement by government with a local ICT firm. It has grown organically, expanding from eight government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) services to more than 100 today, covering such areas as driver’s licenses, passport and visa applications, company and business name registration, work permit administration and civil registration. Citizens are able to register and obtain login credentials online, through a validation process involving the national ID and SIM card registry databases. They can also pay for services using a variety of methods, including bank transfers, credit cards, MPesa (“mobile wallet”) and other mobile money systems.

De-risking impedes access to finance for non-profit organizations

Emile van der Does de Willebois's picture



If you’ve opened a bank account in the last few years, you likely had to answer a bunch of more or less intrusive questions about yourself, your background and why you wanted to open the account. Annoying, but part and parcel of Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“AML/CFT”) rules that all banks, in all parts of the world, are subject to.

The ostensible purpose is to enable banks to prevent bad actors using the financial system to launder their funds and, where bad actors are not identified at entry, to detect any suspicious financial activity and provide appropriate background to competent authorities. (Whether they are successful in this endeavour is another question.)

More recently large international banks have been upping the ante and have started to disengage altogether from clients from certain geographical regions or certain sectors because they consider the AML/CFT risks too great- a development known as “de-risking”. Often the business lines or countries exited are those that aren’t particularly profitable; the argument being that only a substantial profit margin justifies taking a larger than average risk. The amount of due diligence to be conducted on a customer cuts into that profit margin and the higher the perceived risk of that customer, the more the due diligence, the lower the profit.

One of the sectors particularly affected are non-profit organizations (NPOs). This is an unfortunate consequence of the mistaken and remarkably persistent idea that all NPOs pose a high AML/CFT risk. According to a report published earlier this month by the Charity and Security Network, two-thirds of U.S.-based NPOs working abroad are facing problems accessing financial services. Apart from account closures and account refusals, these also include delays in wire transfers and increased fees. 

As a result of these delays, they are sometimes forced to move money through less transparent, traceable, and safe channels. The prevalence and types of problems vary by program area, with NPOs working in peace operations/peacebuilding, public health, development/ poverty reduction, human rights/ democracy building, and humanitarian relief reporting the greatest difficulties. One NPO was prevented from sending immediate relief to the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar in the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis. Timely transmittal of those funds might have saved lives, the charity’s director explained.
 

From open data to a collaborative community – looking ahead with TCdata360

Prasanna Lal Das's picture
TCdata360: Your Source for Open Trade and Competitiveness Data


It’s now been about a month since the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group launched TCdata360, our new platform for open trade and competitiveness data from the Bank and external sources. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has included a mixture of the anticipated and the unexpected.

Egypt has been the most popular country page during this period, the indicator on the number of days to start a business has been the second most visited page (though it seems to be ceding its spot to the page on venture capital availability) and we have been struck by the number of people that have searched for information on countries that have laws against sexual harassment in the work place (it’s steadily been one of the top 10 most visited pages on the site). Our data stories have attracted attention as well, especially in social media and there has been consistent interest in the API.

The question now is: Where should we take TCdata360 from here? How does a platform grow after the initial excitement around its release has dissipated? How can you or your organization contribute to the growth of the platform?

Here are a few of our ideas at the moment:
 
  • More data – we have a growing inventory of new datasets.
  • Better user experience – we are tweaking several things, while keeping what people like (which is most of the site).
  • More analytics – we have experimented with Datascoper, a tool to uncover hidden patterns in data, but work remains to make these tools more usable and meaningful.
  • Better engagement with our users – we want to show off your work on the site. Tell us about the insightful work you do using our data; we will share it with all our users. And we are all ears about your ideas for other ways to collaborate.
  • Continue contributing to the open data community – we plan to offer data literacy and other support; stay tuned for greater emphasis on applied data; we are working to make this and other data truly useful in an applied sense to governments, the private sector, and others.
  • Better linkages with the open source world – we built the site on open source and want to share our work with the community; we are constantly looking for tools that we can either integrate into the site or that we should be using. Tell us about them.


Help us improve our list – write us at tcdata@worldbank.org or tweet us at #TCdata360.

8 key approaches to accelerate financial inclusion

Douglas Randall's picture



As World Bank staff working on financial inclusion, our days revolve around a critical question: what are the most promising ways to improve access to and usage of appropriate financial products for the underserved? A big part of our job is to track the wide range of experiences and learnings from around the world and incorporate them into our work advising policymakers and regulators. We thought it would be useful to share our current thinking, distilled into a list of the top eight approaches to accelerate financial inclusion. This list is from a policymaker perspective, and takes into account the fact that policymakers play a multi-faceted role in financial inclusion, balancing promotion, protection and stability.

First, two caveats. This is subjective list, drawn from our experience. We expect reasonable people to disagree with some of our choices and that’s OK – in fact, debate is welcome.

Second, country context plays a critical role in formulating appropriate approaches to financial inclusion. This list is meant as a general guide for what is impactful in most countries, most of the time.
 

Will Sovereign Wealth Funds Go Green?

Håvard Halland's picture



Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) currently have a very limited role in climate finance and green investment – reportedly, below the average for institutional investors. According to the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), which evaluates institutional investors on the basis of their low-carbon performance, five of the 10 lowest-rated large investment funds were SWFs.

However, the more progressive SWFs are currently divesting from assets with large climate-related risks, and some countries are pondering whether their SWF should take a more pro-active role in green finance. What lies ahead for SWFs in this rapidly changing landscape?
 
SWFs could have an impact on climate finance
 
The sheer amount of capital managed by SWFs means that their impact on green finance, while marginal historically, has the potential to become significant. According to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI), SWFs hold assets worth approximately $7.4 trillion, and the total capital of SWFs has more than tripled over the last decade.
 
But SWFs’ mandate does not typically include green finance. To the extent that they have been active in this area, it has been to reduce climate-related risk to their portfolios – including exposure to fossil fuels. For example, last October the $22.6 billion New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF) announced a strategy to address climate-change risks that represent a “material” issue for long-term investors, and to “intensify its efforts” in areas including alternative energy, energy efficiency and “transformational” infrastructure. Norway’s giant Government Pension Fund Global ($873 billion) has adopted similar policies to reduce climate-related risk.

Making climate finance work in agriculture

Alberto Millan's picture

Farmers, like these women in Nepal, are eager to help the agriculture sector become part of the solution to climate change. / Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
 

It’s widely recognized that agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change. The worldwide agriculture sector currently accounts for between 19 percent and 29 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A combination of policies, investments and targeted action is critical to achieve a low-carbon and climate-resilient agriculture sector.
 
But the question arises: Where will the money to fund this transition come from? Can farmers alone finance the productivity and climate change adaptation and mitigation changes that are needed?
 
The vast majority of climate finance has traditionally flowed to other sectors, accentuating even more the shortfall in finance for agriculture.
 
Due to perceptions of low profitability, along with high actual and perceived risks, lenders often severely limit the flows of finance directed to smallholder farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in agriculture. Without access to capital, farmers cannot invest in raising their productivity and incomes, becoming more resilient to climate change and mitigating their farms’ negative impact on climate.
 
But untapped sources of capital exist for making agriculture more climate-smart — namely, in climate finance. A recent World Bank discussion paper, Making Climate Finance Work in Agriculture, explores ways to use climate finance to dramatically increase the flows of capital directed to smallholder farmers and agricultural SMEs, aiming to deliver positive climate outcomes.

More bank competition in Gulf countries could be a boon for small businesses

Pietro Calice's picture


Against the backdrop of low oil and gas prices and fiscal consolidation, economic diversification and private sector development is a top policy priority for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

 
Supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is central to this agenda.
 
Formal SMEs in GCC countries account for 25% of jobs, which is significantly below the global average where SMEs account for 40% of employment.

Inadequate access to finance, especially bank lending, is constraining SMEs in GCC countries. Only 11% of SMEs have access to credit and some 40% of SMEs cite a lack of financial access as a major constraint.
 

Bank competition in the GCC is among the lowest in the world. Strict entry requirements, restrictions on bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and a lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions all contribute to weak competition in the banking sector.
 
By conducting fieldwork and reviewing available literature, we have analyzed what rules and regulations may be impeding bank competition in the GCC SME lending markets as well as the institutional framework for competition policy underpinning those rules and regulations.

Easy business exit is as important as easy business entry

Simon Bell's picture



How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets. 
 
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
 
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday. 
 
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that it’s largely young firms that create the bulk of net new jobs (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
 
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle. 
 
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
 
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority. 
 
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important.  As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.  
 
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.

Learning from Korea: The Story of Korea’s Credit Guarantee Agency

Simon Bell's picture
Image: CC Pixabay

South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20.  Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.

So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.

To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees. 

We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.

Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).  As in most countries, Korean SMEs play a pivotal role in the national economy, accounting for 99% of all enterprises (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.

Pages