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Author: Elisabeth Rhyne

How should financial institutions approach consumer protection differently when they offer services through smartphones rather than humans? This was the question we posed when the Smart Campaign team first started revising the standards to be applied to digital financial services, especially digital credit. We are very pleased to have launched the new Standards, their accompanying Guidance Document, and the companion Handbook for Regulators. What we didn’t expect, however, was quite how profound the differences would turn out to be. We made significant changes to the standards for all seven Client Protection Principles (the principles themselves remain the same). I want to focus here on the most fundamental: Appropriate Product and Delivery Design.

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Author: e-MFP

2019 marks ten editions of the European Microfinance Award and to celebrate, e-MFP has decided to reach out to the previous winners, for a ‘where are they now?’ blog series, published throughout 2019, to look at what they have been doing with their initiative since they won, and how the winning of the Award has helped, and what plans they have in store. In 2018, the theme of the Award was 'Financial Inclusion through Technology'. Advans Côte d’Ivoire, part of the Advans Group, is a non-bank financial institution in the Ivory Coast which won for its response to traceability and safety issues faced by cooperatives paying cocoa farmers, as well as low school enrolment due to lack of regular cashflow among farmers, by offering a digital savings and payment solution, with wallet-to-bank and bank-to-wallet transfer services that enable producers’ cooperatives to make digital payments to farmers for their crop revenue. We’re delighted to catch up with them in this interview.

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Author: e-MFP

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, wrote Arthur C. Clarke. Put aside cynicism about the perils of our technology-obsessed culture, focus on how communication and convenience have been changed in recent years, and then – try to imagine how transformational the current technological revolution must be for the financially excluded in low-income countries. The ability to predict the weather; contact vendors or customers; send, save, receive or borrow money affordably and immediately; find new markets – this is magical in all but name. It’s happening so fast, too. The mobile phone and Internet are both barely twenty years old. The internet-connected smartphone – a tool of almost limitless utility – is half that age. What technology has done for the lives of richer consumers in the developed world may be nothing to what it can do for the financially excluded. These were the messages at a joint e-MFP/FIF UK Offsite Session held at Allen & Overy in London on 23rd May. The event was entitled 'Financial Inclusion through Technology' – the theme of the European Microfinance Award 2018 – and served to summarise the process and takeaways of that Award (including via a launch of the new report, 'Digital Pathways in Financial Inclusion') and bring together a panel of experts to debate the biggest issues in the financial inclusion and technology sector.

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Author: Sam Mendelson

There were two topics that dominated debate at the recent European Microfinance Week (EMW) conference: the threats and opportunities brought about by the fintech revolution in inclusive finance, and the issue of financial inclusion for refugees and internally displaced persons. The event, organized by the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), provided the venue for a discussion of these issues that ranged from hopeful to surprisingly cautionary. EMW 2018 focused heavily on the spectre – or, depending on your perspective, the promise – of technology. The theme was approached from many angles, as panelists explored the opportunities and risks of digital financial services, Big Data and new fintech entrants into the sector. It was even the focus of the 2018 European Microfinance Award, Financial Inclusion through Technology. The opening plenary captured both sides of the issue, with a keynote speech from Graham Wright of MicroSave – who played the Cassandra role that suits him so well to implore the inclusive finance sector to pay attention to the risks that technology can pose to clients and institutions.

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Author: e-MFP

This is the first in a publication series of three interview pieces with the three finalists for the European Microfinance Award on "Financial Inclusion through Technology". Advans Côte d'Ivoire (Advans CI) is a NBFI in the Ivory Coast which offers payment, saving and credit services enabled by an Advans account linked to a MTN mobile money account. Advans CI has responded to traceability and safety issues faced by cooperatives paying cocoa farmers, as well as low school enrolment due to lack of regular cashflow among farmers, by offering its digital savings and payment solution, with wallet-to-bank and bank-to-wallet transfer services, enabling producers’ cooperatives to make digital payments to farmers for their crop revenue. Since 2017, Advans CI has been also providing small digital school loans, based on an algorithm reflecting farmers’ cashflows. Advans CI also successfully negotiated free MTN transfers between mobile wallets and Advans accounts for their farmer clients.

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Author: Sam Mendelson

There’s a saying in technology circles: “If you’re not paying, then you’re the product.” Nothing could be more axiomatic in the current zeitgeist, as shown by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony in front of Congress to explain the ongoing furore about the sale of Facebook users’ personal data to nefarious entities. Facebook, of course, is free to use. Its users – and the data we produce – are the product. The advertisers and other beneficiaries of that data are its customers. Surprisingly, this little axiom long pre-dates social media. In fact, it goes back at least as far as 1973, when artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman broadcast a short video entitled “Television Delivers People.” But whatever people have until now understood of their relationship with technology platforms such as Facebook and Google, there can be no doubt that the mood has turned. For all the Pollyanna-ish talk of liberation, efficiency and modernization, technology is increasingly seen as the proverbial double-edged sword – something not just from which to benefit, but also, as CFI’s Elisabeth Rhyne has argued just this week, from which to be protected. The protection of clients is central to financial inclusion (or, at least, it is when done well). Technology, too, becomes more and more embedded in how financial services can be offered to low-income and excluded client segments. Coming with it are the well-known opportunities to reduce costs, increase outreach, drive financial education and in particular help remote populations access information and tools to increase their income and protect themselves from shocks.

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Author: Sam Mendelson

European Microfinance Week evolves each year, with new thematic streams, new Action Groups, and, of course, a new major area of debate based on the year’s European Microfinance Award topic. One constant are the plenaries that bring together all participants regardless of their professional background or interest. These plenaries always tackle the big issues and bring the top people in their fields to the podium – and at EMW 2017 there were three.

The opening one was on the European Microfinance Award – this year on Housing – which gave representatives from the three finalists’ organisations the chance to present their programs. This kicked off with a keynote address from Sandra Prieto from Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter during which she laid out the key challenges in increasing access to affordable housing: lack of collateral, lack of guarantees, a relative lack of funding for housing finance, the need for Technical Assistance to help clients either build homes from scratch or expand or otherwise improve their homes, and the problem of land tenure. Despite these challenges, housing microfinance has massive potential for social impact and diversification of MFIs’ portfolios. The three Award finalists, Sandra said, have common elements: first, they all address not only access to housing, but also other housing-related social needs such as water, sanitation, health and energy; and they each put client needs at the centre of their interventions.