A recently released World Bank Policy Research Working Paper presents results of an audit study of Mexican banks, investigating whether bank employees hide the lowest cost options from potential customers in order to turn a higher profit.
Financial products can vary widely in cost while providing more or less the same services. The dispersion in prices for products that offer essentially the same benefits – checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, and index funds – is thought to at least partly reflect a lack of information on the part of consumers. Savvy and informed consumers would gravitate to the lowest cost option, and competition would then drive prices down to the same level for equivalent products.
A key potential source of information on financial product attributes and prices is bank employees. Bank employees presumably know their products, but may strategically choose not to divulge information about lower cost options . . . Read More
In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that banks are to closing brick-and-mortar branches “at a record rate,” as new technologies and financial pressures drive them to transition many of their services to digital equivalents or ATMs. But against this broader backdrop of bank closings, the market is both fragmenting and polarizing, as a handful of banks redesign their branches for specific demographic groups.
For the tech-savvy, middle-to-high income millennial who doesn’t carry cash and wants banking to be quick and convenient, Capital One advertises its new network of “360 Cafés” as places where customers can discuss account options with staff while drinking an espresso. Umqua Bank in San Francisco has a concierge at its downtown location, described in the local press as “a cross between an Apple Store, a Starbucks and a W Hotel lobby.” And Wells Fargo is piloting “mini-branches” in up-and-coming urban neighborhoods like DC’s U Street where customers, attended by trouble-shooting tablet-carrying bank employees, use sophisticated versions of self-service machines that dispense cash and take deposits, but also issue debit cards and loan applications . . . Read More
The microfinance space has never been a dull place. As the tumult of the last few years—debates about effectiveness, industry crises and crashes in several countries—seemingly dies down, it’s a good time to speculate about what’s next. It seems clear that “business as usual” in terms of rapid growth and expansion paired with unvarnished enthusiasm and uncritical praise is not what’s next.
So what is?
Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of blog posts from folks at FAI and around the financial access world offering their takes on what’s next. Some are calls to action, others are predictions, and others pose the important questions we need to answer now. If you’d like to contribute, send us a tweet @financialaccess.
Herewith are my thoughts on “What’s Next?” . . . Read More
About 2.5 billion adults, just over half the world’s adult population, lack bank accounts. If we are to realize the goal of extending banking and other financial services to this vast “unbanked” population, we need to consider not only such product innovations as microfinance and mobile banking but also issues of data accuracy, impact assessment, risk mitigation, technology adaptation, financial literacy, and local context. In Banking the World, a new collection of research papers edited by Robert Cull, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, and Jonathan Morduch, experts take up these topics . . . Read More
Poor households in developing countries face large and varied risks. Many agriculture-dependent households, for example, are at risk of drought- or flood-induced crop failures or livestock deaths. The death of a family member often implies having to fund expensive burial ceremonies, and if the deceased was the household’s primary earner, replacing her/his stream of income is an even bigger problem. A short “Client Math” survey by the Microinsurance Learning and Knowledge (MILK) project of Compartamos borrowers in Mexico, for instance, shows that funeral costs alone (including the costs of the funeral itself as well as connected costs such as food and drink, but excluding lost wages) typically amount to half of a family’s annual income (my calculations from data described in Poulton and Magnoni 2012). Similar figures have been reported from around the world.
Poor families have imperfect tools to manage these risks. They rely on self-insurance, traditional risk-sharing arrangements, informal insurance networks, and/or credit and savings. These strategies, however, are inflexible and/or expensive, and do not provide enough protection . . . Read More
M-PESA, a successful mobile payments service in Kenya, is already demonstrating how m-payments can successfully expand the range of financial options available to poor households. Earlier this month, the Gates Foundation took several microfinance experts to Kenya, including Bob Cull; FAI’s Dean Karlan and Jonathan Morduch; David Roodman; Stuart Rutherford and Dean Yang, to learn about M-PESA first hand.
And while we were there, M-PESA announced some big news: finally, M-PESA is connecting with banks in Kenya. And with a big bang too, as two big players in the financial inclusion scene in Kenya are joining forces: Safaricom (the mobile operator behind M-PESA) and Equity Bank are launching M-KESHO, a co-branded suite of financial products that will ride on the M-PESA transactional ‘rails.’ Three years ago, there were 2.5 million bank accounts in Kenya, out of a population of 39 million. Today, there are close to 8 million bank accounts (of which 4.5 million are with Equity Bank) plus a further 9.5 million M-PESA accounts. One third of M-PESA accounts are held by people that are otherwise unbanked, and this is the segment that the new product is targeting. Equity’s aggressive objective is to acquire 3 million M-KESHO customers by the end of this year.
In late April, the Central Bank of Kenya issued new agent banking regulations which for the first time allowed banks to engage a wide range of retail outlets for transaction handling (cash in & out) and product promotion (receiving account applications, though applications must be approved by a bank staff). This paved the way for banks to begin utilizing the M-PESA platform and associated network of M-PESA outlets as a channel. Read More