Viewing all posts with tag: Operations  

“What’s in it for me?”: Putting Research to Practical Use

In mid-June the Stanford Social Innovation Review blogged the results of a survey they conducted. The survey’s purpose: to understand the role of academic research in the work of practitioners in a broad range of social, environmental and economic issue areas. Many of the 1,800 respondents described academic research as difficult to access, expensive, too narrow, and not relevant. Seventy percent cited the “difficulty of translating research findings into concrete action” as one of the reasons for a substantial gap between the two worlds.

The results of the survey brought to my mind strong words from former Freedom from Hunger CEO Chris Dunford about the usefulness and applicability of one specific type of academic research, randomized control trials . . . 

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Redesigning the Corner Bank…For Rich and Poor

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 . . . 

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The Price of (Dis)Trust

No consumer likes overdraft fees. Overdraft fees are often unexpected, expensive, and in some cases undeserved. What’s more, they can wreak financial havoc on households living on a low-income.

But the larger issue is not the fees themselves. It’s the lack of transparency surrounding them and the widespread consumer distrust that results.

Edelman is a PR firm that surveys people around the world to create an annual Trust Barometer (among other things), which gauges levels of trust in different institutions. In 2012 it found that only 41% of respondents in the U.S. trust banks – which, by the way, were at the bottom of the list right along with financial services. The year’s ratings on banks are second-worst only to 2011, when they hit a low of 25% . . . 

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What’s Next? Understanding—and Improving—Microenterprise Performance

Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world work in microenterprises. These businesses tend to be very small, often employing only a single operator, and they tend to have difficulty growing. Yet growing evidence suggests that such businesses could increase profits by increasing investment – a number of recent studies find that the marginal return to capital among small firms in developing countries tends to be very high (i.e. de Mel et al. 2008). If returns to capital are high, why don’t microenterprises borrow, invest and grow rapidly?

The obvious answer is that these firms don’t have access to credit. But while credit constraints are likely part of the explanation for the puzzle, accumulating evidence suggests that it’s not just credit that limits investment . . . 

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What's Next: Financial Access in 2013

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?” . . . 

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