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Innovation doesn't have to be disruptive

21.11.2017H. Miller, Associate Consultant, Nathan Associates & G. Njoroge, Advisor, KPMG

In the previous blog, we looked at what technology meant in the context of innovation and problem-solving for rural customers. In this second of three blogs, we dig deeper into the idea of innovation and what it means for the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity.

                     

It is clear that technology is changing the landscape of financial services in rural Africa. From the largest banks to the smallest fintechs, financial service providers are gearing up for a world in which finance is digital first and in which anyone with access to a mobile phone can also derive benefits from formal financial services.

The rapid uptake of mobile money in many countries has sowed the seed for a thousand new innovations that could further extend inclusive financial services. An outcome of this success has been that everybody in digital finance is looking for "the new M-Pesa", in the same way that elsewhere, entrepreneurs want to be "the Uber of..." An underlying assumption here is that change is generally linear until a special company comes along with an idea that creates non-linear change, which we often call disruption.

But when you map this idea on to the landscape of unbundling that financial services are currently going through, it is not so clear that disruption is what's needed. It used to be that a bank, or a microfinance institution, or an insurance company, would aim to provide a vertically integrated service to the customer, from initial acquisition to all aspects of relationship management and back end services. This is changing. Technology, and in particular the ability for different platforms to link with each other, opens up new opportunities for collaboration. Not everyone needs to develop the next big product or service - there may be much more value and impact for a fintech company to build a business- to-business solution that works at a specific pain point for a financial institution.

For example, the Fund is supporting a partnership between Juhudi Kilimo, an asset financing company, and the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab to develop a psychometric credit scoring tool for smallholder farmer borrowers with no or limited verifiable credit information. This is a tech-enabled solution for a specific challenge - how to estimate likelihood of repayment in a data-light environment - that could reduce costs and improve efficiency of Juhudi Kilimo's credit processes.

A similar partnership in the Fund portfolio is between First Access, a fintech company, and Esoko, an agricultural information and communications company. The two will develop a rural agricultural credit-scoring platform for lending institutions from disparate data sets, from soil and weather data to mobile phone usage and farmer profiles. The solution has the potential to impact a large number of farmers who do not have traditionally accepted banking histories.

These are great innovations, that could have a real impact on micro and small business finance, but they probably won't be putting other lenders out of business. And that's fine. Innovation can be highly effective without being disruptive.

There's nothing wrong with ambition, and there is certainly scope for massive changes in Africa's rural finance markets. But if you focus too hard on the next disruption you can lose sight of the great ideas that represent an evolution, not necessarily a revolution. At the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity, we love big ideas. But the most important aspect of the big idea is the impact it has on the livelihoods of rural communities in Africa, not necessarily on how it disrupts the structure of the financial system.

So if you want to apply for support from the Fund, we're not so fussed about if you're the next big disruption to African financial markets. We want a credible plan that overcomes some of the many challenges of financing rural populations, and can have a real impact on the lives of people living in or close to poverty. We want ideas that work from the bottom up, which solve real problems. Maybe you'll be disruptive. If you're not, that's fine too.

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About the Authors

Howard Miller is a Senior Consultant with Nathan Associates London, and Principal, Nathan Associates India. He specializes in financial inclusion, challenge funds and the market systems approach to development. A trained economist, Howard has extensive experience in consultancy, public policy, and investment banking. Since joining Nathan Associates in 2011, he has worked on DFID financial sector development programs in Uganda, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Rwanda, and on the FSD Africa Program. Before joining Nathan, Howard was a fellow at the Overseas Development Institute working on macroeconomic and financial sector policy for the Government of Uganda.

8 years ago, Grace Njoroge ventured into the corporate world under a graduate trainee program with one of the top regional banks in East Africa. She expected to be a classic banker but this according to her did not happen, at least not all of it. Her typical day involved riding a motorcycle to help micro-traders and assist small-holder farmers open savings account. In a surprising twist, she fell in love with the power simple financial products had to drastically change life and businesses potential for low-income clients. At KPMG IDAS, she works with donors and funders to support financial and non-financial institutions, to better serve the unbanked and under banked segments.

Emerging Trends in Digital Delivery of Agri-finance

11.10.2017H. Miller, Associate Consultant, Nathan Associates & G. Njoroge, Advisor, KPMG

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the role of technology in the rural finance projects supported by The MasterCard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity (FRP). In this first blog, we explore the major trends in digital delivery that the FRP is seeing in its portfolio. In the second blog, we will dig deeper into how these technologies are being used to solve problems for the rural poor; and in the final blog of the series we will focus on what this means for the FRP and for rural development programmes more generally.

                      

Back in 2014 when we were designing the Fund for Rural Prosperity, we debated for a long time some of the terminology around the fund. One word that came up a lot was innovation. What do we mean by innovation? How do we define it, and how do we measure it?

Another word was solution. If we are talking about a financial solution for a smallholder farmer, then what is the problem? Innovation and solution are over-used words in financial inclusion, and in international development generally, and we wanted to make sure we were using them to actually mean something.

In the two years since the FRP was launched, with 11 rural finance projects up and running, it has become increasingly clear that we cannot talk about innovation and solutions for the rural poor without considering the role of technology. With 277 million registered mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa, a base level of digital finance penetration is often taken for granted, even in rural contexts, and bidders are getting more and more imaginative about how to build new structures on these digital foundations.

This, however, brings a new set of challenges. In his book "Geek Heresy", Kentaro Toyama uses a range of examples to illustrate the limitations of technology in development. Technology, he argues, can only improve on ideas, processes and institutions that are already well-designed. Apply technology to a bad system and you'll probably only make things worse. For technology to have a meaningful social impact, it needs to be used to amplify the skills and ambitions of people.

You can see Toyama's argument in some of the best examples of tech for development in recent years. M-Kopa (an FRP grantee), is such a compelling story not because its technology is so out of this world but because the technology solves specific problems for the consumer, and is delivered through an effective, well-designed mobile payment model. Technology wasn't the solution in and of itself, it was one key part of a clever business model.

We see similar trends across the FRP portfolio. These projects are using technology to not only deliver financial services, but also to solve some additional challenges in the lives of the rural poor. For example, in Ethiopia, Kifiya Financial Technology, a payment services provider, is working through large buyers (multipurpose co-operatives) to deepen market linkages in addition to acting as a rural agent for financial institutions.

In Ghana, Prepeez Technology Limited, a company focused on technology solutions for the agricultural sector, is using satellite imagery to cluster farmers into groups in order to manage risk and provide more relevant market and weather information. With the information gathered, farmers will then be eligible for agro-insurance and access other financial products.

Olam, a global agribusiness trader, is in Uganda offering input financing along with a digital platform to connect coffee farmers, and also provides information on best farming practices. Biopartenaire in Cote d'Ivoire, which specialize in sourcing cocoa beans from smallholder farmers, is looking to increase cocoa farmers' financial literacy through an app that also facilitates access to credit for the farmers.

In each of these cases, innovation doesn't mean disruption. It means a good idea, using new technology to overcome an important pain point in a system with high potential to improve outcomes for farmers. Technology is not just supporting financial inclusion; it is providing a service - information, networks, market linkages, cost savings, advice - that links financial inclusion to improved livelihoods. It is providing a solution.

In any innovation competition, you see a lot of business models that use amazing new technologies, with a high degree of innovation, to solve problems that nobody actually faces. This is innovation for innovation's sake. At the FRP, we're trying to keep the solution part front and center to ensure that the technological innovation is responding to a real challenge faced by rural African populations.

It is encouraging to see some of the great ideas coming through the Fund and how the innovation frontier is being meaningfully shifted with every group of applications. In the next blogs, we will look deeper into how those projects are impacting rural populations in Africa, and what we can learn for our future work.

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About the Authors

Howard Miller is a Senior Consultant with Nathan Associates London, and Principal, Nathan Associates India. He specializes in financial inclusion, challenge funds and the market systems approach to development. A trained economist, Howard has extensive experience in consultancy, public policy, and investment banking.Since joining Nathan Associates in 2011, he has worked on DFID financial sector development programs in Uganda, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Rwanda, and on the FSD Africa Program. Before joining Nathan, Howard was a fellow at the Overseas Development Institute working on macroeconomic and financial sector policy for the Government of Uganda.

8 years ago, Grace Njoroge ventured into the corporate world under a graduate trainee program with one of the top regional banks in East Africa. She expected to be a classic banker but this according to her did not happen, at least not all of it. Her typical day involved riding a motorcycle to help micro-traders and assist small-holder farmers open savings account. In a surprising twist, she fell in love with the power simple financial products had to drastically change life and businesses potential for low-income clients. At KPMG IDAS, she works with donors and funders to support financial and non-financial institutions, to better serve the unbanked and under banked segments.

Weather-Indexed Insurance: Why Isn't It Working?

05.06.2017Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI)

This post was originally posted on the CFI-Blog Website.

Weather-indexed insurance is brilliant. It's just not working.

It's brilliant because it solves one of the basic challenges of insurance: moral hazard. Under the principle of moral hazard, having insurance tends to make an individual's behavior riskier, increasing the likelihood that the product will be used. If I have fantastic health insurance, for example, I may be more likely to make riskier life decisions because I don't feel the financial effects of the consequences of those decisions quite so acutely. If insurance is tied to the weather, however, nothing an individual does (unless you believe in the efficacy of a rain dance) will "trigger" the insurance.

Weather-indexed insurance is not a new phenomenon. Over the last decade we've heard exciting stories about weather-indexed crop microinsurance and the lifeline it offers to farmers given our world's quickly-changing climate. Weather-indexed insurance was bundled with agricultural inputs like seeds or livestock, and the product was lauded as a way to increase the inclusion of poor people in insurance.

Amazing, right? So why, after a decade, aren't customers buying? In India, for example, only 5 percent of farmers have taken it up where available.

  • It's complicated. Insurance is incredibly complex to explain to a consumer. There are no easy examples for consumers to reference in their mental maps of products. The concept has no analogues in the local culture.
  • It costs a lot. Low-value insurance is very expensive for companies to offer, and weather-indexed insurance is no exception. While the weather-based trigger makes it cheap to determine when claims are valid, the product requires a critical mass of people to break even, and it is costly to acquire all of those customers.
  • And it's undervalued. At the same time, customers often under-value insurance. In experiments looking at whether insurance products are priced appropriately vis-à-vis customer perception, there is skepticism regarding the price of premiums for an intangible product. A number of years ago, some researchers discovered that even when subsidized so that insurance would yield an expected return of 181 percent, only half of households offered the product decided to purchase it.
  • Making an insurance claim is annoying, and recourse mechanisms are not great. Weather-indexed insurance targets individuals living in remote areas who might lack experience with insurance claims or formal financial services. Moreover, available weather data has been a limiting factor for the scope and accuracy of the services' automation. Recourse mechanisms are often a struggle with financial services for the base of the pyramid, and there have been documented incidences of similar issues in the weather-indexed insurance segment.
  • "Freemiums" can give insurance a bad rap. A "freemium" is an insurance product offered for free alongside another product that the customer is paying for. For example, rental car insurance comes with a credit card. Credit life insurance comes with a microloan. Health insurance comes with a mobile wallet. The problem is that customers often don't know they have the product, which can reduce the offering's credibility. The freemium approach has been met with success in some cases, but to achieve this, it's essential that customers have a strong awareness and understanding of the product.
  • Governments aren't really on board, even though the product would increase economic growth. Noteworthy exceptions to this are the governments of Canada, India, and the United States, which subsidize premiums by at least 50 percent. However, such involvement by many governments in Africa, for example, would likely not be affordable.

These results are not new. It's just that the industry has not found compelling solutions to these problems.

It's no wonder weather-indexed insurance for low-income populations continues to limp along, even though it is one of the financial sector's greatest inventions (in this blogger's opinion). The best way forward for weather-indexed insurance is either providing it for free (which is why Shawn Cole advocates so strongly for public-private partnerships) or bundling both the price and the service with existing financial products. And ensuring that individuals sufficiently understand the products and their benefits, and that the products work well - i.e. making a claim or a complaint is as seamless as possible.

But I'd love to be proven wrong-do you know an example of a weather-indexed insurance that's working?

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About the Author

Sonja Kelly conducts and facilitates financial inclusion research at CFI, directing the CFI Fellows Program, developing frameworks to understand critical concepts like financial health and financial capability, and facilitating the Global Microscope research. She serves as research lead on many topics related to financial inclusion. In her own research and work, Sonja focuses on regulation and policy, the role of banks in financial inclusion, and especially vulnerable populations. Sonja has a doctorate in international relations from American University, where her dissertation focused on financial inclusion policy and regulation. She has previously worked at the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, and Opportunity International. Sonja is currently a member of the board of directors of People Reaching People, and has held volunteer positions as president of the Washington DC chapter of Women Advancing Microfinance, and as president of the steering committee for Northwest Chicago Young Life.

Expanding access to finance for smallholders one lease at a time

27.03.2017Ashley Olson Onyango, Programme Manager, Agricultural Finance

This post was originally posted on the Rural & Agricultural Finance Learning Lab website.

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, working in agriculture tends to be an extremely labor-intensive job with high risk and low payoff. As a result, new generations of farmers and other entrepreneurs are often deterred from pursuing a career in agriculture. This leaves the agricultural industry with ageing farmers and declining agricultural production. One potential solution, however, is the mechanization of farming which can help decrease the need for hard, manual labor, while also improving production, household incomes, and livelihoods. A shift to tractors and other machine-powered equipment is part of a broader strategy to improve rural livelihoods and make agriculture attractive for new generation of farmers.

Although this shift may seem easy, the challenge is that tractors and machine-powered equipment are expensive - and access to finance is frequently cited as a key barrier to increased investment and productivity for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers struggle to mobilize the resources required to effectively invest in their land without additional financial support, but at the same time, lack adequate collateral to access credit from financial institutions.

Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSDA) and Nathan Associates recently published the Agricultural leasing market scoping study for sub-Saharan Africa, which directly tackles the barrier of adequate collateral. In fact, a key advantage of leasing is that it doesn't require collateral, since the lessor retains ownership of the asset for the duration of the lease contract. That being said, lessors still need to mitigate their risk by taking an initial down payment from lessees. Specifically, "in agricultural leasing, concerns around willingness to pay, crop failure, and asset depreciation all drive up the size of the initial payment required by financial institutions."

The required down payment on agriculture equipment typically varies by region and product. For example, in developed countries the required down payment is generally in the range of 10% to 20%. Compare this to developing countries, where the FSDA study found that in the eight reviewed - Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - downpayments generally range between 20% to 40% of the value of the asset. This is a threshold that is above what most smallholder farmers can pay - creating a significant barrier to accessing leasing products, which ultimately holds back demand.

One recommendation to overcome this challenge is to establish a fund that would increase market access for financial leasing by reducing the credit risk of leasing companies. For instance, a fund could bridge the gap between what potential lessees are able to pay and what lessor's risk policy deems an acceptable down payment. If the lessee (farmer) can make a 10% down payment, but the lessor requires a 30% down payment, the fund could make up the difference by paying the 20% differential. The 20% would be paid directly to the lessor, so the lessor receives their full 30%. The lessee ends up only paying the ten percent that he or she is able to afford at that time. The 20% paid by the fund becomes a separate loan and with every lease payment from the lessee to the lessor, a percentage of that amount is paid back to the fund to cover the 20% loan.

A potential fund to make lease finance more accessible, as FSDA's report recommends, could address customers' needs for an innovative product that tackles the issue of adequate collateral for financial access. Furthermore, it could address the challenges that suppliers of such financing face by buying down some of the risk and making an entry into this sector more attractive. We might call this a "smart subsidy" that could be transformative if well designed and executed by strong partners (see Inflection Point for context on "smart subsidy").

To bridge the gap of finance and improve rural livelihoods, development financial institutions should ask themselves what role they can play in making this new form of finance accessible to the agricultural sector - promoting growth and mechanization for improved livelihoods through the fund. While leasing finance is just one piece of the puzzle, the country scoping sheds light on how to enter this space given the current state and where are the risks and opportunities.

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About the Author

Ashley Olson Onyango is the Programme Manager, Agricultural Finance at FSD Africa. Ashley has been working in the agricultural finance development sector across sub-Saharan Africa. Ashley previously spearheaded the development of a new lending portfolio with Root Capital, focused on domestic value chains and food security crops. After the launch, she managed the start-up of the portfolio and integration of the new portfolio into Root Capital's lending operations. More recently, Ashley has been consulting in the agricultural finance development sector with a number of clients and has joined the FSDA as a long-term consultant to manage its Agricultural Finance Programme. 

Message from the MFW4A Partnership Coordinator

30.01.2017David Ashiagbor

Dear Readers,

Let me begin by wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2017, on behalf of all of us at the MFW4A Secretariat.

2016 was a rewarding year for MFW4A. We were proud to host the first Regional Conference on Financial Sector Development in African States Facing Fragile Situations (FCAS) in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, jointly with the African Development Bank, FSD Africa, and FIRST Initiative. The conference attracted some 140 policy makers, business leaders, academics and development partners from over 30 countries, to discuss the role of the financial sector in addressing fragility. The conference has already led to several initiatives by MFW4A and our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. We expect to build on this work in 2017.

Our support to the Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d'Assurances (CIMA), the insurance regulator for francophone Africa, helped them to secure financing of EUR 2.5 million from the Agence Française de Développement. The funding will help to expand access to insurance in a region where penetration rates are less than 2% - well below the average for the continent. We worked closely with a number of our funding partners to help define their strategies in Digital Finance and Long Term Finance. These results are a clear demonstration of how the Partnership can directly support the operations of its membership.

With the support of our Supervisory Committee, we took steps to ensure the long term sustainability of the Partnership. The approval of a revised governance structure which fully integrates African financial sector stakeholders, public and private, was a first critical step. The ultimate objective is to expand membership and build a true partnership of all stakeholders in Africa's financial sector.

2017 will be a year of transition for the Partnership. It marks the end of MFW4A's third phase, and the beginning of its transformation into a new, more inclusive partnership, with an expanded membership. We will focus on revamping our value proposition to provide more focused, needs based services with the potential to directly impact our current and potential membership. In so doing, we hope to consolidate MFW4A's position as the leading platform for knowledge, advocacy and networking on financial sector development in Africa.

In closing, I must, on behalf of all of us at the MFW4A Secretariat, thank all our funding partners, stakeholders and supporters, for your constant support and encouragement over the years. We look forward to working together to strengthen our Partnership.

With our best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2017,

David Ashiagbor
MFW4A Partnership Coordinator

ABOUT THE AFF

What do renowned economists, financial sector practitioners, academics, and activists think about current issues of financial sector development in Africa? Find out on the blog - and share your point of view with us!

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