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access to finance

Powering up Africa through innovation

Simon Bell's picture
Recent World Bank investment climate surveys find that the top two constraints for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are access to finance and access to energy. Given that SMEs contribute disproportionately to boosting job creation, GDP, and exports, addressing these two constraints is critical to promoting economic development on the continent.
A new project combining skills across the World Bank Group and IFC is taking advantage of disruptive advances in the energy and finance sectors to address these longstanding challenges for SMEs.
Current access to electricity remains woefully low and is a major impediment to economic growth. More than half of Africa’s population isn’t connected to the energy grid and has no access to reliable power. At the same time, fewer than 50% of adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
In recent years, however, two important developments have made it possible to begin addressing these challenges:
  1. Off-grid energy solutions—notably solar power—have fallen dramatically in price with new business models working to scale them
  2. New digital-based financing mechanisms, such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, psychometric testing, big data, and blockchain have emerged as tools for under-served finance markets.

There are strong parallels in these advances for both sectors. Whereas both energy and finance are traditionally provided by large-scale, centralized service providers—state-owned electricity utilities and large commercial banks, respectively—new solutions have effectively decentralized and democratized the provision of these services. Now a range of smaller, innovative companies can provide these services and consumers can go “off-the-grid” for both their energy and financial needs.

Anne Mwaniki, CEO of Solimpexs Africa, a Kenyan company producing solar-powered heating systems.
Photo © infoDev / World Bank

Pro-market activism: A new role for the state in promoting access to finance

Sergio Schmukler's picture

The debate on whether the state should play an active role in broadening access to finance or not is one that has lingered for decades. A recent book (de la Torre, Gozzi, and Schmukler, 2017) argues that a new a view has gained traction and is worth considering.  

Rethinking saving practices in the digital era

Margaret Miller's picture

3-1-0 Three minutes to complete the online loan application, one second for approval and with zero human touch for SME loans. This is the marketing slogan used by Ant Financial, one of China’s largest online lenders with more than 400 million active users.

Digital finance is a cost-effective route to financial inclusion for many unbanked and underserved consumers in emerging markets. But digital finance is also still developing and maturing, with many open questions on the impact it will have. One of the most important of these is whether digital finance will ultimately help consumers to make better financial decisions over time.

October 31 is World Savings Day, a day which emphasizes the importance of savings to economic development, and provides a good occasion to look at how fintech may help solve the challenge of savings.

Women and finance: unlocking new sources of economic growth

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu's picture

From basic financial services to board rooms, strengthening women’s role in finance is one of the keys to boosting economic growth.

In every country, women and men alike need access to finance so that they can invest in their families and businesses.  But today, 42% of women worldwide – about 1.1 billion – remain outside of the formal financial system, without a bank account or other basic tools to manage their money.   

India, Malaysia share experiences how to support start-up SMEs

Mihasonirina Andrianaivo's picture

Both Malaysia and India are countries steeped in innovation with a strong desire to foster new, innovative start-up enterprises. 
With a global focus on providing more support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) – and recognizing that start-ups play a crucial role in creating jobs, growth, exports and innovation within most economies – Asian countries are keen to learn from each other’s experiences. These efforts have taken on a greater priority in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and his “Make in India” and “Start-Up India” campaigns.
The World Bank has been supporting India for several years in the area of MSME finance, which is one of the most widely recognized impediments to SMEs, particularly for start-up enterprises.  Through the $500 million MSME Growth Innovation and Inclusive Finance Project, the World Bank supports MSMEs in the service and manufacturing sectors as well as start-up financing for early stage entrepreneurs.  The start-up support under this project ($150 million) is for early stage debt funding (venture debt) which isn’t well evolved. (Unlike India’s market for early stage equity which is considered to already be reasonably well developed.)
As part of this project, the World Bank and the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), recently held a workshop in Mumbai to allow market participants to learn from one another, and particularly about Malaysia’s successful support for innovative start-up SMEs. The workshop’s participants included banks, venture capital companies, entrepreneurs, fintech companies, seed funders and representatives from the Malaysian Innovation Agency (Agensi Inovasi Malaysia – AIM).

Digital Financial Inclusion of the Rural Poor in Bangladesh

Anir Chowdhury's picture

Bangladesh Financial InclusionConsidering Bangladesh’s lack of development and a predominantly rural context, it would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago that an elderly widow living in a remote corner of this impoverished South Asian country could be receiving money from her son living in Dubai sitting right at home or making petty payments through her mobile phone. Not any more, though.

Bangladesh has recently emerged as a curious case of digital innovation to widen coverage and reach remote pockets. The country reached the lower middle income country status in 2015, and has showcased the potential of combating rural poverty through inclusive digital financial services.

This has proved to be an effective weapon to eliminate poverty and secure the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while the country advances towards Vision 2021 — lifting millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty. Innovation and digitization will surely set Bangladesh firmly on the path to becoming a middle-income country. Although ambitious, it is exactly what both the government and private sector are working towards.

Access to the formal financial system remains a challenge for the rural poor in Bangladesh even though the central bank announced a plan for inclusive digital financial programmes in 2015.

Envisioning the global financial system in a decade

Gloria M. Grandolini's picture

4 unprecedented disruptions to the global financial system

Climate change, migration, correspondent banking and cybercrime are putting unprecedented and unforeseen pressures on global financial markets.

They aren’t just disrupting the global financial system, but also affect how we approach international development work.

Let’s examine each trend:
  1. “Greening the financial sector” is the new buzz term to finance a transition toward a climate-resilient economy and to help combat climate change. This topic is now getting a lot of attention from the G20 to the Financial Stability Board. The international community is trying to understand what this transition will imply: how resilient the financial sector is to deal with risks stemming from climate change, and how efficiently the financial sector can allocate financial resources. What we know is that currently fossil fuel subsidies and a lack of carbon tax are hindering the market from shifting financial resources from brown to green.
  2. Globally, an estimated 65 million people are forcibly displaced. Migration, resettlement or displacement, of course, impact where and how to channel aid to those in need. But more importantly, as displaced people settle down -- no matter how temporary or long-term -- to become self-sufficient and thrive, they will need to establish new financial relations. This can be for simple transactions such as receiving aid through payment cards (as opposed to cash) or for sending remittances. Or it can be for something more complex as getting a loan to start a business.
  3. At the same time, as the global banking industry is tightening regulations, large banks are withdrawing from correspondent banking and shutting down commercially unsustainable business lines. This recent phenomenon can have a huge impact in some regions on SMEs and on money transfer operators, which largely handle remittances.
  4. Cybercrime is no longer a sci-fi thriller plot, but a tangible potential risk to both national and international financial markets. The focus on cybersecurity risk has increased along with the proliferation of internet and information technology. Fintech is transforming the financial industry -- by extending access to financial services to people and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) previously left out of the formal financial system – but is also raising many questions, including concerns about cybersecurity. The same technology advancements that are propelling fintech are also addressing cybersecurity risk. However, there is a need to develop an appropriate regulatory framework in combination with industry best practices. This framework is evolving and regulators are grappling with how and when to regulate.

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.