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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Financial Inclusion is Coming Fast - AFI Executive Director Alfred Hannig

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Financial Inclusion is Coming Fast - AFI Executive Director Alfred Hannig

Jo Ann Barefoot

I’m excited to share today’s conversation with Alfred Hannig, Executive Director of AFI.

When you hear of an organization with a name like The Alliance for Financial Inclusion, you might picture a nonprofit advocating for credit opportunity or community reinvestment. AFI, though, is unique. Its members are governments -- central banks and financial regulators -- representing over 90 countries in the developing world. They all work at the cutting edge of financial transformation, because the mobile phone is suddenly bringing real financial inclusion.

Think about that statement. Throughout history, a large percentage of people have been excluded from, or marginalized by, the financial system. That’s mainly because it simply hasn’t been very profitable to serve them. Finance evolved with a business model that serves people in buildings -- traditionally it was grand buildings with lots of marble -- and by giving them personalized attention. It was mainly for wealthy people, and then for the middle class as technology -- streamlined branches, ATM’s, and telephone and online banking were added to the mix. Generally, though, finance, and especially banks, could not readily reach people with lower incomes, including the rural poor, or at least could not offer them affordable pricing. A lot of public policy has aimed at getting banks to serve those customers despite the challenging economics.

The cell phone is changing that, and fast. The World Bank has a goal of enabling every adult in the world to have a bank account by 2020 -- three years from now. Whether or not that deadline is met, the fact is that access is spreading fast.

Significantly, it’s spreading fastest in the developing world. One reason is that cell phone adoption has been so rapid there, mainly because most people never had landlines. Another is that telcos began offering financial services through those phones, creating a fast and efficient delivery channel. A third is that these new systems often arise in settings that lack traditional regulatory systems, making it easy for innovators to move quickly, but of course raising many kinds of novel regulatory risks.

AFI and its members are dealing with all of this -- both the opportunities and the risks. They’re doing this from the perspective of financial regulators and also with the insight that financial inclusion is a key engine of economic growth, and of empowerment for women and other groups that have historically lacked access.

I had the chance to join in this dialogue at AFI’s Global Policy Forum in Fiji last year, a beautiful event highlighting traditional cultures of the Asia Pacific. More than 80 countries participated, working across diverse languages, cultures, demographics, and economic challenges to distill the keys to fostering inclusion and regulating change. While there, I recorded this episode with AFI’s visionary leader, Alfred Hannig. I’ll leave it to him to tell you his story.

For more information, also check out our episode with Theo Cosmora, CEO of the One Dollar Smart Phone. And here’s a (bad) photo of me with Vuli the Vanu, Fiji’s mascot for financial literacy!

More for our listeners:

This month I’ll be in Jakarta for a global discussion of regulation and financial inclusion. In April I’ll speak at the FinXTech Summit in New York, and in London at both the Innovate Finance fintech conference and the International FinTech Investor Conference sponsored by the Financial Conduct Authority. And I hope everyone is registering to come to CFSI’s Emerge in June.

Remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails on new podcasts and my newsletter and blog posts at  jsbarefoot.com.  My latest post tells you about Hummingbird, the RegTech firm I cofounded late last year. We’re aiming to use new technology to transform both halves of the regulatory equation -- both how to regulate and how to comply -- starting with anti-money laundering. We’ll do a podcast on this, sometime soon.

Also go to jsbarefoot.com to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. Please also join my facebook fan page, and follow me on twitter.

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And watch for upcoming podcasts, including with Wai Lum Kwok, Executive Director of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Abu Dhabi Global Market, Colleen Briggs of JPMorgan Chase, Bill Harris, former CEO of both PayPal and Intuit, and now CEO of Personal Capital, and Jonathan Dharmapalan, founder of eCurrency.