FinNet 2013 - The Financial Inclusion Challenge: Holistic Solutions for Scale and Impact

Peer Stein, Director of IFC’s Access to Finance Advisory Services shares his views on FinNet 2013, which took place on 19-20 February in Washington D.C.  


FinNet is the flagship annual knowledge sharing event of IFC’s Access to Finance Advisory, focusing on bridging the knowledge gap around access to finance issues and sharing lessons learned on creating more inclusive financial systems. It convenes staff, donors, clients and partners to discuss newly emerging trends and issues for increasing the availability and affordability of financial services around the world in key areas such as small and medium enterprise finance, technology-based delivery channels, mobile banking, etc. 


FinNet 2013  brought together over 350 investment and advisory staff, clients, donors and partners, as well as speakers and participants from across the World Bank Group, with live blogging and webcasting to thousands around the world. This was an invaluable opportunity to share experiences and best practices around financial inclusion, exchange on the barriers we face and the progress made as we move forward.


The challenge of financial inclusion remains enormous, with over 2.5 billion adults still lacking access to any form of financial services and over 200 million micro, small and medium enterprises not getting the credit they need to grow and generate the much needed jobs in emerging markets.


In the two days of FinNet we heard from world-renowned experts on a variety of topics ranging from behavioral economics to climate-smart investments and had a keynote delivered by Hans Rosling who challenged us all to question the way we view the world and understand today’s development needs. During our break-out sessions we touched on subjects ranging from agrifinance, mobile banking to climate change and women entrepreneurs with an effort to probe the conventional models we worked with. I had several take-aways from FinNet that I’d like to share with you:  


  • Innovation is what will allow us to reach the scale that is needed to tackle the enormous number of unbanked and underbanked. At IFC, our value-added is not only in providing finance where it’s needed most but also in bringing creative solutions. For this, our panel of behavioral economists challenged me to also consider the behavioral patterns of households and businesses – our ultimate end-beneficiaries, as we design our products and services to make them most effective.
  • Another take-away for me was our collective need to look beyond the conventional business models, packaging our services to address the unmet needs of very specific “exclusion groups”, e.g. credit for small businesses, weather insurance for farmers, health insurance for households, transactional accounts for the unbanked.
  • Finally, a message that emerged strongly throughout FinNet was to move from a project and product based approach to a relationship and client based approach -- one that will allow our clients to become partners in the process. Today, IFC works with a network of 900 financial institutions. This is a powerful network for reaching the poor and underserved businesses, and our goal is to convert 100 of our clients into Partners in Development within the next three years.


As we convene again next year for FinNet2014, I hope we can report on tangible achievements towards many of the objectives we spoke about in the past few days.


Please, visit the FinNet 2013 website for the agenda and event details, as well as the post-event videos.