The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) was launched in 2008 to help bring about the conditions to achieve full financial inclusion around the world. Constructing a financial inclusion sector that reaches everyone with quality services will require the combined efforts of many actors. CFI contributes to full inclusion by collaborating with sector participants to tackle challenges beyond the scope of any one actor, using a toolkit that moves from thought leadership to action.
The Center defines full financial inclusion as a state in which everyone who can use them has access to a full suite of quality financial services, provided at affordable prices, in a convenient manner, with respect and dignity. Financial services are delivered by a range of providers, in a stable, competitive market to financially capable clients.
This vision couples quality (what clients receive and how they receive it) with outreach (reaching more people) as the double heart of financial inclusion. Partial and poor quality services are not enough: CFI emphasizes that services should match client needs, provide good value for money and be designed to avoid causing harm. This drive for quality explains why the Center initiated the Smart Campaign for client protection in microfinance.
As the vision states, full inclusion will only come about through a stable and competitive provider marketplace. CFI engages with the actors who shape this marketplace. With its home at Accion, the Center starts from a deep base in the microfinance industry, which opened the way to financial inclusion by demonstrating the feasibility of lending to the poor. The Center works to support the transition of microfinance toward the broader spectrum of financial inclusion. At the same time, it reaches out to other actors, such as the mainstream private sector and policy makers.
The Center works through a collaborative business model: it forms or connects with groups of key industry participants who come together to address selected challenges. Working with those groups, it applies the most appropriate tools from a toolbox that includes convening, research, publications, campaigns, piloting and knowledge-dissemination. In selecting its program areas, CFI seeks out areas that have a strong fit with its vision of financial inclusion—particularly its emphasis on quality. It looks for aspects of that vision that have been under-addressed by others and where CFI may have a comparative advantage based on its industry relationships and areas of existing competence.
CFI currently works through four program areas. The first, Financial Inclusion 2020, is a research and advocacy project to deepen the shared understanding of what financial inclusion is, where the gaps are and the roadmap to achieve it. At the same time, the project provides the overarching vision that informs all of CFI’s activities.
The remaining three CFI programs address specific portions of the financial inclusion vision. The Smart Campaign engages the entire microfinance industry in addressing client protection. It explicitly focuses on the quality dimension. Investing in Inclusive Finance addresses the need for a sound marketplace of providers. It works with investors to respond to social mission and governance challenges of microfinance institutions. New Horizons keeps CFI at the cutting edge of financial inclusion, through systematic small experiments focused on still-excluded populations and experimental products.