Last week, the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) participated in LendIt USA, an annual conference that brings together leaders and startups in fintech, lending, and venture capital to discuss trends, innovations, and the future of the industry.
So, what were we doing there? We attended to help introduce what we do to this audience of over 5,000 people, partnering with LendIt organizers to launch its very first financial inclusion track. CFI managing director Elisabeth Rhyne spoke on a panel about responsible credit along with representatives from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Marketplace Lending Association, LendStreet, and AEO. Championing the Smart Campaign and consumer protections, Beth brought a global perspective on what responsible credit looks like in practice. She also debated the elephant in the room—or as she put it, “the dead cat on the table:” interest rates. Our director of research Sonja Kelly also moderated a lively session on how smartphones in emerging markets are expanding access to credit with executives from Branch, Cignifi, Juvo, and PayJoy. We’ll have more on these sessions soon.
It was exciting and satisfying to see so much interest in financial inclusion from conference attendees who may not readily know the definition of financial inclusion, appreciate its value, or recognize how they’re contributing to it.
What Is the Value of Financial Inclusion to Fintech and Investor Communities?
As our readers know well, financial inclusion is all about making sure that everyone has the financial tools they need to manage and improve their lives. CFI exists to engage and challenge the industry to make this a reality for 3 billion people worldwide who are currently underserved. This unmet demand for quality financial tools and services represents a significant market opportunity for fintechs and investors even as it opens opportunities to consumers—take for instance mobile money in Myanmar or Huduma cards in Kenya. Responsible investments in capital markets, financial institutions, and fintechs are making better financial tools and services available to more people. Fintechs and investors are involved in financial inclusion, whether they know it or not.
We were grateful for the opportunity to help bring the financial inclusion track to fruition this year, but more than that, we were proud to help define and operationalize financial inclusion, consumer protection, and responsible credit for the LendIt crowd. Amid a full agenda packed with interesting sessions on Blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, we were able to help bring focus back to people—particularly those at the base of the pyramid in emerging and frontier markets. We learned a few things in the process too:
- Financial inclusion needs a champion in fintech. The term is not native to or fully understood in the fintech space—in countries where we work globally or in the U.S. At the very least, financial inclusion needs to be reframed so that it resonates more clearly with the fintech community.
- We need to change our language. The buzzwords at LendIt included terms like “innovation” and “disruption”—not our typical vernacular: “client voice,” “responsibility” and “consumer empowerment and protection.” Judging from the investor pitches some of us witnessed, we know that startups are keenly aware that they must listen to their customer and fill a market void lest they fail. We want to more effectively bridge the language and conceptual barriers or perceived barriers to better align fintechs/venture capitalists and financial inclusion.
- Demographics and culture matter. In contrast to our financial inclusion community, and particularly the CFI team, the preponderance of men, suits and ties (even a tailor in the exhibition hall), and the overall glamour of the event were striking. We were proud to showcase women leaders in technical roles at LendIt, where they were noticeably under-represented, and we hope that we brought a socially-conscious vibe to the show.
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