Fintechs have been successful by seeking out market gaps and providing customers with easier and better ways to lead their financial lives. In the past, growth and opportunity have been industry bywords. But two years into a global pandemic, another term is driving conversations in both fintech and inclusive finance: resilience.
Fintechs have proven their resilience by surviving the early months of the pandemic and reemerging smarter, with optimism intact, and ready to take on new growth opportunities. In response to COVID-19, many fintechs jumped on the opportunity to deliver government and humanitarian cash transfers, which was also a key input to the resilience of millions of low-income households. The last two years saw millions of people turn to high-tech opportunities to improve their lives: gig work through platforms, digital government-to-person (G2P) payments, and digital commerce platforms. Aside from offering access to products, fintechs also provided information about health and education, which helped people cope with the health and economic shocks brought on by COVID-19.
Concerningly, this focus on resilience may be difficult to sustain. Because of a rapid increase in fintech investments, there is a chance that fintech’s attention may be drawn away from resilience as they turn towards incentives to move upmarket in search of growth and profit.
Inclusive fintechs and impact investors must continue to consider the importance of resilience – both for the fintechs as well as their low-income clients.
CFI believes that mission-driven, inclusive fintechs can better serve their low-income customers and grow their businesses. However, to do so, inclusive fintechs and impact investors must continue to consider the importance of resilience – both for the fintechs as well as their low-income clients.
Introducing the PACT Framework for Resilience
To fill what we determined was a gap in our community’s ability to identify and analyze the shared dimensions of resilience, CFI – with support from Jersey Overseas Aid and Comic Relief — recently unveiled the PACT framework. Adapted from academic and other socio-economic development programs, the framework explains how both fintech resilience and customer resilience are driven by a combination of abilities and access to resources across four non-linear dimensions: Preparedness, Access, Capability, and Ties (Networks).
While researching and developing the PACT framework, CFI explored the COVID-19 experiences and responses of more than 20 winners of the Inclusive Fintech 50 (IF50) competition. In addition to the IF50 winners, we spoke to investors, accelerators, and industry associations about how they approached inclusive fintech during lockdowns and the aftermath.
The dimensions of the PACT framework are outlined below along with calls to action for the inclusive finance community.
The pandemic has been a case study on the importance of planning and the consequences of not doing so, and many fintechs were unprepared for the initial shock. All stakeholders in inclusive finance and digital financial services should have in place business continuity plans that consider the risks and responses for both probable and unlikely internal and external events. The plan should outline responses to risks that hurt business – staff turnover, climate-related shocks, wars – and those that spur hard-to-manage growth, such as the pandemic-fueled social protection payments.
Many fintechs do not have comprehensive business continuity plans in place, but they should. It starts by understanding the relationship between fintechs and customer resilience – awareness donors and investors should have to help fintechs achieve both growth and preparedness.
Access does not equal impact. While we know that many low-income people accessed services during the pandemic, there is still no strong data available on impact. Additionally, there is a lack of data on the impact of access (or lack of access) to financing that enabled some fintechs to get through the pandemic more easily. Inclusive fintechs that had strong ties to accelerators and existing investor networks were able to arrange bridge funds or raise new capital. Others found themselves forced to drastically reduce their services, lay off staff, or change their business models – sometimes moving their business away from the low-income customers they sought to serve.
Fintechs have a tremendous opportunity to collect data on customers’ ability to cope with and respond to shocks.
Because of the many different services and business models of fintechs, impact measurement is complicated. But as data-producing and data-driven companies, fintechs have a tremendous opportunity to collect data on customers’ ability to cope with and respond to shocks (in addition to their saving, borrowing, and spending behavior). This data is not only useful for research and sharing with impact investors, but also provides valuable business information to inform product design and growth efforts.
Fintechs are known for being agile. Agility is also a characteristic of low-income people. Both are accustomed to pivoting quickly to find solutions to increase income and reduce expenses or adapt their skills to new work. In this framework, capability is focused on advice-seeking behavior, know-how, and the ability to respond quickly in terms of adversity.
In the last year, there have been many anecdotes that provide good reason to offer kudos to fintechs for their contributions to customer resilience – but without systematic data on how fintech capability can strengthen customer capability, it is difficult to build on these efforts or understand nuances that could drive greater impact. An investment in measurement and integrating data collection into the customer platform has the potential to be useful to fintechs, impact investors, and donors. We hope that fintechs’ data-driven approaches will soon extend to impact measurement as the sector grows.
The value of ties goes beyond personal and business relationships. Fintechs and their users have a unique opportunity to forge community bonds that are stronger than a simple customer-provider relationship.
The pandemic showed this. Many fintechs provided health and education information to their customers or helped their users classify their services as “essential,” so they could continue operating during government shutdowns. Current users, agents, and civil society organizations helped new fintech users sign up for and access government payments or gig platforms. Fintechs also found board members, investors, and accelerator colleagues who could pitch in to respond to the many issues the pandemic threw their way. Finding ties to measurement experts would be a useful next step.
With a continued focus on resilience and using the PACT Framework as a guide, we can embed resilience in inclusive fintech to support their preparation for inevitable future storms.
With a continued focus on resilience and using the PACT Framework as a guide, we can embed resilience in inclusive fintech to support their preparation for inevitable future storms. We can also improve customers’ preparedness and increase their capability to manage through adversity. The PACT framework is a first step towards understanding the interplay between fintech resilience and customer resilience – an area worthy of further investigation. Together we can help low-income households and businesses benefit from inclusive fintech.
For more details and examples of these four points in practice, we encourage you to read the full publication.