Help Us Shape Our Fellows Program Research Agenda!

Hi there. I would love your help as we select topics for our 2018 CFI Fellows research.

CFI is getting ready to launch the request for proposals for our 2018 Fellows cohort (a lot of you have been asking when it’s coming out, and the answer is SOON!). The CFI Fellows Program is designed to respond to questions we think are critical to the future of financial inclusion. Fellows come from many perspectives, including both relatively junior and senior well-known researchers, and including researchers who have been in the financial inclusion community for a long time and some who are perceptive outsiders. We share a set of topics for study, and ask interested researchers to submit research proposals that address the topic of their interest.

Our semi-final list of questions is long, and we ask for your help refining or prioritizing them – or adding new ones. We’ve enabled comments at the bottom of this post for your feedback. Alternatively, feel free to email me at

Here are the questions we are currently considering:

  • Traditional financial service providers often wish to benefit from the advances fintechs are making, but creating effective links between them can be difficult. How do different ways of connecting financial service providers with fintechs, such as open APIs, custom APIs, or bespoke partnerships, compare? What other elements need to be in place to support partnerships enabled through APIs?

As recent research from CFI has highlighted, partnerships between small to mid-sized FSPs and fintechs can create value for both parties – and serve customers better. We would like to see research that evaluates one key aspect of partnerships – the APIs that are needed to make connections work. The key research question is when or whether it is useful for APIs to be available openly to multiple partnerships versus bespoke APIs, and custom partnerships, recognizing that there are opportunities and challenges associated with each. Examples of various approaches could be studied and analyzed, with success factors identified.

  • How can formalization of invoicing and other record keeping increase financial inclusion for MSMEs?

Governments, especially in Latin America are increasingly requiring micro, small, and medium-sized businesses to move to electronic invoicing (KPMG, 2017). Other formalized record keeping systems are emerging as well, leaving data trails that can be used for credit analysis, as a number of fintech companies are starting to do. We want to assess whether and how e-invoicing is leading to increased financial inclusion for MSMEs, and with what benefits.

  • Tech superplatforms and financial inclusion: Big tech platforms like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba are increasingly moving into payments and credit. What are the implications of their moves for competitor FSPs and/or the target customers of financial inclusion?

The entry of the tech behemoths into financial services raises many questions across the financial inclusion community (and elsewhere). Some incumbents see the entrance as an opportunity to reach specific market segments (link). Others see profound changes in the structure of the financial services industry and the nature of competition. To what extent do the tech superplatforms include the underserved in access to financial services? What are implications for these customers? For incumbent FSPs and fintechs?

  • Data privacy policy: Several main approaches to data privacy have been emerging globally. How are regulators and FSPs in emerging and frontier markets responding to these approaches? What paths would be most appropriate and beneficial?

Starting with the regulatory approaches that key markets like Europe, China, India, and the U.S. take to data collection, use, management, and ownership, this research will examine how relatively unregulated markets are responding to these models (are they adopting similar protocols, going their own way, or postponing action?). In turn, how are institutions focused on financial inclusion responding—and what are some best practices to consider? One or several markets could be considered.

  • Employment and the changing nature of work

How will the changing nature of work affect financial services needs in developing countries? Consider especially income volatility and informality in employment. While we’re seeing a trend towards increasing economic formalization, even for self-employment, we suspect that there hasn’t necessarily been a corresponding decrease in income volatility for those living in developing countries (as evidenced by recent research conducted by CFI and others). How might financial services providers—traditional financial institutions, fintechs, and others alike—better equip current and potential customers to smooth their incomes, weather financial shocks, and navigate their financial lives?

Employers and financial health: How can employers support the financial health of their employees? This fellowship will explore: 1) the research on financial stress and employment to better articulate why employers in emerging markets should care about financial health; 2) what are existing ways that employers engage in the financial health of their employees; and, 3) what are tools or resources that employers need to be able to take action in this area.

  • Financial inclusion for lifecycle needs: How are financial services being leveraged to address critical life needs (including, but not limited to: education, shelter/housing, building a business, retirement, paying for health needs). Choose specific case examples.

In the financial inclusion community, we often neglect to pause and ask why we are pursuing financial inclusion. This fellowship will build the case for understanding financial inclusion in the context of the positive life changes that it enables for customers–or it will reveal that financial inclusion actually does a poor job of meeting needs across the life course. Successful proposals will have a solid and actionable proposed methodology, which can range from quantitative analysis of existing data to qualitative data collection from individuals/households and everywhere in between.

Which topics would you most want to see researched? Looking forward to hearing from you, and thank you in advance!

Have you read?

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