Across all industries, predictive, data-driven algorithms — mathematical recipes ranging from the simple to the complex — are being used to tell stories about individuals and can drive high-stakes decisions: who receives a loan, what sentencing a judge will recommend, what therapeutics a doctor will provide.

In the financial services industry, the exploding data ecosystem has created billions of new stories. At the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), we are most interested in the ones they try to tell (or don’t tell) about low-income consumers.

This publication has two main objectives:

  • to ground some universal challenges on the use of algorithms, automated decisions, alternative data, and bias in the context of inclusive financial services
  • to present the current state of play among inclusive finance actors from desk research and interviews with a sample of fintechs, regulators, and other experts.

Our insights are aimed primarily at financial inclusion stakeholders who can influence the trajectory of the inclusive finance industry, with specific recommendations for regulators, investors, and donors. But anyone with an interest in algorithmic decision making or financial inclusion will find this publication thought provoking and useful.

The full publication is divided into the following sections:

  • The introduction explores algorithms and bias in inclusive finance, presents a framework for understanding algorithmic bias, and delves into what we want to know about algorithms, bias, and financial inclusion.
  • Section 1 is about data trails in the digital economy.
  • Section 2 digs into the risks of bias and emerging tools through the three categories: inputs, code, and context.
  • Section 3 lays out recommendations for inclusive finance stakeholders to advance evidence, solutions, and incentives for responsible algorithms.

Authors

Alex Rizzi

Senior Research Director, Consumer Data Opportunities and Risks

Since joining CFI in 2012, Alex has been an advocate for consumer protection and evidence-based inclusive finance practices.

She manages the responsible data practices research portfolio at CFI which focuses on opportunities and risks for low-income consumers from data-driven financial services. Previously, she was a senior director for CFI’s Smart Campaign initiative, where she managed consumer-protection learning agendas and helped launch the Client Protection Certification Program.

Prior to joining CFI, Alex was a project development manager at Innovations for Poverty Action, where she helped create its microsavings and payments innovation initiative (now part of its global financial inclusion initiative), a research fund focused on impact evaluations of savings products and payment systems. She also worked at the Centre for Microfinance at IFMR Research (now Krea University) in Chennai, India, where she was the head of knowledge management and dissemination.

She has participated in multiple industry working groups on responsible finance, including an advisory group to GSMA’s mobile money certification program and the Microfinance Center’s social performance fund steering committee.

Alex is a graduate of Princeton University and holds a master’s degree from Georgetown’s foreign service school, as well as a certificate in digital money from the Digital Frontiers Institute and The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She speaks conversational French and needs to work on her Italian.

Alex Kessler

Former Research Manager

With a background in journalism and digital media analytics, Alex Kessler played a leading role in CFI’s research and policy work on advancing responsible data practices for inclusive finance and addressing the barriers to women’s financial inclusion. Alex joined CFI in 2017, originally focused on consumer protection and digital finance. In her previous role at Monitor 360 (now Protagonist Technologies), a digital communications consultancy, Alex advised on product development and led strategy engagements for clients in the government, foundation, and corporate sectors. From 2010 to 2013, Alex served as the international editor for The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon, where she also reported on Middle East politics and Lebanese civil society. More recently, Alex led projects examining the barriers to entrepreneurship in the Middle East for the Wamda Research Lab and analyzed Rwanda’s regulatory environment for financial inclusion for The Economist Intelligence Unit. Alex holds a master’s from The Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a bachelor’s in international relations from Tufts.

Jacobo Menajovsky

Data Scientist and Digital Finance Behaviorist

Jacobo specializes in developing and testing data-driven decision tools. Currently, he is working on algorithmic governance and novel data regulatory frameworks; and he also teaches data analytics for financial inclusion at American University. Prior to this, Jacobo was part of Citigroup’s decision management team and developed scoring models at Equifax.

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