Four Years On: Tracking Our Progress in Financial Inclusion Mapping

Lara Storm|Mar, 2017

In 2012, our team at MIX embarked on a new challenge to fill a pressing need: Reduce the information gap for financial inclusion. Several members of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) cited geographic barriers to accessing financial services as an ongoing challenge, and pledged to close those barriers as part of their Maya Declaration commitments. These members faced obstacles, however. First, there was the problem of figuring out how to standardize and map geospatial data, a necessary condition for addressing the geographical aspects of financial access. In addition, AFI members would need to demonstrate the value of geospatial data to local governments and financial service providers (FSPs) in order to foster data sharing and usage.

 

With a four-year grant from The MasterCard Foundation, MIX began by listening to local stakeholders voice their challenges to increasing financial inclusion, engaging with hundreds of actors in more than 25 countries. We learned that government agencies sought to better understand the access gaps throughout their country in order to design effective incentive programs for banks to expand to underserved areas (e.g. lowering registration fees for new bank agents or devising new electronic banking laws). And FSPs told us they sought a better grasp on local market characteristics, including population density, literacy rates, and local infrastructure, to build sustainable business models for unserved areas. The conversations informed the development of MIX’s geospatial mapping efforts including the introduction of our interactive platform, FINclusion Lab.

 

Our team of data specialists has spent thousands of hours gathering, cleansing, standardizing and geo-coding datasets. As a result, our maps and visualizations address questions like:

 

1.    Which provinces lag behind in financial inclusion related progress?

2.    Where do informal financial services fill access gaps?

3.    Where might existing financial access points (MFIs, cooperatives, bank branches) serve as digital agents?

4.    Which districts or municipalities present strong market potential (e.g. high population density, weekly markets, agricultural input suppliers, schools, hospitals, etc.)?

5.    Where are MFI credit portfolios beginning to overheat?

 

Governments have used our platform to track progress towards their financial inclusion targets while FSPs have used our data visualizations to support strategic expansion. The platform now hosts maps and data visualizations for 23 countries, a number which will grow to 26 later this year. More than 800 users – representing government, private sector and academia – have registered on FINclusion Lab and an average of 2,500 individuals visit the site each month. We believe that these use cases and usage rates are a testament to the power of geospatial data to inform decision-making.

 

Not surprisingly, while building the data visualizations for FINclusion Lab, we also uncovered additional challenges for local actors. The primary challenge is related to data availability and quality. In many cases, the data gaps make it difficult to provide a comprehensive picture of financial inclusion. In the Philippines, for example, digital financial services are delivered via sari sari shops, which number in the hundreds of thousands. While these neighborhood stores offer a promising path to reaching the unserved, data on the location of these sari sari shops is not available and, thus, cannot be mapped or analyzed. However, creating a centralized repository within a government regulator for geospatial data could help solve this problem.

 

MIX began working toward this goal in 2014, partnering with AFI at a time when many member countries were still debating the costs and benefits of geospatial data. We worked with different regulators to explore the use cases for mapping financial inclusion and the related challenges to collecting and managing this type of data. Early adopters like Nigeria, Philippines, and Peru all committed to continuous geospatial mapping and to improving data quality and granularity to better monitor non-traditional providers – like the sari sari shops. Additionally, while supporting AFI’s Data Working Group, we helped several members see the value in geospatial data; Mozambique, Morocco, Malaysia, and Indonesia have begun to prioritize geospatial data collection and mapping. We recently co-authored a focus note, GIS Mapping to Inform Policymaking, describing the experiences of these geospatial mapping pioneers along with key considerations for other regulators ready to launch their own mapping initiatives.

 

But these initiatives required adapting reporting infrastructure, and we learned that some regulators were not sure how to start. As a result, we introduced Advisory Services for regulators. In Rwanda, after we conducted a data systems assessment in 2015, National Bank of Rwanda began implementing a series of recommendations that will enable standardized data collection and regular mapping of financial inclusion. MIX is also supporting regulators in West Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique to build a roadmap for improving geospatial data collection and mapping with the support of UNCDF’s Mobile Money for the Poor Program, and FSD Mozambique.

 

We also found that data is only as valuable as the insights it produces and, though our interactive dashboards allow users to drill down across multiple indicators and geographies, the amount of data can be overwhelming. Our recently launched Market Insights section provides brief insights that addresses specific user questions such as identifying districts with the largest numbers of unserved adults in Senegal. Where data is more granular, we have also begun exploring products such as indices that quantify expansion opportunities for FSPs in Peru.

 

Our initial geospatial data explorations taught us that it is possible to map financial inclusion in multiple countries and contexts. Now, our team at MIX will shift its efforts to two key areas. The first will focus on supporting regulators to create strategies for building more sophisticated geospatial data collection and mapping systems through our work with UNCDF’s MM4P program. The second will focus on determining how to leverage the data across a range of use cases and will be completed through projects with MM4P, the MetLife Foundation and Cisco Foundation. We hope you’ll follow along as we continue to share our findings and insights from these activities later this year.