With the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cenfri and FinMark Trust jointly set up insight2impact to advance financial inclusion through data. insight2impact has played a role in influencing how regulators and policymakers implement financial inclusion strategies. It has done this by informing what is being measured, how it is measured and how indicators can be more effective in driving meaningful interventions.
For example, insight2impact is currently collaborating with the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS) to analyse data generated through card and mobile transactions. The aim of this collaboration is to investigate the landscape of digital financial services with a focus on customer-level financial behaviour. One of the goals of the research is to recommend indicators to financial inclusion stakeholders in Nigeria and beyond. The project in Nigeria also involves the merging of two data types: transactional data and survey data. The sample was drawn from the NIBSS platform, and a nationally representative survey was used to sense-check the findings from the analysis of the linked data sets. 

Furthermore, we aim to understand and provide some stylised facts on user characteristics of payments made using digital financial platforms like banking apps and USSD-led transactions using the mobile phone, internet banking, use of cards through point-of-sale devices, use of bank branches and merchant payments. 

The novelty of this work is that regulators and policymakers measure mainstream financial inclusion indicators through “uptake” – in other words, the percentage of adults in a country with a bank account or an insurance product. When measuring usage, however, the typical indicator monitored is the 30-day or 90-day activity of a bank customer. With the level of bank account dormancy being what it is, measuring “uptake” simply indicates how accessible financial services are and a customer’s 30-day activity level is not specific enough to show whether financial service providers are profitable or whether a financial product meets the needs of a customer. Finally, the percentage of adults that have an insurance product only reveals the extent to which insurers can amass profits through premiums. A customer-centric insurance metric could be the percentage of adults that received pay-outs per insurance type. Therefore, accessing customers’ actual digital payment platforms transaction history while administering a survey – which provides additional demographic and attitudinal dimensions – allows for a more nuanced approach to understanding the usage of digital financial services in Nigeria. The ultimate outcome of this process is to develop and suggest financial inclusion indicators that push the frontier beyond uptake of services.

Changes expected with evolving financial inclusion objectives 

Looking to the future, there is a clear indication that there is a need for change in the activities of public policymakers as financial inclusion objectives and key focuses evolve from access to usage to impact on the “real economy”. Some of the key challenges include competition for human resources, the available technology and stakeholder coordination.

The competition for skilled staff between public and private institutions will influence policymakers’ capacity in financial inclusion data management that informs monitoring and evaluation. insight2impact has been conducting financial inclusion data hackathons across Africa (DataHack4FI); and the participants in these events, and others like them, can serve as a pool of talent that policymakers can draw from to solve this issue.
The availability of regulatory technology through APIs, biometric systems, artificial intelligence and distributed-ledger technology will be key in the ability of policymakers and regulators to collect timely data from FSPs in order to observe market gaps and identify risks to the integrity of the financial system. The cycle of financial inclusion policy evaluation will also affect the appetite for the adoption of new indicators. Policymakers and regulators are usually bound by the existing policy frameworks with a set lifespan and are rigid in making sudden changes. 

The lack of convening power of FSPs by market facilitators also provides a challenge. This is because FSPs generate the data that informs financial inclusion indicators, and their buy-in is required to ensure that they are willing to undergo the compliance costs that could be involved in policymakers accessing the quality of data required for the monitoring of financial inclusion indicators.

New theories for the measurement of financial inclusion

Some key successes for insight2impact in influencing the public sector have been through international organisations such as AFI where new thinking on financial inclusion measurement has been incubating since 2017.  Furthermore, forming partnerships with market facilitators such as the financial sector deepening trusts in Africa has also provided opportunities to have a local champion on the importance of data quality – to reduce the time and cost of data collection and to ensure that appropriate indicators be adopted. 

To see more of our work on usage, please see the insight2impact portal. Here you can find literature on topics from the ideation phase of rethinking financial inclusion measurement to implementation of pilots in partnership with central banks, a national switch, a credit bureau and a commercial bank. The application of a needs to usage analytical framework has been tested with nationally representative demand-side surveys, driving the insight2impact mandate of advancing financial inclusion through data.