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Expert Discusses Access to Financial Services

Advanced technology could better allow low-income people to access financial services, a global non-profit representative told an audience at the Kennedy School on Friday.

Victoria White, managing director of global advisory solutions at Accion International, spoke about the organization's mission to use digital tools to make financial services more available and affordable.

Many charities focus their efforts on microloans, White said, but she believes financial inclusion requires a wider range of services.

“We define financial inclusion as not just access to a [bank] account and not just access to credit either, but a full array of products… to have a safe place to save and to be able to send money to a family member in a way that is safe and affordable,” she said.

White said Accion’s financial services support not only small businesses, but also the housing, education, and healthcare expenses of their owners.

She explained how Accion’s partner organizations, many of which are well-established commercial financial service institutions, use technology to make an impact on low-income communities around the world.

For example, Indian microfinance company Aye Finance uses an innovative digital system to collect client information and analyze data. DAWN, a microfinance company in Myanmar, is devising a “mobile wallet” program so clients who lack access to banks can use their smartphones to transfer money and access other financial services.

Many of the audience members at Friday’s event were Kennedy School students. Second-year student at the Kennedy School Rodrigo Garcia said the topics covered were “too general” to be of much assistance.

Second-year student Akinwande Lalude said he was excited about the potential of Accion, but he questioned the sustainability of Accion’s business model.

“My biggest takeaway is that there is a ton of opportunity to do activist lending in a lot of developing markets,” he said. “What we didn’t talk about, though, was the balance between doing service or creating impact and creating a sustainable solution.”

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