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CFI and Accion Research Fellows: Advancing Financial Inclusion around the World

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is now accepting proposals for research that will advance financial inclusion around the world.

The purpose of this program is to encourage independent researchers and analysts to examine systematically some of the most important challenges in the financial inclusion arena. Each Fellow will conduct research, analysis, or writing on a topic of high importance to financial inclusion and will produce a paper to be published by CFI or Accion. CFI Fellows will conduct forward-looking analysis of major factors that will enable or hamper achievement of full financial inclusion. Accion Research Fellows will conduct research on work of Accion and its partners to examine its effectiveness and extract lessons for the financial inclusion sector.

The four fellows selected are located in three different countries and between them, will be studying nine markets. We look forward to the work that will emerge from this program, and to continuing to facilitate the generation of insights that will advance financial inclusion around the world.

Research topics

CFI will consider research proposals that address one of the following topics:

What does effective human touch look like in our digital age?

Although financial services are rapidly going digital, some customers, especially those new to the formal financial system or with lower levels of education may still desire to interface with people—to build trust, to troubleshoot problems, and to receive advice on their financial lives. How are financial services providers integrating human touch into digital products? Is it working? Where is human touch critical throughout the delivery process; who within the target population is going to want and need that human touch more than others; and how should financial service providers build it into their process?

Are fintech startups leading to systemic change in the financial inclusion sector?

There is a lot of (justified) enthusiasm about fintech investments to further financial inclusion. Accion and other institutions are betting on fintech— quite literally. But are fintech companies actually changing the system? Are they on a path to do so? What systemic changes (positive or negative) have been brought on through fintech start-ups? Are direct-to-consumer fintech solutions more or less effective than fintech solutions helping to digitize larger financial service providers.

What is the business case for financial capability?

Proponents of interventions to build customer financial capability report that institutions want to know about the business case before they pursue such initiatives. (See here for CFI’s definition and background work on financial capability.) Our hunch is that financially capable customers are more loyal and frequent users of products, but concrete evidence is still in short supply regarding the efficacy and cost effectiveness of financial capability interventions. Does the business case for capability interventions look different depending on the product (e.g. credit vs. savings vs. insurance)?

How can personal financial data be made portable?

If customers could give their financial behavior data to a financial institution, they could be eligible for higher credit limits, lower interest rates, and better premiums. Who owns the data – the end consumers or the company creating it? What rights do end consumers have over that data? What needs to happen to make data portable? Is this a good idea? How are existing efforts working out?

What does responsible online credit look like?

As the use of online credit rises, so do risks to consumers in this generally lightly regulated space. What are good practices to protect clients when they use online credit? What recommendations for standards can be made for the financial services industry?

Fellowship benefits

  • Fellows are listed on the CFI website (here), with photo and bio throughout the year
  • Access to CFI or Accion staff, as agreed, for consultation, research and interviews
  • Use of CFI office space on an occasional basis as needed to support the work
  • Support from the communications team at CFI, who will prepare finished papers for publication and disseminate the final products through their multiple channels of promotion and marketing, including at least one live event, blogging opportunities, and other promotions such as webinars, interviews, etc.
  • Support from CFI to help move findings toward action by relevant stakeholders
  • Compensation appropriate for scope of assignment and fellows’ level of seniority
  • Compensation for limited travel expenses to conduct or present research

Obligation of fellows

  • Complete high-quality research and paper by an agreed end date
  • Respect confidentiality of internal information acquired during the fellowship
  • Use own computer and communications
  • Check in regularly with CFI staff regarding progress and content of work
  • Submit prospectus of paper within one month of contract signing
  • Submit near-final version of paper for review by CFI and selected external reviewers one month prior to final submission
  • Present findings in at least two events organized by CFI (for example: one initial webinar and one in-person report launch event)
  • Accompanying products will include at least two blog posts, one near the start of the research and one near or upon completion, and other products (e.g. infographics, briefs, etc. as agreed in advance).
  • Post status as CFI fellow on your own website (if applicable) with links
Application date
26 Aug 2016
3-9 months
America United States Mid-Atlantic
Social sciences Business and Administrative Sciences Economics
Required post-doc experience: 
between 0 and 99 years
Grants available