MetLife Foundation works with experts in the field to deliver high-quality products and services like credit, savings, and insurance to low-income individuals. We want to ensure that these individuals have the tools, incentives, and motivation to improve the lives of their families and communities.
Recent initiatives in this area include:
Center for Community Self-Help (Self-Help)
United States (California, Illinois, and North Carolina)
Community development credit unions play a vital role in helping low-income Americans work towards economic stability and build assets. Self-Help, a leading community development financial institution, has been providing loans and other financial services to underserved communities for more than 30 years. Now, with support from MetLife Foundation, Self-Help will expand and innovate its services, with a special emphasis on savings.
Self-Help primarily serves low-income people who are otherwise especially vulnerable to predatory consumer finance alternatives. Their goal for their MetLife Foundation partnership is to develop and expand savings products that will let their clients start building assets to create a financial cushion against hard times. Self-Help’s WealthBuilder product, developed with funding from the foundation, enables families to exit the endless cycle of high-cost, long-term consumer loans by refinancing that debt into a consolidated amount at a lower interest rate and affordable monthly payments. The savings realized from the refinancing are set aside into a special account as a future financial reserve. Their Fresh Start/Credit Builder product lets customers build or repair credit histories while setting aside savings at the same time. The grant from MetLife Foundation will permit Self-Help to evaluate and expand these products into new markets, and to assess the feasibility of a new individual retirement account product for low-income customers, who increasingly work at jobs without pensions and are responsible for their own retirement.
Self-Help’s network of credit unions has grown dramatically since 2004, and it currently serves more than 100,000 members through 33 branches in California, Illinois, and North Carolina. Although mobile and on-line banking are important tools for expanding financial inclusion and increasing operational efficiency, face-to-face, branch-based banking still provides critical opportunities for low-income clients to develop trust and to forge lasting relationships. MetLife Foundation support will enable Self-Help to launch a new branch in the Raleigh-Durham area, one of the most populous corners of North Carolina and one of the last regions in the state without a full-service Self-Help branch.
National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions
United States (New York)
The Federation is an association of US credit unions that works to create strategic partnerships between member institutions, and between credit unions and the broader financial inclusion community. With MetLife Foundation’s support, the Federation will launch a new model for credit unions to reach more low-income customers and build those customers’ financial capabilities.
The National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions shares best practices developed by its member institutions about effectively serving low-income communities with quality, affordable financial services. The Federation also provides education and training to its member credit unions. For its MetLife Foundation-funded project, the Federation will work closely with the not-for-profit Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, or NTFP, to roll out NTFP’s Credit Union Extension model among Federation-member institutions. The program involves three steps: (1) training credit union staff to provide financial counseling during day-to-day interactions with clients; (2) training and liaising with other community-based organizations who serve large numbers of low-income people; and (3) delivering high-quality financial services to those populations.
When customers receive one-on-one financial counseling as a routine part of their interactions with credit union staff (rather than in less effective classroom-style settings), they become more financially empowered. The Federation will also train participating credit unions in ways to work effectively with community-based organizations who serve low-income people with non-financial services. Such organizations often reach such low-income populations on a very large scale, making them potentially effective platforms for the credit unions to conduct outreach to deliver financial empowerment and counseling, and to attract potential new customers for formal financial services.
Part of MetLife Foundation grant to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions will fund a robust learning agenda. The Federation will host regular in-person and virtual peer learning exchanges about what’s working well and what could be improved. Learning will be in near-real time so that other credit unions, and other financial institutions, can begin their own programs based on the lessons learned from the Credit Union Extension model program.
BURO currently has a customer base of more than 1.3 million served through a branch network of 70 urban and 564 rural branches. Customers must use this physical infrastructure even for routine services (loan repayments, savings deposit), but BURO knows that with the right technology solutions, they could deliver their customers expanded product offerings and better service.
BURO is a respected microfinance provider in Bangladesh with a solid track record (it was founded in 1991) and low operating expenses. Greater use of technology, however, will drive operating expenses even lower, allowing BURO to pass on savings to customers and also to reinvest into the business. With support from MetLife Foundation, BURO is adopting a mobile technology platform, initially to support transactions such as loan disbursements and repayments. BURO’s research indicated that customers would prefer easier repayment and disbursement methods, and would also like to use savings and remittance services. But because they must currently travel to a branch location to transact, few customers use BURO’s services intensively, simply using the group-loan service which, although not tailored to individual needs, cuts down on transaction time.
By moving away from physical cash and bricks and mortar, and towards a more cashless (or “cash lite”) virtual model, BURO will benefit both itself and its customers. Customers can enjoy more personalized services than the “one size fits all” group loan—but still without having to travel and spend time at a branch. BURO incurs less risk of robbery or fraud, lowers the cost of cash-in-transit insurance, and improves efficiency.
BURO expects all its 600+ branches to be mobile-enabled within four years.
People often think that financial inclusion is just about the developing world. But in advanced industrialized countries, there are wide disparities, often along ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic class lines, between who is financially included and who is not. Even London, one of the financial capitals of the world, is no exception. MetLife Foundation funds will support development of a customer database that will enable Fair Finance to capture and analyze data more easily, connect directly with credit bureaus, and support efficient online loan applications and other paperless transactions.
Fair Finance is a strong and growing community development financial institution based in London. Founder and CEO Faisel Rahman learned microfinance as an intern for Grameen Bank, and he launched Fair Finance by adapting microfinance principles to the context of an advanced economy. Fair Finance’s clientele are people excluded from mainstream financial services and exploited by the subprime financial services industry: the self-employed, part-time and low-wage workers, recent migrants, single mothers, racial and ethnic minorities.
Fair Finance plans to expand from its current client base of 10,000 Londoners to more than 100,000 over the next five years. MetLife Foundation support will help Fair Finance position itself for growth, with a particular focus on information technology.
One of the best-known names in financial inclusion, Grameen is working with MetLife Foundation to greatly expand outreach among communities in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states. Grameen Foundation’s strategy in Uttar Pradesh will focus on “business correspondents” who bring quality banking services to the doorsteps of poor households.
The “business correspondent” model has emerged as an important breakthrough enabling mainstream banks to reach the poor and marginalized in India. The banks appoint agents to go door to door in underserved communities, enrolling and serving customers on the banks’ behalf. The model permits the banks to serve this clientele without the expense and inefficiencies of adding brick-and-mortar branches, while the customer gets the most personalized “doorstep banking” service possible. Although the business correspondent model holds great promise, it remains a relatively recent innovation. The challenge now for mainstream banks is to develop sustainable and scalable versions of the model.
Grameen Foundation, a sister company to Bangladesh’s renowned Grameen Bank, researches and develops tools to improve the effectiveness of poverty-focused organizations. Grameen Foundation has been working in India for over a decade, testing and developing new delivery channels to serve poor households with quality financial services on a massive scale. With MetLife Foundation support, Grameen Foundation is transforming Margdarshak, a leading Indian microfinance institution, into a business correspondent for various commercial banks, Margdarshak’s expertise in serving the poor, combined with its own institutional strength and size, make it an ideal partner to develop a business correspondent model that can be replicated across the country. With MetLife Foundation support, the Grameen Foundation project will reach at least 40,000 new customers, the majority of them women living on less than $2.50 per day, with the potential to reach up to 200,000 people.
MetLife Foundation funding will extend financial inclusion to some of the most severely underserved households and communities in India. They will access financial products and services while receiving personalized attention and support from field-based staff. The Grameen Foundation and MetLife Foundation will also develop a case study and share learnings to demonstrate to regulators and other banks how delivery-channel innovation can massively scale up financial inclusion.
Women's World Banking
Egypt, India, Mexico
The classic microfinance lending methodology is the group loan. It can be a powerful tool for introducing low-income entrepreneurs to the financial system but a group loan may not provide sufficient capital or flexibility to support meaningful growth of an individual’s enterprise. . With funding from MetLife Foundation, Women’s World Banking is working in three key markets to increase access to more effective financial products, including individual loans tailored to successful entrepreneurs’ needs.
Women’s World Banking has been working with financial institutions all over the world since 1979 to support their ability to provide hiqh quality credit, savings, and insurance products to low-income women. WWB was an early innovator in developing individual loan products for women ready to “graduate” from group loans. They continue to innovate by offering individual credit products not only to “graduating” existing clients, but also by increasing the capacity of staff to assess credit worthiness of new clients.
With support from MetLife Foundation, WWB partners in three large markets—Egypt, India, and Mexico—will strengthen their operations to ensure delivery of better credit products to nearly 500,000 clients. WWB will provide technical support and will work with all three partners to support internal change management, upgrade management information and core banking systems, and design and market new individual loan products. WWB will also work with the partner institutions to improve loan officers’ ability to conduct credit risk analysis and maintain portfolio quality.
Each partner institution will be required to collect gender-based social and financial performance indicators. These indicators will measure outreach to women, product design and diversity, service quality, customer protection, and staff diversity. They will also enable financial institutions to see how women customers contribute to their financial sustainability.
Ultimately, with access to the more individually tailored credit products they need, nearly half a million low-income entrepreneurs will see their enterprises better positioned for growth. In addition to these positive changes at the client level, WWB will contribute to the knowledge base of the broader financial inclusion community. They will analyze the results across all three institutions in order to distill best practice in developing and delivering the credit products women entrepreneurs need most.
United States (New York City)
Kiva, a recognized leader in financial inclusion in developing countries, is bringing its crowdfunding model to low-income entrepreneurs’ start-ups in New York City. Rather than focus exclusively on FICO scores, Kiva Zip NYC will factor in borrowers’ character and social ties. MetLife Foundation grant money will fund set-up and operating costs for the first three years in New York City, and will help fuel the loan portfolio.
Microfinance models that have worked very well in developing countries tend not to translate effectively to industrialized economies, where higher labor costs make a “high touch” model difficult to operate at scale. In addition, low-income entrepreneurs in advanced economies are often immigrants or minorities who lack traditional measures of creditworthiness such as high FICO scores or collateral.
Kiva Zip’s innovative model looks beyond what low-income people don’t have to focus on what they do have: good characters and strong social networks. Building off a successful pilot in the San Francisco Bay area, Kiva Zip’s project in New York will rely heavily on “social capital”—organizations or individuals that will source entrepreneurs they trust and are willing to endorse publicly as borrowers. Kiva will then use its technology-enabled model to source capital for the successful candidates, raising money through PayPal and automated SMS systems to fund 0% interest loans to approximately 1,000 New York entrepreneurs.
In advance of the PayPal/SMS-facilitated fundraising drive, Kiva Zip gives borrowers a short private fundraising period to get individuals in their own networks to lend small amounts for the business. This has proven a key indicator of trustworthiness and a predictor of future on-time repayment. Along with the San Francisco pilot, Kiva Zip has launched or plans to launch in Pittsburgh, Richmond, Little Rock, Newark, and Philadelphia. MetLife Foundation grant money will fund set-up and operating costs for the first three years in New York City, and will help fuel the loan portfolio.
Innovations for Poverty Action
MetLife Foundation support will enable Innovations for Poverty Action to pilot and test new "commitment savings" products in India and Bangladesh that empower low-income individuals to effectively build and maintain assets
Innovation for Poverty Action has found that "commitment savings" products have proven to help users overcome behavioral and social barriers that prevent many individuals from reaching their savings targets and making desired investments in the future. Commitment savings products allow households to set aside money for a predefined goal with either soft commitments, such as simply labeling a savings account with a particular goal, or hard commitments, such as the imposition of withdrawal restrictions on money stored in an account.
In partnership with MetLife Foundation, Pro Mujer opened its first-ever neighborhood center in Oaxaca City, Mexico, enabling women in the region to receive Pro Mujer's unique offering of microfinance services coupled with health screening and empowerment training.
Pro Mujer believes that empowering women and overcoming poverty require more than just credit. Traditional gender roles, discrimination and violence, a lack of access to capital, education, employment and healthcare are inextricably linked and perpetuate poverty. Such inequality is exacerbated by major events such as an economic downturn, political instability or sudden disaster.
Therefore, Pro Mujer, provides women living in impoverished communities with easy and convenient access to a holistic package of services that includes:
Financial Services: Provide clients with a variety of services that help them to start or grow a small business, improve their living conditions, and protect their families against unforseen emergencies.
Business and Empowerment Training: Capacity-building workshops provide clients with the knowledge to become more economically independent and informed decision-makers.
High Quality, Low Cost Primary Health Care: Preventive health education and primary healthcare are crucial for their clients. An illness can be detrimental not only to their health, but also to their businesses and savings. Nutrition and hygiene are just some of the topics discussed in preventive health education workshops.