Notes from the field: Financial Inclusion Forum in Mexico City, Mexico
Claudia Fernandez, Loan Officer-Real Estate for Inclusiv member, Brooklyn Cooperative FCU, a Juntos Avanzamos designated credit union, shares dispatches from the October 2019 forum
NEW YORK, NY (November 15, 2019) — Last month, I had the honor to represent Inclusiv/Juntos Avanzamos and my own credit union Brooklyn Cooperative on a panel at the Financial Inclusion Forum in Mexico City, MX. The forum was organized by the Mexican government and Citi and brought together non-profit organizations and mission driven financial institutions like ours that offer affordable products and services to migrant communities in the US. Several topics were covered including financial literacy, remittances, and digital payments.
The panel in which I participated focused on how Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions support Hispanics in our communities by creating opportunity, wealth-building, and resilience by offering fair and affordable financial services — my favorite topic and the mission of our CDFI’S network. My passion allowed me to overcome the nerves of public speaking. The collaboration between Brooklyn Coop and The Mexican Consulate & the “Ventanilla Financiera” (“Financial Empowerment Window”) in New York was highlighted; with the focus of replicating this model in other Mexican Consulates in the US. Other organizations and foundations discussed how they support entrepreneurship in Mexican communities in regions with high concentrations of Mexicans and Mexican-American families, such as Chicago and California.
Throughout the forum, one of the most popular topics was “remittances”, which are extremely important for Mexican families living in Mexico because they compliment family income with the money sent every month from the US. The discussion was linked with technology and how digital payments can lower cost and also make money transfers easier. One fact that impressed me was that in Mexico there are more cell phones than bank accounts! Only 24% of the population has a bank account.
The Mexican government wants to create a bank funded by remittances from the US. They are looking to invest remittances converted into savings to develop poor rural towns, create jobs and keep their population from migrating to the US. A beta test for a remittances card was launched. The beta involves families in rural areas in Mexico receiving a card. The card will give access to funds sent to them at very low cost. This initiative aims to discourage the use of the regular and more expensive remittance agencies well known in the market. Since the families are mostly unbanked, by using the card, they don’t need to have a bank account in Mexico. Some little towns don’t have access to any financial institution, so residents need to travel long distances to get access to a bank or ATM. The card won’t solve the travel time, but it’s safer and cheaper, plus they only need to get close to an ATM or places that accept card payments such as supermarkets, convenience stores, doctors, etc.
Two other topics caught my attention. One is that the private sector in Mexico is investing greatly in digital payments between individuals and companies. The idea is to make it simple and easy with a cell phone. Private companies are also testing to replicate it in Central and South America. They showed research done in India and Nigeria that support the use of cell phones to transfer money and how it has helped communities and their economy. Creativity and app development is the way to go.
The other topic was financial education and inclusion around the world. The research was done by The Global Financial Literacy Center in Washington DC. It was fascinating. I encourage you to take a look at their work. It shows that 57% of Americans pass the financial literacy test vs 32% of Mexicans.
The test consists of three questions to keep it simple and it measures: 1. understanding of interest compounding; 2. understanding of inflation; and 3. understanding of risk diversification.