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Impact of financial inclusion in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews

Additional Info

  • Authors: Maren Duvendack, Philip Mader
  • Published date: 2019-01-07
  • Coordinating group(s): International Development, Methods
  • Type of document: Review, Plain language summary
  • Title: Impact of financial inclusion in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews
  • Library Image: Library Image
  • See the full review: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/csr.2019.2
  • Records available in: English, Hindi, Spanish
  • English:

    PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

    Financial inclusion interventions have very small and inconsistent impacts

    A wide range of financial inclusion programmes seek to increase poor people’s access to financial services to enhance the welfare of poor and low-income households in low- and middle-income countries. The impacts of financial inclusion interventions are small and variable. Although some services have some positive effects for some people, overall financial inclusion may be no better than comparable alternatives, such as graduation or livelihoods interventions.

    What is this review about?

    Financial inclusion programmes seek to increase access to financial services such as credit, savings, insurance and money transfers and so allow poor and low-income households in low- and middle-income countries to enhance their welfare, grasp opportunities, mitigate shocks, and ultimately escape poverty.  This systematic review of reviews assesses the evidence on economic, social, behavioural and gender-related outcomes from financial inclusion.

    What is the aim of this review?

    This systematic review of reviews systematically collects and appraises all of the existing meta-studies – that is systematic reviews and meta-analyses – of the impact of financial inclusion. The authors first analyse the strength of the methods used in those meta-studies, then synthesise the findings from those that are of a sufficient quality, and finally, report the implications for policy, programming, practice and further research arising from the evidence. Eleven studies are included in the analysis.

    What are the main findings of this review?

    What studies are included?

    This review includes studies that synthesise the findings of other studies (meta-studies) regarding the impacts of a range of financial inclusion interventions on economic, social, gender and behavioural outcomes. A total of 32 such meta-studies were identified, of which 11 were of sufficient methodological quality to be included in the final analysis. The review examined meta-studies from 2010 onwards that spanned the globe in terms of geographical coverage.

    Impacts are more likely to be positive than negative, but the effects vary, are often mixed, and appear not to be transformative in scope or scale, as they largely occur in the early stages of the causal chain of effects. Overall, the effects of financial services on core economic poverty indicators such as incomes, assets or spending, and on health status and other social outcomes, are small and inconsistent. Moreover, there is no evidence for meaningful behaviour-change outcomes leading to further positive effects.

    The effects of financial services on women’s empowerment appear to be generally positive, but they depend upon programme features which are often only peripheral or unrelated to the financial service itself (such as education about rights), cultural and geographical context, and what aspects of empowerment are considered.

    Accessing savings opportunities appears to have small but much more consistently positive effects for poor people, and bears fewer downside risks for clients than credit. A large number of the meta-studies included in the final analysis voiced concerns about the low quality of the primary evidence base that formed the basis of their syntheses. This raises concerns about the reliability of the overall findings of meta-studies.

    What do the findings of this review mean?

    This systematic review of reviews draws on the largest-ever evidence base on financial inclusion impacts.  The weak effects found warn against unrealistic hype for financial inclusion, as previously happened for microcredit. There are substantial evidence gaps, notably studies of sufficient duration to measure higher-level impacts which take time to materialize, and for specific outcomes such as debt levels or indebtedness patterns and the link to macroeconomic development.

    This study is the first review of reviews published by the Campbell Collaboration. Some important limitations were encountered working at this level of systematisation.  It is recommended that authors of primary studies and meta-studies engage more critically with study quality and ensure better, more detailed reporting of their concepts, data and methods. More methods guidance and clearer reporting standards for the social science and international development context would be helpful.

    How up-to-date is this review?

    The review authors searched for studies in November 2017, updating elements of the searches in January 2018. This Campbell Systematic Review was published in January 2019.

  • Spanish:

    RESUMEN EN LENGUAJE SENCILLO

    Las intervenciones de inclusión financiera tienen impactos menores e inconsistentes

    Una amplia gama de programas de inclusión financiera busca aumentar el acceso de las personas en situación de pobreza, en los países de ingresos medios y bajos, a los servicios financieros para mejorar su bienestar. Los impactos de las intervenciones de inclusión financiera son menores y variables. Aunque algunos servicios demuestran ciertos efectos positivos para algunas personas, puede que la inclusión financiera en general no sea mejor que otras alternativas similares, tales como las intervenciones de graduación o de medios de subsistencia.

    ¿De qué trata esta revisión?

    Los programas de inclusión financiera buscan aumentar el acceso a servicios financieros tales como el crédito, ahorros, seguros y transferencias monetarias. De esta forma, permiten que los hogares pobres y de bajos ingresos en países de ingresos medios y bajos mejoren su bienestar, aprovechen las oportunidades, mitiguen los impactos y, en definitiva, eviten la pobreza. Esta revisión sistemática de revisiones evalúa la evidencia de los resultados económicos, sociales, de género y del comportamiento de la inclusión financiera.

    ¿Cuál es el objetivo de esta revisión?

    Esta revisión sistemática de revisiones recopila y evalúa sistemáticamente todos los meta estudios existentes (es decir, revisiones sistemáticas y metaanálisis) acerca del impacto de la inclusión financiera. Los autores analizaron la solidez de los métodos utilizados en esos meta estudios, luego sintetizaron los hallazgos de aquellos que poseían una calidad suficiente y, finalmente, informaron sus implicancias para las políticas, la programación, la práctica y la investigación adicional derivada de la evidencia. El análisis incluye 11 estudios.

    ¿Qué estudios se incluyen?

    Esta revisión incluye estudios que sintetizan las conclusiones de otros estudios (meta estudios) acerca de los impactos que han tenido una gama de intervenciones de inclusión financiera en los resultados económicos, sociales, de género y del comportamiento. Se identificaron un total de 32 de estos meta estudios, de los cuales 11 demostraron tener una calidad metodológica aceptable que les permitiera ser incluidos en el análisis final. La revisión examinó meta estudios realizados en todo el mundo a partir de 2010, en términos de cobertura geográfica.

    ¿Cuáles son los principales hallazgos de esta revisión?

    Es más probable que los impactos sean positivos que negativos, sin embargo, los efectos varían. En algunos estudios, los resultados son mixtos y no parecen generar transformaciones en términos de alcance o escala, debido a que ocurren en gran medida durante las etapas iniciales de la cadena causal. En general, los efectos de los servicios financieros sobre indicadores de pobreza económica básicos tales como ingresos, patrimonio o gastos, y sobre la situación sanitaria y otros resultados sociales, son menores e inconsistentes. Además, no existe evidencia sobre cambios en el comportamiento significativos que conduzcan a mayores efectos positivos.

    Los efectos de los servicios financieros en cuanto al empoderamiento femenino parecen ser generalmente positivos, aunque dependen de características programáticas que a menudo son únicamente periféricas o no están relacionadas directamente con el servicio financiero (como la educación acerca de sus derechos), el contexto cultural y geográfico, ni con los aspectos del empoderamiento que son pertinentes.

    El acceso a las oportunidades de ahorro parece tener efectos positivos menores, pero mucho más consistentes para las personas en situación de pobreza, y conlleva menos riesgos de pérdidas para los clientes que el crédito. Un gran número de los meta estudios incluidos en el análisis final expresaron preocupación acerca de la baja calidad de la base empírica primaria que fundamentó sus síntesis. Esto plantea inquietudes respecto de la fiabilidad de las conclusiones globales de los meta estudios.

    ¿Qué significan los resultados de esta revisión?

    Esta revisión sistemática de revisiones se realizó siguiendo la base empírica más grande jamás recopilada relacionada con los impactos de la inclusión financiera. Su débil impacto advierte acerca de las expectativas exageradas y poco realistas de la inclusión financiera, tal y como sucedió anteriormente con el microcrédito. Existen brechas de evidencia considerables, en particular una falta de estudios que hayan durado lo suficiente como para medir impactos de mayor nivel y que requieren tiempo para materializarse, al igual que resultados específicos, tales como los niveles de deuda o los patrones de endeudamiento, y cómo se relacionan con el desarrollo macroeconómico.

    Este estudio es la primera revisión de revisiones publicada por la Colaboración Campbell. Se encontraron algunas limitaciones importantes al trabajar a este nivel de sistematización. Se recomienda que los autores de los estudios primarios y los meta estudios sean más críticos en cuanto a la calidad de los estudios, y que busquen informar mejor y más detalladamente acerca de sus conceptos, datos y métodos. Sería útil contar con más métodos de orientación y normas de presentación de información claras para el ámbito de las ciencias sociales y el desarrollo internacional.

    ¿Cuán actualizada es esta revisión?

    Los revisores buscaron estudios en noviembre de 2017, actualizando los elementos de las búsquedas en enero de 2018. Esta revisión sistemática Campbell se publicó en enero de 2019.

  • Hindi:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Hindi.

Select language:

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

Financial inclusion interventions have very small and inconsistent impacts

A wide range of financial inclusion programmes seek to increase poor people’s access to financial services to enhance the welfare of poor and low-income households in low- and middle-income countries. The impacts of financial inclusion interventions are small and variable. Although some services have some positive effects for some people, overall financial inclusion may be no better than comparable alternatives, such as graduation or livelihoods interventions.

What is this review about?

Financial inclusion programmes seek to increase access to financial services such as credit, savings, insurance and money transfers and so allow poor and low-income households in low- and middle-income countries to enhance their welfare, grasp opportunities, mitigate shocks, and ultimately escape poverty.  This systematic review of reviews assesses the evidence on economic, social, behavioural and gender-related outcomes from financial inclusion.

What is the aim of this review?

This systematic review of reviews systematically collects and appraises all of the existing meta-studies – that is systematic reviews and meta-analyses – of the impact of financial inclusion. The authors first analyse the strength of the methods used in those meta-studies, then synthesise the findings from those that are of a sufficient quality, and finally, report the implications for policy, programming, practice and further research arising from the evidence. Eleven studies are included in the analysis.

What are the main findings of this review?

What studies are included?

This review includes studies that synthesise the findings of other studies (meta-studies) regarding the impacts of a range of financial inclusion interventions on economic, social, gender and behavioural outcomes. A total of 32 such meta-studies were identified, of which 11 were of sufficient methodological quality to be included in the final analysis. The review examined meta-studies from 2010 onwards that spanned the globe in terms of geographical coverage.

Impacts are more likely to be positive than negative, but the effects vary, are often mixed, and appear not to be transformative in scope or scale, as they largely occur in the early stages of the causal chain of effects. Overall, the effects of financial services on core economic poverty indicators such as incomes, assets or spending, and on health status and other social outcomes, are small and inconsistent. Moreover, there is no evidence for meaningful behaviour-change outcomes leading to further positive effects.

The effects of financial services on women’s empowerment appear to be generally positive, but they depend upon programme features which are often only peripheral or unrelated to the financial service itself (such as education about rights), cultural and geographical context, and what aspects of empowerment are considered.

Accessing savings opportunities appears to have small but much more consistently positive effects for poor people, and bears fewer downside risks for clients than credit. A large number of the meta-studies included in the final analysis voiced concerns about the low quality of the primary evidence base that formed the basis of their syntheses. This raises concerns about the reliability of the overall findings of meta-studies.

What do the findings of this review mean?

This systematic review of reviews draws on the largest-ever evidence base on financial inclusion impacts.  The weak effects found warn against unrealistic hype for financial inclusion, as previously happened for microcredit. There are substantial evidence gaps, notably studies of sufficient duration to measure higher-level impacts which take time to materialize, and for specific outcomes such as debt levels or indebtedness patterns and the link to macroeconomic development.

This study is the first review of reviews published by the Campbell Collaboration. Some important limitations were encountered working at this level of systematisation.  It is recommended that authors of primary studies and meta-studies engage more critically with study quality and ensure better, more detailed reporting of their concepts, data and methods. More methods guidance and clearer reporting standards for the social science and international development context would be helpful.

How up-to-date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies in November 2017, updating elements of the searches in January 2018. This Campbell Systematic Review was published in January 2019.

Library Image

See the full review

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