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Micro Finance Initiative

The Financial Access Initiative will address gaps in empirical knowledge about fundamental issues

Key topics include the capacity of micro finance to reach the very poor and to reduce poverty; the impacts of competing loan contracts; interest rate regulation; savings behavior; insurance; and the roles of non-financial inputs. The aim is to identify and start filling important knowledge gaps. The initiative proceeds on the belief that, in turn, richer knowledge can play a critical role in innovating, assessing and re-inventing processes that expand financial access.

The Initiative brings together economists at New York University, Harvard, and Yale, along with researchers from Innovations for Poverty Action.

The Financial Access Initiative has three main objectives:

Systematizing evidence and communicating lessons.

Other institutions have focused on supply-side issues. Our aim is to complement that knowledge with by clarifying and organizing what is known (and what needs to be known) about the unmet demand for finance by the poor.

Generating new evidence. Important knowledge gaps will be targeted for fieldwork in developing countries. Key topics include the nature of demand for financial services; the extent of impacts of financial access on incomes, businesses, and broader aspects of well-being; and mechanisms that can increase impact and scale. We will use insights from research in psychology, economics and finance to work with financial institutions to create scalable and profitable financial products. We will then evaluate the effectiveness of these products using the gold standard, randomized controlled trials. These tests are designed not just to evaluate a particular product, but to learn something more fundamental about the nature of demand for financial services and the psychology, mechanics and drivers of individual financial decision making.

Regulation. We aim to describe policy options for central bankers and regulators based on recent experiences across countries, hurdles, and possibilities. The output will be independent, rigorous guides to policy with an emphasis on direct effects and trade-offs of policy choices.

The Financial Access Initiative is led by

Dean Karlan, Assistant Professor of Economics, Yale University

Jonathan Morduch, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University

Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

For more information or to express an interest in partnering on research, please contact any of the above researchers, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Select publications produced by members of the initiative include.

Credit Elasticities in Less Developed Countries: Implications for Microfinance, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman, July 2007.

The Economics of Microfinance, Beatriz Armendariz de Aghion and Jonathan Morduch, MIT Press, 2005

The Microfinance Promise, Jonathan Morduch, Journal of Economic Literature, December 1999.

The Microfinance Schism, Jonathan Morduch, World Development, 2000.

Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries with a Consumer Credit Field Experiment, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman

Expanding Credit Access: Using Randomized Supply Decisions To Estimate the Impacts, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman

Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines, Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan, and Wesley Yin, Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2006.

Group versus Individual Liability: A Field Experiment in the Philippines, Xavier Giné and Dean Karlan

What's Psychology Worth? A Field Experiment in the Consumer Credit Market, Marianne Bertrand, Dean Karlan, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, and Jonathan Zinman


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