Lack of access to finance is an important impediment to development in low-income countries. As such, the rapid proliferation of digital financial services in emerging markets has important implications for global financial inclusion. Unbanked individuals in low-income countries are increasingly able to bypass brick-and-mortar financial institutions to save, borrow, and make payments directly through their mobile phones. Meanwhile, providers are leveraging alternative data sources, including mobile phone records, to assess credit risk for low-income borrowers in the absence of formal transaction histories. While digital credit holds great promise to improve the financial lives and welfare of these consumers, its use may pose serious risks including over-indebtedness, identity theft, and fraud, especially in unregulated (or under-regulated) markets. There is much to learn about the potential impacts and optimal design of digital credit in emerging markets; a rigorous evidence base is urgently needed to better understand elements of this sector at scale.
The DCO was established in 2016 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a coordinated portfolio of rigorous research on the impacts—both positive and negative—of digital credit products in emerging markets, and the effectiveness of related consumer protection measures. DCO researchers use randomized trials, machine learning, and other rigorous methods to answer questions of critical importance to this sector. In addition to funding research, the DCO maintains a strong network of private sector, academic, and policy partners working on digital credit for the purposes of sharing information and identifying meaningful areas of collaboration. Finally, the DCO translates the results of its research into actionable insights that can be used to inform the design of new digital credit products, credit scoring algorithms, and financial policies.
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