Technology such as mobile payments and FinTech applications are providing low-income consumers in emerging markets with greater financial access than ever before. This expanded access and technology advances call for new consumer protection approaches to address the new risks financial technology brings. Already there is evidence of consumer protection risks and abuses, such as hidden fees for digital payments and digital credit, discrimination and unfair treatment including social shaming and unsolicited marketing, loss of money via fraud from phishing scams, agents and even bank employees, and barriers to switching products and interoperability, among others. Consumer protection remains an underappreciated risk to the continued advancement of financial services for the poor, and particularly to expanding digitally-delivered financial service innovations. Moreover, decision-makers in industry and policy lack the tools to effectively monitor these markets and test scalable solutions to these issues that will better protect consumers and lead to higher-value products for low-income and underbanked consumers.
To support new market monitoring and testing of solutions for consumer protection in digital finance, IPA has launched the Consumer Protection Research Initiative. The Initiative is a $5.4 million research facility funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support policymakers, financial service providers, and civil society to develop and test consumer protection solutions in four emerging markets: Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. In addition, IPA is developing partnerships with practitioners in Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, and several other emerging markets to promote a more rigorous approach to consumer protection policies in developing countries.