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Vijaya Ramachandran is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. She works on the impact of the business environment on the productivity of firms in developing countries, and is the coauthor of an essay titled "Development as Diffusion: Manufacturing Productivity and Africa's Missing Middle,” published in the Oxford Handbook on Economics and Africa. Vijaya is also studying the unintended consequences of rich countries’ anti-money laundering policies on financial inclusion in poor countries. She has published her research in journals such as World Development, Development Policy Review, Governance, Prism, and AIDS and is the author of a CGD book, Africa’s Private Sector: What’s Wrong with the Business Environment and What to Do About It. Prior to joining CGD, Vijaya worked at the World Bank and in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. She also served on the faculties of Georgetown University and Duke University. Her work has appeared in several media outlets including the Economist, Financial Times, Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, National Public Radio, and Vox.
Moving beyond low income countries makes sense for an institution focused on ending extreme poverty. But does the IFC follow through by focusing on the countries that are home to the extreme poor? Not really.
Policies put in place to counter financial crimes have unfortunately had a chilling effect on banks’ willingness to do business in markets perceived to be risky—due in part to the high price of compliance. Even as changes are being made to address this problem, financial institutions are developing solutions in the form of new cutting-edge technologies to help them comply better and faster with anti-money laundering regulations.
“Regtech May be the Solution to Some De-risking Woes,” Says Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran
Center for Global Development
Washington – Today, the Center for Global Development released a new study that finds that financial institutions have turned to new technologies, including artificial intelligence, to address de-risking and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their AML/CFT compliance. These new technologies may enhance transparency and information-sharing capabilities, facilitate automation and interoperability between institutions, and improve banks’ ability to accurately identify illicit activity.
This study is the first comprehensive effort to assess six key new technologies and their potential to solve the de-risking problem: know-your-customer (KYC) utilities, big data, machine learning, distributed ledger technology (DLT), legal entity identifiers (LEIs), and biometrics.
“Some policies that have been put in place to counter financial crimes have unfortunately had a chilling effect on banks’ willingness to do business in markets perceived to be risky in part due to the high price of compliance. This has had costly consequences for people in developing countries, and have hurt migrant workers, small businesses that need to access capital, and recipients of lifesaving aid in conflict, post-conflict, or post-disaster situations the most,” said Vijaya Ramachandran, one of the study’s authors. “But what we’re seeing is that even as these policies are having an impact, financial institutions are coming up with solutions in the form of new cutting edge technologies to help them comply better and faster with anti-money laundering regulations.”
The study suggests that new regulatory technologies (“Regtech”) may offer a partial solution to de-risking by lowering compliance costs and improving risk management capabilities. The technologies include:
Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that allows computers to improve their performance at a task through repeated iterations. Machine learning may be used to augment or transform a number of compliance functions, including those for developing more sophisticated customer typologies and for more accurately monitoring transactions. These uses could simultaneously cut down on false alerts and identify undetected illicit finance techniques.
Biometrics use distinctive physiological or behavioral characteristics to authenticate a person’s identity and control his or her access to a system, and are more robust than other authentication factors, such as passwords and tokens, as they are generally more secure and easier to use. Biometrics are being used to address the “identification gap” that exists in many developing countries. This use, in turn, could make it easier for banks to conduct customer identification, verification, and due diligence, which may bolster the confidence of their correspondent banks. However, most biometric identification systems are being developed at the national level, meaning that work is required to develop an internationally recognized and interoperable identification system.
Know Your Customer (KYC) utilities are central repositories for customer due diligence (CDD) information. By centralizing information collection and verification, KYC utilities can reduce the amount of information that has to be exchanged bilaterally between correspondent banks and their respondents, thereby reducing the time banks spend conducting CDD investigations.
Big data refers to datasets that are high in volume, high in velocity, and high in variety, and therefore require systems and analytical techniques that differ from those used for traditional datasets. Compared with relational databases, big data applications offer more scalable storage capacity and processing. They also allow many different types of data to be stored in one place, so compliance staff spend less time gathering information from disparate sources. Most important, they can greatly expand the range and scope of information available for KYC and suspicious transaction investigations.
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is a way of securely organizing data on a peer-to-peer network of computers. In a blockchain, which is a type of DLT, data modifications, such as transactions, are recorded in time-stamped blocks. Each block is connected to previous blocks, forming a chain. Modifications are confirmed and stored by all users on the network, which makes the ledger difficult to tamper with. Although blockchain technology is most commonly associated with virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, the basic technology has a number of other potential use cases, including uses in regulatory compliance. In particular, DLT may be used for securely storing and sharing KYC information, as well as for cheaper and more secure international payments.
Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI) are unique alphanumeric identifiers, like barcodes, that connect to reference datasets held in a public database. Any legal entity that makes financial transactions or enters into contracts may request an LEI. In many countries, especially developed ones, LEIs are increasingly mandated by regulation. To date, more than 1 million LEIs have been issued worldwide. By serving as common identifiers, LEIs can enable different platforms, organizational units, and institutions to refer to entities clearly and without any ambiguity. This interoperability can, in turn, facilitate greater automation and information sharing. A further extension of the LEI would be to include it in payment messages to identify originators and beneficiaries, which would further enhance the transparency of international payments.
This important study comes ahead of the Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris – set for next week.
“In the face of de-risking, both the public and private sector have tried to find ways to lower the compliance burden without lowering standards,” said Ramachandran. “Our study finds that Regtech may be the solution to some de-risking woes. But for this to work, policymakers need to invest time in understanding how these technologies work, and what their benefits and limitations may be.”
You can read the full report at https://www.cgdev.org/reader/fixing-aml-can-new-technology-help-address-de-risking-dilemma.
Even while policy solutions to address de-risking are being implemented, new technologies have emerged to address de-risking by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions.
IFC Spokesman Frederick Jones has replied to our blog on the IFC’s risk appetite. First off, thanks to Fred and the IFC for replying. The Corporation has a unique role to play in global development finance and we’re keen for that role to grow, so we’re happy that the report has generated so much conversation about IFC’s portfolio, both within and outside IFC. And second, we commend IFC for its plans to do more in poor countries and those that are classified as fragile states—it is where the Corporation can have the most impact and where it is most needed.
Since the publication of our paper on the IFC’s project portfolio last week, we have received several helpful comments from readers. They plausibly suggest that the portfolio may be (even) less risky than we suggested, with even more space to pivot towards the low income countries where the IFC can make the most difference. But until the IFC publishes more information, we won’t really know.
The IFC is designed to catalyze investments in countries that investors might consider too risky to invest in alone. But our recent analysis of IFC’s portfolio found that it is shying away from risky investments, raising serious questions about whether the IFC is focusing on the places where it can make the most difference.
January 12, 2014 marks the fourth anniversary of the massive quake in Haiti that left over 200,000 people dead and several million people homeless. The response from rich countries was overwhelming—over $9 billion was disbursed towards relief and reconstruction efforts ($3 billion from the United States, an estimated $3 billion in private contributions, and another $3 billion from foreign governments).
January 12 will mark the third anniversary of the tragic Haiti earthquake that killed over 220,000 people, displaced millions, and flattened much of Port au Prince. Damage and losses estimated at $7.8 billion exceeded Haiti’s entire GDP at the time. The country received unprecedented support in response: more than $9 billion has been disbursed to Haiti in public and private funding since 2010. Private donations alone reached $3 billion, much of it from individuals donating small sums via text messages to the Red Cross and other charities. Official donors tripled their assistance from 2009; in 2010 aid flows were 400 percent of the Haitian government’s domestic revenue.
Development Finance Institutions (DFIs)—which provide financing to private investors in developing economies—have seen rapid expansion over the past few years. This paper describes and analyses a new dataset covering the five largest bilateral DFIs alongside the IFC which includes project amounts, standardized sectors, instruments, and countries. The aim is to establish the size and scope of DFIs and to compare and contrast them with the IFC.
Last month, the Indian Express reported that India might not accept aid from the United Kingdom after April 2011. India has been the largest single recipient of British aid, receiving more than €800m (about $1.25b) since 2008. This announcement is perhaps symbolic of the fine line that India is walking between being a “developed” and “developing” country. It is the eleventh largest economy in the world, growing 8-9% annually. But it is also home to one-third of the world’s poor—there are more poor people in India than in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Nonetheless, over the past decade, India has quietly transitioned to a donor country, emerging on the world stage as a significant provider of development assistance.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New dataset identifies reports of 1,673 Chinese-backed projects in 50 countries in Africa over past decade
Washington, D.C. (April 29, 2013) - How much aid does China give Africa? Does it complement or undermine the aid from the United States and other Western donors? China releases little information and outside estimates vary widely. A novel approach to studying Chinese aid flows that relies on a database of media reports may offer fresh insights.
One initial result: Chinese official development finance to Africa seems to be roughly similar in size to the finance provided by the United States.
The new estimates come from a database compiled by AidData-- a partnership between the College of William and Mary, Brigham Young University, and Development Gateway – and a joint paper, China’s Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection, released this week by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in Washington, DC.
The database draws upon thousands of news reports on Chinese-backed projects in Africa from 2000 to 2011. It includes information on 1,673 official projects in 50 African countries, of which 1,422 have reached the commitment, implementation, or completion stage. All this amounts to a total of $75 billion in reported commitments of official finance during that period.
“Definitions matter a lot when trying to measure China’s aid to Africa,” says CGD senior fellow Vijaya Ramachandran, an expert on private sector development in Africa and a co-author of the new paper. “There is a huge debate about what should be counted as aid and what should not.”
Further complicating matters, Chinese package financing often brings together agreements that mix aid, investment, export credits, and both concessional and non-concessional financing. Chinese state-owned enterprises also blur the line between official government finance and private flows.
Estimates of total Chinese financial assistance to the region range from less than a billion dollars to more than $67 billion (for Exim Bank credits). Deborah Brautigam, considered by many to be the leading authority on Chinese foreign assistance to Africa, recently estimated 2007 official development assistance (ODA) from China at $1.4 billion.
The new AidData - CGD study counts as “official finance” two types of assistance:
Official Development Assistance or ODA – concessional finance, mainly grants and loans, provided by official Chinese sources and aimed at the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries. This aid largely meets the definition of ODA used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and
Other Official Finance or OOF – other bilateral transactions from Chinese government entities (excluding investments and military aid).
Using these definitions, the study finds that China’s ODA + OOF combined was roughly equal to that of the United States from 2000 to 2011, varying from a low of about $2 billion per year at the start of the period to a peak of about $17 billion in 2006. (See chart for a comparison of China’s official finance with comparable flows from the United States and all members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC)).
By comparison, US ODA + OOF to the region has averaged about $9 - $11 billion a year in recent years. This rough comparison is useful, but just the start, say the authors.
"We are not claiming that the database is fully comprehensive,” says Bradley Parks, co-executive director of AidData and a co-author of the CGD paper. “We understand that some projects may not get picked up by the media. However, if we want to make sense of the competing claims made about Chinese 'aid' to Africa, we need higher-resolution data that are collected in a transparent, systematic, and replicable manner.”
Media contact for CGD:Catherine An(202) email@example.comMedia contact for AidData:Suzannah Dunbar(614)-firstname.lastname@example.org
Further analysis of the media reports of Chinese-backed projects may eventually yield insights into such controversial questions as to what extent Chinese assistance to the region is focused on natural resource extraction, and whether Chinese activities complement or compete with assistance from other donors.
The full dataset is being released online at china.aiddata.org with an explanation of AidData’s media-based data collection methodology, an interactive map to view reported projects by country and project type, and a tool for users to add information about specific projects.
“We hope to tap into a wisdom-of-crowds effect and enlist the support of scholars, journalists, and members of civil society to help make the data more comprehensive and precise," Parks adds.
The paper and new database will be launched at the Center for Global Development on Monday, April 29 at 4 pm.
AidData is a development research and innovation lab that seeks to make aid information more accessible and actionable. AidData tracks more than $5.5 trillion dollars from 90 donor agencies, undertakes cutting-edge research on aid distribution and impact, oversees efforts to geocode and crowdsource aid information, and develops web and mobile applications and custom data solutions for development finance institutions.
The Center for Global Development works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all. A nimble, independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank, CGD combines world-class research with policy analysis and innovative communications to turn ideas into action.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.
Last week we published a new paper, Can Africa Be A Manufacturing Destination?, that highlights the persistence of high labor costs in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This led to a lively debate on Twitter, initiated by Chris Blattman at the University of Chicago.