Reflections on the Impact of Financial Services

In the past decade, we have seen the proliferation of research on how financial services can improve the lives of low-income people. While they provided valuable insights, these studies tended to focus on microcredit or a single financial product, such as savings or mobile money. As a result, an overly simplistic and product-focused story has emerged. Recognizing the need for a more nuanced but clearer impact narrative, CGAP has focused on synthesizing existing evidence, identifying knowledge gaps and articulating a theory of change that proposes the potential pathways through which the use of financial services helps poor people build resilience and seize opportunities.

CGAP Blog Series

A microentrepreneur shows her handiwork in Mexico.  Photo: Francisco Javier Soto Plascencia, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest
A microentrepreneur shows her handiwork in Mexico. Photo: Francisco Javier Soto Plascencia, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

Impact and Evidence in Financial Inclusion: Taking Stock

Whether and how financial services improve the lives of low-income people remains the subject of intense debate despite decades of evidence-gathering. The evidence to date appears mixed and often contradictory. As a result, different factions in the international development community argue strenuously either in favor of, or against, prioritizing the expansion of financial services among the poor. All cite existing evidence.

In this blog series, we will explore recent efforts to synthesize evidence on the impact of financial inclusion, share our perspective on emerging narratives like financial health, examine how measuring access and use has been necessary but not sufficient for the impact story, discuss whether we are using the right definition and metrics to capture well-being, and discuss CGAP’s current efforts to update the impact narrative.

Additional Resources


This paper proposes that the accumulating body of evidence supports policy makers’ assessments that developing inclusive financial systems is an important component for economic and social progress on the development agenda.

This paper reviews the main results from randomized evaluations that measure the impact of microcredit and microsavings on business investment and creation, consumption, and household well-being. It also presents evidence from evaluations of products and delivery design and discusses the evidence on microinsurance products.

This Brief looks at the monitoring and assessment tools the microfinance industry uses to measure elements of social performance such as client poverty levels.