Financial Access Initiative
The Financial Access Initiative (FAI) is a research center working at the intersection of financial inclusion, development, and poverty.
FAI is housed at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and was founded in 2006 by economists Jonathan Morduch (New York University), Dean Karlan (Northwestern University), and Sendhil Mullainathan (University of Chicago). Initial funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Over the last decade, public and private efforts, aided by digital technology, have yielded huge but uneven progress in getting more people access to formal financial tools and services. But gaps still remain—between women and men, urban and rural—and disadvantaged communities in rich and poor countries risk falling further behind. FAI works to close these gaps, by exploring how financial services can better meet the needs and improve the lives of poor households and small businesses.
We generate new evidence; systematize knowledge and communicate lessons about the impact of all types of financial services; and frame policy, regulatory and market issues to make clear the effects and trade-offs of policy choices.
In early years, FAI funded a series of RCTs that reshaped microfinance conversations, including early studies of microcredit impact, and innovative savings and credit products. This led to a series of influential projects, including:
- The Economics of Microfinance, the standard text used in courses for microfinance executives around the world.
- Portfolios of the Poor, a multi-country study of the daily and weekly financial lives of poor households. The resulting book reshaped the financial inclusion field, illuminating volatility as a central issue.
- The US Financial Diaries, a year-long study of 235 households. The study became a book which provided new frameworks for conversations about poverty, inequality, and “good jobs” in the US and other wealthy countries.
We continue to further research and dialogue through:
- The Small Firm Diaries, a 3-year, 7-country global research initiative to better understand the financial lives and barriers to growth of small businesses.
- The Sentinel Project, which tracks how microfinance institutions are reacting to and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The Guaranteed Income in Compton Project, a qualitative assessment of a two-year pilot program for low-income households in Compton, California.
- An ongoing body of work that generates new ideas and reveals new dimensions of financial inclusion and poverty, such as this paper.
Read more about our other projects.
Jonathan Morduch, Founder and Executive Director