Financial Access Initiative

The Financial Access Initiative (FAI) is a research center working at the intersection of financial inclusion, development, and poverty. We focus on exploring how financial services can better meet the needs and improve the lives of poor households.

FAI is housed at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. The center 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.

Our Mission

Over the last decade, millions of people have gained access to formal financial tools and services. But big gaps remain, and disadvantaged communities in both 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.

Our Impact

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.

Today, we advance 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.
  • A series of virtual discussions on financial inclusion
  • An ongoing body of work that generates new ideas and reveals new dimensions of financial inclusion and poverty, such as our paper Rethinking Poverty, Household Finance, and Microfinance.

Read more about other FAI projects.


Jonathan Morduch, Founder and Executive Director



Twitter: @financialaccess