As a non-profit and independent organisation, we offer scientifically grounded interdisciplinary research, consulting, software, and exchange formats geared toward a fair participation in the financial system for all groups of the population thus contributing to social fairness and equity.
Already since 1987 has the Institute for Responsible Finance (iff) been contributing to a socially responsible financial system and fair participation through independent research, consultancy services for consumer protection organizations, foundations and political actors as well as financial service providers. Our annual conference promotes the exchange of ideas and opinions between different stakeholders. Our debt consulting software CAWIN serves to support the work of debt counselling agencies.
Taking the perspective of (vulnerable) consumers, the iff examines the development of innovative financial services with a view to solutions which are both socially acceptable and sustainable. We help detecting deficits in the financial system at an early stage, analyse and process them for the society, media and politics. Based on the results of our analysis we suggest solutions which are both consumer-oriented and feasible.
In order to promote a dialogue between different stakeholders, we do not only approach consumer associations and debt counselling agencies but also political actors, foundations and financial service providers.
Our research as well as counselling activities address a broad range of topics. With respect to consumer protection these topics involve issues of debtor protection, access to law and law enforcement, consumer information, financial literacy, market failure, access to liquidity as well as sustainability. Our focus is directed at net benefits of financial services for vulnerable consumers in Germany, in Europe but also in developing and emerging economies. Of particular interest in this regard are the provision for old age, the payment system but also potential risks of over-indebtedness involved in the use of various financial services. We also take into consideration financing of small and very small firms since the link between the owners of those firms and their households are very close.
We provide debt counselling agencies, public organisations as well as law offices with the debtor and insolvency counselling software CAWIN which is technically mature and well-adjusted to the respective legal and technical requirements. The software is accompanied by a special training directed at enabling debt counsellors to support their over-indebted clients as best as possible in handling their current situation as well as in finding ways leading them out of over-indebtedness.
- Development and evaluation of tools for financial literacy, of German and European regulatory and supervisory legal instruments, and finally of instruments promoting financial European cooperation
- Further education and information services for debt counselling agencies, consumer-protection associations and advocates
- Advisory activity for consumer organisations and financial service providers with a focus on bank law, capital market law, real estate law, insurance law, anti-discrimination law and, finally, consumer protection law in general
- CAWIN (Software for debt counselling agencies)
- Public relations work through press releases, blog contributions and interview requests
- Conferences (annual conference on financial services bringing together different stakeholders, especially financial service providers, associations, politics, science, foundations)
- Small formats for subject-specific exchange
- We conduct independent research “. Our funding is based on revenues from our services and products; we do not receive public funding. Projects are conducted by order of ministries on both the federal and state level, European Commission, foundations and associations (among others these are Stiftung Deutschland im Plus, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, consumer-protection associations) or financial service providers (among others these are Teambank, HASPA, savings banks). The areas of research and service are exclusively financed by third-party funds, thus ensuring independence from any institutional body.
- Since we are not exposed to bureaucratic restrictions like those prevailing in particular in universities, we are in a position to react flexibly. Project orientation allows a rapid and situational adaptation of the structure to the respective requirements.
- Our focus is directed at consumer interests in fair treatment thus excluding any partisan support of individual interests. Our clear focus is placed on the perspective of consumers. We make sure to involve the respective target groups already at the initial stage of formulating research questions. In this way we avoid overstepping the needs of the practice. Since our target is always the achievement of a maximum net benefit for consumers, structural and social functions of financial services are always at the centre of our research.
- In so doing, we argue in a scientifically grounded, critical and transparent manner. Though the results are guided by consumer interests, they are derived strictly according to well-established scientific methods. Our benchmark are the principles of good scientific practice as formulated by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
- Wemaintainintensivecontact with all relevant stakeholder groups. As members of our association and advisory boards we regularly appoint experts from the supplier side, consumer protection and academia.
- Weprovideexpertiseoncomplexfinancialissuesandfollowaninterdisciplinary approach, thus going beyond a purely monodisciplinary perspective. It is only in this complexity that the impact of the financial services market can be seen and new perspectives opened up.
- Weworkandnetworknationally and internationally in order to use the highest possible level of knowledge and the greatest possible field of experience. Therefore, we have a broad and international network both in Europe and worldwide. We are members of various consumer-protection associations, expert circles of debt counselling agencies and network with further initiatives (e.g. Financial Inclusion Europe, Coalition for the CCD-Proposal). We consider the overcoming of national boundaries as a contribution to equitable social development.
- We encourage the direct exchange of ideas between financial service providers, consumer protection representatives, academics and political actors through an annual conference.
- Science and practice are interlinked. The software CAWIN is constantly being developed. Our technical and scientifically trained staff ensures that this development is based on the latest scientific findings and current technical possibilities. On the other hand, debt counselling agencies which use the software, regularly make their data available for scientific work. In this context, the annual over-indebtedness report of the iff is worth mentioning.
Our work is guided by the firm belief that financial services essentially contribute to increasing social welfare, provided that they are structured such that private households as well as small and above all very small firms are able to
- manage financial risks,
- realize a stable and satisfying living standard over the entire life cycle,
- invest productively,
- avoid financial crises or manage them successfully.
Money ought to be used in a productive manner. The market for financial services is characterized by information asymmetry and power dominance benefitting the supply side. Against this background our work is particularly dedicated to problems of vulnerable groups such as consumers and small or very small firms. These groups regularly have no alternative but borrowing, which deteriorates their market position even further. They should be able to assess and to de facto purchase the offered products according to their suitability.
This does not only promote consumer sovereignty, but also motivates suppliers to create appropriate products. Equal access also implies that vulnerable groups are not faced with higher cost and that they have to bear only those risks which their income allows them to take on. In this respect we strongly advocate minimum standards for financial products. Where no offer above these minimum standards is in fact available, solidarity-based financing mechanisms must create these conditions. In this regard we develop risk-sharing and insurance models. Moreover, the competence of the welfare state remains an important basis for the development of a solidarity-based financial services market.
In a broad sense, we aim at combating poverty and poverty dynamics. In order to achieve this, we advocate consumer protection in the economy. In this respect we develop ideas for the protection of weaker market participants, thus allowing for fair participation in the financial system.
We consider equal access to the entire supply of financial services as an essential element of equal opportunities. Equal access includes “inclusive products” designed to reduce social discrimination through cost adjustment, dissemination and targeting.