Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have increased steadily in recent decades and are estimated to have reached about $32 billion in 2013. Though studies have shown that remittances can affect aggregate financial development in SSA — as measured by the share of deposits or M2 to GDP (Gupta et al. 2009), to my knowledge there is no evidence for this region on the impact of remittances on household financial inclusion defined as the use of financial services. This question is important because there is growing evidence that financial inclusion can have significant beneficial effects for households and individuals. In particular, the literature has found that providing individuals access to savings instruments increases savings, female empowerment, productive investment, and consumption. Furthermore, the topic of financial inclusion has gained importance among international bodies. In May 2013, the UN High-Level Panel presented the recommendations for post-2015 UN Development Goals, which included universal access to financial services as a critical enabler for job creation and equitable growth. In September 2013, the G20 reaffirmed its commitment to financial inclusion as part of its development agenda.
From 2006 to 2009, growth of bank deposits dropped by over 12 percentage points globally. The most affected by the 2008 global crisis were upper middle income countries that experienced a drop of 15 percentage points on average. Individual countries such as Azerbaijan, Botswana, Iceland, and Montenegro switched from deposit growth of 58 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent, and 94 percent in 2007 to deposit declines (or a complete stop in deposit growth) of -2 percent, 1 percent, -1 percent, -8 percent in 2009, respectively.
In times of financial stress, depositors get anxious, can run on banks, and withdraw their deposits (Diamond and Dybvig, 1983). Large depositors are usually the first ones to run (Huang and Ratnovski, 2011). By the law of large numbers, correlated deposit withdrawals could be mitigated if bank deposits are more diversified. Greater diversification of deposits could be achieved by enabling a broader access to and use of bank deposits, i.e. involving a greater share of adult population in the use of bank deposits (financial inclusion). Based on this assumption, broader financial inclusion in bank deposits could significantly improve resilience of banking sector funding and thus overall financial stability (Cull et al., 2012).
In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gives the example of a family in Malawi that improved their lives as the result of a village savings group. We know that access to banks, cooperatives, and microfinance institutions has allowed many adults like the Nasoni family to safely save for the future, invest in an education or insure against risk, but just how widespread is the use of formal financial products worldwide? How do the barriers to access vary across regions? And how do the unbanked manage their finances?
In the past, the view of financial inclusion around the world had been incomplete. With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) Database we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage save, borrow, make payments and manage risk. As cited in the article, the Global Findex data shows that more than 2.5 billion adults around the world don’t have a bank account.
How inclusive are financial systems around the world? What proportion of the population uses which financial services? Despite all the work we have done so far, most of the figures cited by experts in this field are still just estimates (see, for example, here and here). But this is about to change—in a big way.
To help us understand the scope and breadth of financial activity by individuals around the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced an $11 million, 10-year grant to the World Bank’s Development Research Group to build a new publicly accessible database of Global Financial Inclusion Indicators. The ultimate goal of the project is to improve access to finance; achieving this goal requires reliably measuring financial inclusion in a consistent manner over a broad range of countries and over time to provide a solid foundation of data for researchers and policymakers. We will carry out three rounds of data collection, starting with Gallup, Inc’s 2011 Gallup World Poll, which will survey at least 1,000 people per country in 150 countries about their access and use of financial services.