The Global Financial Inclusion Indicators: An Important Step towards Measuring Access to Finance


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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.

This work will be an essential complement to recent progress that has been made in collecting supply-side information on financial access from regulators and other country surveys. Supply-side data tell us how many accounts exist (see, for example, CGAP’s Financial Access 2010 and IMF’s Financial Access Survey), but leave us guessing about the precise number of individuals with a bank account. On the demand side (i.e., data from households or individuals), few surveys exist and there are problems with cross-country comparability between data sets. This new initiative will help us better understand how the world’s population—particularly the poor, women, and other disadvantaged groups—save, borrow, and make payments.

Some preliminary work conducted by Gallup already provides a sneak preview on financial inclusion in low-income countries. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa only 19 percent of adults have bank accounts on average. However, there is a lot of variation within the region—49 percent of South Africans have a bank account as compared to 1 percent in Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Once we have this data in hand, we’ll be able to provide much more robust answers to a series of pressing questions, namely:

  • What percentage of the poor, women, and other disadvantaged groups has a bank account?
  • How often do these groups resort to borrowing money from informal money lenders?
  • Do they buy life or health insurance?
  • What are the reasons that prevent them from using formal financial institutions?

We hope the answers can help guide solutions to increasing financial inclusion throughout the world. Please stay tuned for more.

Further Reading:

World Bank Policy, 2008. Finance for All: Policies and Pitfalls in Expanding Access, World Bank: Washington, D.C.

Few in Sub Saharan Africa have money in a Bank,” Gallup, May 11, 2010.

(Photo caption: A pilot interview carried out in Bangladesh as part of the Global Financial Inclusion Indicators.)

Join the Conversation

Roland Kpodar
November 23, 2010

This is a very interesting and timely project, which will undoubtedly sharpen the research on financial inclusion issues. Currently, the current databases available on financial access seem limited by the number of countries covered and the reliability of the indicators of financial access. To give an example, while the number of loan or deposit accounts per 1,000 people can give an broad idea on the penetration rate of banking services, it does not address the issue of multiple accounts and dormant accounts. What is the share of the population that has a bank account? How many of those having a bank account effectively use financial services? And for what purposes? What are the characteristics of households using financial services?

Addressing these questions requires looking at financial access measurements from the demand side, which is the purpose of this project. The time dimension and the frequency of updates for the new database would be key. One could note the example of the Database on Financial Development and Structure, which has created a breakthrough in the empirical research on financial development due to the wide coverage (both time and country dimension) and regular updates. I note that the database will cover both formal and informal finance. Perhaps, data on innovative ways to foster financial inclusion, such as mobile financial services, could also be useful.


December 09, 2010


Many thanks for your comment. By the way, we just updated the database on Financial Development and Structure. It is available on our website:


Salman Syed Ali
December 05, 2011

I came accorss this page by chance.
Measuring access to finance is indeed an important aspect on which consistent large scale data is not available. This, therfore is very good initiative.

I would like to request that in your surveys add some questions that can shed light on access to Islamic finance. In countries with large Muslim population it is expected that the provision of Islamic financial services may have increased financial inclusion. Has this indeed taken place and to what degree through availability of Islamic financial products and services? This is an important research and plicy question. I hope you will incorporate such evaluation in this project.

Best regards