Also available in: Tiếng Việt
It’s nighttime and the streets are bustling in Vietnam’s cities and towns. Buoyed by years of strong growth, the country has a burgeoning middle class with purchasing power to sustain restaurants and cafes, full and open late into the night, busy retailers and a high penetration of mobile phones – more than one per person. The economy, however, continues to run on cash and a majority of adults still don’t have formal financial services such as a basic transaction account. Moving to a “non-cash” system is a priority for the government to increase efficiency, promote business and economic development and reduce poverty including in remote rural areas where traditional financial providers have difficulty reaching.
Since 2016 the State Bank of Vietnam, the country’s central bank, has been partnering with the World Bank Group on a comprehensive approach to financial inclusion which will result in a national financial inclusion strategy. While still in development, several key elements of the strategy are clear: a focus on digital finance including shifts in government payments to digital products and platforms; providing financial services to rural and agricultural communities and ethnic minorities, where growth has lagged and poverty rates are above the national average; and strengthening consumer protection and financial education so that the next generation of consumers are prepared for a modern financial marketplace.
Photo Credit: Women’s World Banking
Two years ago, Visa announced a commitment, alongside other organizations, to provide financial access to 500 million unbanked adults as part of the World Bank Group’s goal of achieving Universal Financial Access (UFA) by 2020. It’s widely reported that —no bank or savings account, no formal way to store or send money, no basic financial tools to manage life or business or help to generate income.
There was no doubt in our minds that Visa had a role to play, given the reach of our payments network and the fact that facilitating the issuance of digital payment accounts is our core business. What was not as clear was how much our efforts would need to factor in changes to strategy in order to ensure the kind of accounts people are receiving hit their mark in terms of usage and provided a genuine pathway to full financial inclusion.
If you’ve opened a bank account in the last few years, you likely had to answer a bunch of more or less intrusive questions about yourself, your background and why you wanted to open the account. Annoying, but part and parcel of Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“AML/CFT”) rules that all banks, in all parts of the world, are subject to.
The ostensible purpose is to enable banks to prevent bad actors using the financial system to launder their funds and, where bad actors are not identified at entry, to detect any suspicious financial activity and provide appropriate background to competent authorities. (Whether they are successful in this endeavour is another question.)
More recently large international banks have been upping the ante and have started to disengage altogether from clients from certain geographical regions or certain sectors because they consider the AML/CFT risks too great- a development known as “de-risking”. Often the business lines or countries exited are those that aren’t particularly profitable; the argument being that only a substantial profit margin justifies taking a larger than average risk. The amount of due diligence to be conducted on a customer cuts into that profit margin and the higher the perceived risk of that customer, the more the due diligence, the lower the profit.
One of the sectors particularly affected are non-profit organizations (NPOs). This is an unfortunate consequence of the mistaken and remarkably persistent idea that all NPOs pose a high AML/CFT risk. According to a report published earlier this month by the Charity and Security Network, two-thirds of U.S.-based NPOs working abroad are facing problems accessing financial services. Apart from account closures and account refusals, these also include delays in wire transfers and increased fees.
As a result of these delays, they are sometimes forced to move money through less transparent, traceable, and safe channels. The prevalence and types of problems vary by program area, with NPOs working in peace operations/peacebuilding, public health, development/ poverty reduction, human rights/ democracy building, and humanitarian relief reporting the greatest difficulties. One NPO was prevented from sending immediate relief to the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar in the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis. Timely transmittal of those funds might have saved lives, the charity’s director explained.
National financial inclusion targets, better data availability, and transformative business models to provide financial services are helping to accelerate financial inclusion across the globe and in Asia – where more than a billion of unbanked people live.
Countries set national financial inclusion goals to increase the pace and impact of reforms. For this to be effective, it’s critical to have in place a robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system to track progress, identify obstacles, and demonstrate success. However, it’s often difficult to evaluate and track the extent and quality of the national financial inclusion strategy implementation, and to aggregate the results of multiple actions at the national level.
The Philippines has adopted a fresh approach to this challenge by designing a comprehensive M&E system that will report on headline and national-level indicators, as well as track progress of the regional and program-level performance indicators.
The Philippines is one of the 25 countries that are part of the World Bank Group’s Universal Financial Access 2020 initiative, whose goal is to provide access to a transaction account to the 2 billion unbanked people worldwide.
Between 2011 and 2014, . This resulted in some 2.7 million adults gaining access to formal financial services. Potential demand is significant, considering that an estimated 10 million Filipinos keep savings outside of the formal financial system.
Last month, I traveled to Mexico to attend the launch of the country’s national financial inclusion policy.
The launch was an important milestone for the country, since just 44% of adults have access to a financial account, according to Mexico’s latest national survey on financial inclusion. The policy outlines a vision of how to extend access to formal financial services to the unbanked half of the population, and provides a roadmap for how to get there.
Worldwide, there are 2 billion unbanked adults and the international development community considers financial inclusion necessary to reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
Mexico accounts for 2.6% of that global number. The country is also among the 25 countries the World Bank Group and partners have prioritized in the Universal Financial Access by 2020 initiative. The goal of this initiative is to enable access to a transaction account to store money, and send and receive payments by adults who are not a part of the formal financial system.
Interoperability was a trending topic at this week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016.
Getting payment products to “understand” each other, or to be “interoperable,” is a big challenge to solve if we want to expand overall digital services and financially include the 2 billion people worldwide who are currently excluded from the formal financial system.
Making it easy for people to access transaction accounts and payment services matters.
We see interoperability as a means for people worldwide to make electronic payments in a convenient, affordable, fast, seamless and secure way through a transaction account.
When payment systems are interoperable, they allow two or more proprietary platforms or even different products to interact seamlessly. Interoperability can promote competition, reduce fixed costs and enable economies of scale that help ensure the financial viability of the service and make payment services more convenient.
Financial products must be adapted to women’s needs, like enabling them to open their own account or improving their financial literacy. Photograph: World Bank Photo Collection
Two billion people worldwide still lack access to regulated financial services. Despite significant progress and the increased technical and financial resources devoted to financial inclusion, much work remains ahead.
There is broad consensus that access to a transaction account can help people better manage their life and plan for emergencies.
But financial access and the underlying financial infrastructure taken for granted in rich countries, such as savings accounts, debit cards or credit as well as the payment systems on which they operate, still aren’t available to many people in developing countries. This past September, I participated in the Global Policy Forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) held in Mozambique. This annual meeting convened policymakers, the private sector and other stakeholders to assume new commitments, discuss best practices and agree on the way forward.
How can financial inclusion and financial integrity policies complement each other? That question was addressed in a report recently released looking at the state of Ethiopia’s anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework.
The assessment was conducted by a World Bank Group team of experts and published by the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). This is the first assessment of a developing country to be published that uses the revised 2012 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards.
Ethiopia’s compliance with the international standards on AML/CFT had never been assessed before, and this report sheds light on the functioning of a unique and vibrant economy in Africa. In addition, this is the first AML/CFT assessment to highlight the connection between financial inclusion and financial integrity policies.
As noted in an earlier blog post, entitled "The Royal Stamp of Inclusion," the FATF has confirmed that financial inclusion and financial integrity are mutually reinforcing public-policy objectives. The revised FATF standards have a more explicit focus on the risk-based approach in implementing an AML/CFT framework. This approach allows for the identification of lower risk scenarios and the application of simplified AML/CFT measures in certain areas (primarily customer due diligence, or CDD).
The Ethiopia assessment notes that only about 28 percent of the population is served by the formal financial system – leaving 72 percent of the population dependent on cash or informal financial service providers. The Ethiopian government has identified the expansion of formal financial services as a national priority, through its “Growth and Transformation Plan” and the “Ethiopian Financial Inclusion Project.”
The assessment makes suggestions as to how the Ethiopian authorities can “link up” the policies of inclusion and integrity – for example, by allowing for simplified customer due diligence processes, and by providing guidance to financial institutions on the issue.
A few weeks ago, the results of the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) module on financial literacy were revealed, with Shanghai taking top honors in this category – just as it has in the last two rounds (in 2009 and 2012) on the traditional academic curriculum (reading, math and science).
This is no coincidence, as the OECD results and many other studies suggest a close relationship between education levels and academic performance in math and reading comprehension and scores on financial literacy tests.
In the PISA report, the correlation coefficients between financial literacy scores and performance in mathematics and reading were 0.83 and 0.79 respectively across 13 OECD countries in the survey sample. For high performers like Shanghai and New Zealand, these correlations were even stronger: 0.88 for mathematics, 0.86 for reading.
While waiting for general improvement in academic performance is one path to improved financial literacy, the urgency of addressing financial skills for today’s youth has led many educators and policymakers to look for more immediate steps that can be taken, including financial education interventions at school. The PISA results, however, don’t include an assessment of the value of possible financial literacy curricula, due to the “limited and uneven provision of financial education in schools.” That factor makes comparisons across countries difficult, as described in the report.
Recent evaluations of a number of worldwide financial education programs reported widely varied outcomes. While some found evidence of effectiveness, others reported mixed or no evidence. Yet an increasing number of developing countries are putting financial education strategies in place or are expanding financial education programs. The quality of design of such strategies and programs is therefore crucial.
Financial education programs can be ad hoc targeted interventions, aimed at addressing specific financial education gaps, or they can be more comprehensive approaches through financial education or literacy strategies that aim to address a number of priorities. Regardless of the approach – which depends on the local context – financial education programs have a higher likelihood of greater positive impact if they are based on reliable diagnostic tools and focused on clearly defined and sequenced priorities.
Over the past two years, the Financial Inclusion and Consumer Protection team at the World Bank Group has conducted substantial technical and diagnostic work in the area of responsible finance. For example, we have developed methodologies for financial capability surveys and impact evaluation, and we have conducted a series of diagnostic reviews in the area of consumer protection and financial literacy on a global scale.