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.
Can Islamic Microfinance give more people access to the financial services they need to grow their business? (Credit: DFID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Research has shown that financial sector development and the efficiency of financial systems are closely linked to economic growth. Ensuring the provision of financial services to the poor can also address the challenge of poverty alleviation and directly target financing towards economically and socially underprivileged groups. Appropriate financial services, such as savings services, investment, insurance, and payment and money transfer facilities, enable the poor to acquire capital to engage in productive ventures, manage risks, increase their income and savings, and escape poverty.
We have just released a Migration and Development brief prepared by our colleagues Jose Anson and Nils Clotteau of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) based in Berne, Switzerland. There are an estimated 660,000 post offices in the world, larger than all bank branches combined. In this brief, Jose and Nils explore the role that postal networks can play in providing money transfers (remittances) and basic financial services to low-income people living in developing countries, in particular those in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The New York Times published an opinion piece on diaspora bonds over the weekend. In this piece, Ngozi and I highlight the potential for mobilizing diaspora wealth for financing infrastructure investments in Africa and other developing regions.
At a time when donor countries are facing fiscal difficulties, new sources of funding and innovative ways to leverage available donor funding are required for meeting the financing needs in developing countries. Indeed, innovative mechanisms for channeling investments to dynamic developing countries may even provide a way out of weak demand and excess capacity prevailing currently in the developed countries. As highlighted by Justin Lin, "a global push for investment along the line of Keynesian stimulus is the key for a sustained global recovery; however, the stimulus needs to go beyond the traditional Keynesian investment....By far the greatest opportunities for productivity-enhancing investments are in developing countries..." (see here ).
For 20 years, BP Agrawal led research and development at such companies as General Dynamics, ITT, GTE, and Hughes, helping take new technologies from lab to marketplace. US-based Agrawal and his diaspora peer had a number of discussions on how they can make an impact in home country (India), and concluded that it is not their financial contributions that would make a difference but rather new commercial models of public service provision. In 2006, he won Development Marketplace awards for River from the Sky, a system of community water provision in draught-stricken areas and in 2007 for, Clinics for Mass Care, a system of mobile, kiosk-based clinics.
Recognition of the poor as a major market opportunity has produced bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation, the hallmark of which is global search for home-grown solutions. Diaspora members are natural vehicles for both global search and diffusion in the local context. In reality, diffusion is all that matters. Thanks to Agrawal’ patience, perseverance and persistence, he was able to enter into partnership with a local government which significantly speeded up the diffusion.
The United States has recently signed separate Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with El Salvador and Honduras to assist them in securitizing their future remittance receipts to raise financing for infrastructure and development projects. Under the Building Remittance Investment for Development, Growth, and Entrepreneurship (BRIDGE) initiative, banks in these countries will leverage their future remittance receipts to raise lower-cost and longer-term financing in international capital markets to fund infrastructure, public works, and commercial development initiatives (see press release).
In a speech in New York City on September 22, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained how BRIDGE would work to raise critically needed development funding:
“…Now, if they [migrants] send these remittances through the formal financial system, they create huge funding flows that are orders of magnitude larger than any development assistance we can dream of. By harnessing the potential of remittances, BRIDGE will make it easier for communities in El Salvador and Honduras to get the financing they need to build roads and bridges, for example, to support entrepreneurs, to make loans, to bring more people into the financial system…..Through BRIDGE and its in-country partners, local banks will be able to leverage their remittance flows….With the leverage from remittances, the local banks will be able to get lower-cost, longer-term financing for investments in infrastructure projects and small businesses.”