The following post first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Half the world's adults, approximately 2.5 billion individuals, do not have an account with a formal financial institution. Lack of access to finance is disproportionately skewed towards the poor, women, youth, and rural residents. Defined as the proportion of individuals and firms that use financial services, financial inclusion is increasingly seen as critical for ending extreme poverty and supporting inclusive and sustainable development. It provides people with the tools to invest in themselves by saving for retirement, investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks (Global Financial Development Report, 2014). According to the World Bank Group's newly launched Global Financial Development Report 2014 on Financial Inclusion, most of the unbanked cite barriers such as cost, lack of documentation, distance, lack of trust, or religious reasons.
The following post first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Financial inclusion is a topic of increasing interest on the international policy agenda. Last week the Universal Postal Union (UPU) hosted the 2013 Global Forum on Financial Inclusion for Development. With over a billion people using the postal sector for savings and deposit accounts and a widespread presence in rural and poor areas, post offices (or “posts”) can play a leading role in advancing financial inclusion. In Brazil more than 10 million bank accounts were opened between 2002 and 2011 after the post established Banco Postal in partnership with an existing financial institution. However, leveraging the large physical network of the post is not without challenges. Posts generally have little or no expertise in running a bank and the business model that a government pursues in providing financial services through the postal network may be critical to its success.
The issue of financial inclusion seems to be everywhere – from the World Bank Annual Meetings to the new UN post-2015 development goals. It’s got buzz in the private sector, public sector and development organizations big and small. Policymakers are increasingly making financial inclusion a priority through specific financial inclusion targets and commitments, such as the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Maya Declaration. In fact, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim recently launched an initiative “to provide universal financial access to all working-age adults by 2020.”
As we know from the Global Findex, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to even a basic bank account — a huge gap in inclusion and an enormous opportunity. Demographic changes, economic growth and advances in technology are making global financial inclusion more possible than ever before. With a massive new market of people demanding new services as incomes rise among the bottom 40 percent, the stage is set for dramatic leaps in access in the next few years. Emerging technologies are bringing down costs and opening new business models while providing greater access to a range of services.
Recognizing that the time is ripe for significant progress on financial inclusion, the Center for Financial Inclusion developed a consultative process aimed to raise everyone's sights about the possibilities of achieving full inclusion within a foreseeable timeframe – using the year 2020 as a focal point. The process sought to build a more cohesive financial inclusion “community” through the development of a common vision. It brought together experts from the World Bank, IFC and CGAP along with many representatives of the private sector and the social sector. Financial Inclusion 2020’s Roadmap to Financial Inclusion is the result.
President Jim Yong Kim outlined his plan for a leaner, more efficient and tightly knit World Bank Group in his opening address at the Annual Meetings — and listed several ways changes would be visible to countries working with the institution. Among them: reducing by a third the amount of time a project takes to get off the ground; gathering feedback from all beneficiaries on development projects; and openly sharing knowledge and experience, including making it easy to see exactly where the Bank is working and what it is doing. “Together, we must urgently lift a billion people from extreme poverty, help them to regain dignity, help them find hope, and help them change their own lives — and the whole world’s future — for the better,” said Kim. The Development Committee discusses the Bank Group’s new strategy on Saturday.
An excited crowd greeted Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old whose fight for girls’ education earned her the European Union’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination this year. In an often humorous, sometimes touching conversation with President Kim and young people in the audience on International Day of the Girl, Malala talked about her life before and after an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Her cause, education, is the best way to fight poverty and should be the top priority of development institutions, she said. “I believe that when we work together, that it’s really easy for us to achieve our goals,” she said. Kim pledged $200,000 to the Malala Fund on behalf of the World Bank. Replay the webcast and read our Youthink blog.
Financial Inclusion Commitments through the Maya Declaration, the G20 Peer Learning Program, and the Better Than Cash Alliance.
Today at 2 o’clock in the Preston Auditorium, Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank Group – along with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development – will challenge the global community to focus on transformational change in the level and quality of financial inclusion.
Why financial inclusion? Because it is an enabler for poverty reduction and shared prosperity, as has been recognized by the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Progress in tackling financial exclusion can be accelerated through the current global wave of nation-by-nation financial inclusion targets and commitments; through improved data availability; and through transformative business models for providing financial services.
Madame Ngetsi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of thousands of women in the world who—despite their talent, drive, and potential to contribute to the economic development of their countries—may never be able to fulfill their dreams of starting their own businesses. Their dreams may be dashed because of outdated legislation that reproduces debilitating gender roles.
If she were a man in the DRC, Madame Ngetsi’s initial steps in starting her business would be to obtain a certificate confirming the headquarters location, notarize the articles of association, and register with the Commercial Registry. As a woman, however, a significant roadblock stands in her way: She is legally mandated to first obtain her husband’s permission to register a business. This legal requirement, found in the family code rather than in any commercial or business code, is fully in effect in the DRC. Permission letters are readily found on file at women-owned company registries. Married men face no such requirement.
‘Imagine you have a lot of mangoes on your farm and your neighbor has lots of tomatoes. You make a bargain and he says he will give you three tomatoes for every mango you give him. If you give him fourteen mangoes, how many tomatoes do you expect him to give back to you?’
This question, amongst others, has been asked in the 2009 and 2011 Kenya FinAccess surveys. If you got the answer to this question right (see end of the blog for the correct answer), congratulations! It may be an indication that you are financially literate. Or would you rather be financially capable? ‘Financial Literacy’ and ‘Financial Capability’ are two terms many have heard about and usually they are used interchangeably. However, in a recent World Bank publication, which tries to ‘Make Sense of Financial Capability Surveys around the World’, the authors (Perotti, Zottel, Iarossi, and Bolaji-Adio) reviewed key approaches to measure financial literacy and capability. In doing so, they identified Financial Literacy to be often associated with financial knowledge.
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).
Financial Inclusion advocate Queen Maxima pushed the FATF to consider financial inclusion (Credit: Haags Uitburo)
Monarchs seem mostly untroubled by financial concerns, but Queen Maxima of the Netherlands has made the workings and regulations of those excluded from the formal banking sector a personal issue. Queen Maxima recently attended a plenary meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - the first reigning Queen to be present at such a gathering, in order to raise concerns and bring change on a subject that has become a passion for her – and the World Bank Group: financial inclusion. Queen Maxima is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. In this role, she had already called on the FATF to pay more attention to financial inclusion, and how it relates to financial integrity. In June 2010, at the initiative of the then Dutch Presidency of the FATF, the then Princess Maxima pressed a reluctant FATF plenary in Amsterdam to recognize how ill-designed financial integrity requirements affect financial inclusion by keeping people outside the formal banking sector, and how this can raise the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing.
Does everyone need financial education? (Credit: Bill Ruhsam, Flickr)
I am not at all sure I could live on a few dollars a day. Why would I think that those who do need financial education? Yet in any meeting or conference on financial inclusion, someone will clamor for financially educating the poor and all will readily nod. Please allow me to side-step the substance of the issue, for I have no new empirical evidence to bring to the table either way. What I find curious is why the idea that poor people are lacking essential financial literacy skills is so prevalent among the non-poor. Let me propose five reasons.
1. The poor mis-spend
Who hasn’t wondered why it is you can find Coke bottles in the poorest communities in developing countries? Who hasn’t had a pang of doubt upon seeing reams of shiny bags of candy hanging from the shabbiest stalls in the remotest villages? And you’re thinking: my parents didn’t buy me this stuff! Well, it might be because your parents had plenty of other ways to reward you and each other. Think toys, ski trips, family outing to a restaurant, gifts, etc. Next to these things, splurging one day on some candy and a Coke seems downright meaningless. But for many it might be the easiest way to create magical family moments, to transcend a dreary daily routine. If it helps keep the family going and united, it might be a bargain. We musn’t pass judgment on how the poor spend their money, for we cannot imagine the job that they are ‘hiring’ those seemingly superfluous products to fulfill.