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 variation in investment among developing countries is truly remarkable. Over the course of the 30-year period between 1980--2010---a period of relative calm in the global economy that is often referred to as the "Great Moderation"[*]---the investment rate in developing countries ranged from a whopping 90 percent (Armenia in 1990) to a dismal 1 percent (Liberia in 2003). This variability is more than twice that of variance in economic growth---a topic that has preoccupied many more generations of researchers---and much of this variability stems from the developing world.
The countries of Europe and Central Asia have made undeniable, if uneven, progress in expanding financial inclusion in recent years. The well-developed microfinance industry and relatively widespread use of wage accounts in some countries are signs of success, though low savings rates and high levels of mistrust in the formal financial sector signal that much work remains to be done. The exclusion from the formal financial system of more than 175 million adults—disproportionately located in Central Asia—presents particularly difficult challenge for policy makers in the region. Our recently published Findex note takes an in-depth look at financial inclusion in the ECA region.
After 25,000 interviews in 23 ECA economies, a subset of the larger Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database , we now know that 45 percent of adults in that region have an account at a formal financial institution. This is on par with the rest of the developing world. But of course we know that there is more to financial inclusion than account ownership, it is equally important to have data on how accounts – and other basic financial tools - are used. Account holders in ECA are much more likely to use their account to receive wages or government payments, as compared to account holders in the rest of the developing world (77 percent vs. 41 percent). This is an interesting insight as to what mechanisms are already working to engage adults with formal financial systems, and something to keep in mind when we think about how to move forward.
Ninety years ago, in his A Tract on Monetary Reform Keynes famously wrote “In the long run we are all dead”. That observation recently stirred a lot of debate for all the wrong reasons, after Niall Ferguson obnoxiously claimed that Keynes did not care about the future because he was childless. Whether Keynes cared about the long-term future or not (and whether he had children or not) is completely irrelevant in this context, as many (e.g. Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman) have pointed out.
The actual context in which Keynes wrote this observation was a discussion about the quantity theory of money, which states that doubling the supply of money will only double the prices, but will have no consequences for other parts of the economy. This is the classical dichotomy between real and nominal variables. Keynes argued: “Now in the long run this is probably true”. But “In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.” So, Keynes’ point was obviously not that the future doesn’t matter. His point was that simple theories that might describe long-term relationships are just not good enough to deal with current issues. In the short run, changes in money supply can have all kinds of important consequences beyond the price levels. Economists will have to make their hands dirty and delve into the complicated dynamics of the here and now.
The financial crises of the last three decades have spurred a very large interest on international capital flows. Although most of the work in the topic has concentrated on the behavior of net capital flows, much less is known about the behavior of gross capital flows (the difference between capital inflows by foreigners and capital outflows by domestic agents).
The overwhelming focus on net flows represents a serious shortcoming because gross flow are much larger and much more volatile than net flows, and their size and volatility have been growing substantially faster, as we discuss in a recently published paper and Vox column (Broner et al., 2013a and b).
It is time to shift the attention from net capital flows to gross capital flows.
- Financial Sector