As World Bank staff working on financial inclusion, our days revolve around a critical question: what are the most promising ways to improve access to and usage of appropriate financial products for the underserved? A big part of our job is to track the wide range of experiences and learnings from around the world and incorporate them into our work advising policymakers and regulators. We thought it would be useful to share our current thinking, distilled into a list of the top eight approaches to accelerate financial inclusion. This list is from a policymaker perspective, and takes into account the fact that policymakers play a multi-faceted role in financial inclusion, balancing promotion, protection and stability.
First, two caveats. This is subjective list, drawn from our experience. We expect reasonable people to disagree with some of our choices and that’s OK – in fact, debate is welcome.
Second, country context plays a critical role in formulating appropriate approaches to financial inclusion. This list is meant as a general guide for what is impactful in most countries, most of the time.
Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) currently have a very limited role in climate finance and green investment – reportedly, below the average for institutional investors. According to the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), which evaluates institutional investors on the basis of their low-carbon performance, five of the 10 lowest-rated large investment funds were SWFs.
However, the more progressive SWFs are currently divesting from assets with large climate-related risks, and some countries are pondering whether their SWF should take a more pro-active role in green finance. What lies ahead for SWFs in this rapidly changing landscape?
SWFs could have an impact on climate finance
The sheer amount of capital managed by SWFs means that their impact on green finance, while marginal historically, has the potential to become significant. According to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI), SWFs hold assets worth approximately $7.4 trillion, and the total capital of SWFs has more than tripled over the last decade.
But SWFs’ mandate does not typically include green finance. To the extent that they have been active in this area, it has been to reduce climate-related risk to their portfolios – including exposure to fossil fuels. For example, last October the $22.6 billion New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF) announced a strategy to address climate-change risks that represent a “material” issue for long-term investors, and to “intensify its efforts” in areas including alternative energy, energy efficiency and “transformational” infrastructure. Norway’s giant Government Pension Fund Global ($873 billion) has adopted similar policies to reduce climate-related risk.
It’s widely recognized that agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change. The worldwide agriculture sector currently accounts for between 19 percent and 29 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A combination of policies, investments and targeted action is critical to achieve a low-carbon and climate-resilient agriculture sector.
But the question arises: Where will the money to fund this transition come from? Can farmers alone finance the productivity and climate change adaptation and mitigation changes that are needed?
The vast majority of climate finance has traditionally flowed to other sectors, accentuating even more the shortfall in finance for agriculture.
Due to perceptions of low profitability, along with high actual and perceived risks, lenders often severely limit the flows of finance directed to smallholder farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in agriculture. Without access to capital, farmers cannot invest in raising their productivity and incomes, becoming more resilient to climate change and mitigating their farms’ negative impact on climate.
But untapped sources of capital exist for making agriculture more climate-smart — namely, in climate finance. A recent World Bank discussion paper, Making Climate Finance Work in Agriculture, explores ways to use climate finance to dramatically increase the flows of capital directed to smallholder farmers and agricultural SMEs, aiming to deliver positive climate outcomes.
Against the backdrop of low oil and gas prices and fiscal consolidation, economic diversification and private sector development is a top policy priority for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Inadequate access to finance, especially bank lending, is constraining SMEs in GCC countries. Only 11% of SMEs have access to credit and some 40% of SMEs cite a lack of financial access as a major constraint.
Bank competition in the GCC is among the lowest in the world. Strict entry requirements, restrictions on bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and a lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions all contribute to weak competition in the banking sector.
How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets.
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday.
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle.
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority.
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important. As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.
South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20. Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.
So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.
To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees.
We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.
Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). As in most countries, (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.
Efficient, accessible and safe retail payment systems and services are necessary to extend access to transaction accounts to the 2 billion people worldwide who are still unserved by regulated financial service providers.
Having interoperable payment services addresses several important challenges regarding financial access and broader financial inclusion. This is because via a single transaction account.
Establishing payments interoperability is a formidable task. Our experience shows it is important to find the right balance between cooperation and competition when reforming retail payment systems. Despite the advantages that interoperability brings, not all market participants will necessarily embrace interoperability initiatives, e.g. if they fear to lose their dominant position and/or competitive advantage. In an earlier Blog the role authorities to facilitate interoperability has been discussed. Central banks are a key driving force in any payment system reform, but they cannot – and should not – act alone. Other regulators – such as financial and telecom regulators – are also important to achieving interoperability.
The investment of pension fund assets has moved from an obscure topic for actuaries, to an issue which raises political attention at the highest level.
This is for the simple reason that it directly touches the social and economic livelihoods of people.
Since the 2008 global financial crisis, developed economies have been looking for additional sources of long-term capital to fill the gaps which bank and government balance sheets can’t fill. This is a search that has engulfed the developing world for much longer if not for as long as they exist. Younger developing economies are starting to see their pension funds grow, side by side with an increasing awareness of the impact which productively invested assets can have on economic growth both today and tomorrow. If invested for the aligned intensions of social impact and financial return, pension funds can improve people’s lives today and secure their income in future. However, this isn’t a general phenomenon – applying only to larger funds which have invested in the intellectual capacity of their Trustees, and in countries which have understood and embraced the strong relationship between the macroeconomic performance and asset performance.
Redirecting pension investments from short-term assets (government paper, bank deposits) to investments with a long-term impact is key to delivering, not only improved, but sustained returns. Private equity (PE) - equity capital not quoted on a public exchange – is one such asset class. PE investment is increasingly in vogue as such capital is the foundation of all economies, and indeed leads to the development of robust stock markets. If structured with pension investors’ risk-return consideration in mind, it can deliver the diversification benefits which these investors need. If properly targeted, such investments will be vital in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, considering that 15 of the 17 SDGs have a focus on growth, development and sustainability (the last two being on implementation and capital resource origination). Active participation in investee companies by shareholders such as pension funds will be vital for ensuring a future sustainable and shared economy. In turn, for this to work optimally, requires conscientious and capable Trustees.
Did you know that in Kenya less than 15% of the population is covered with old age security? This means that many Kenyans are facing a vulnerability of retiring into poverty. But this is not accidental since established factors identified in studies commissioned by Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) necessitate this situation.
However, Kenya is starting to tackle some of these factors and to help increase pensions coverage to reach more Kenyans to help reverse the state of affairs.
1. A chief factor limiting pension growth is that the formal sector is creating fewer jobs. Despite the positive economic growth registered in the country, employment growth in the formal sector is slow. For example, only 128,000 out of the 841,600 new jobs created in 2015 were formal. This has a direct effect on the pension services since the structure of the industry is still highly biased towards the formal employment model.
Transactions that facilitate employers and employees to contribute are generally conducted from the pay slip, and formal employers adhere more to the regulations and legislation on the issue compared to those who operate informally. As a result, millions of citizens have been cut off from the pension system.
Luckily, this gap is slowly being narrowed by Individual Pension schemes that are specifically targeting the informal sector workers. An example of this is the Mbao pension scheme. The Plan is an inventive idea that adapts a savings product to marginal population groups and contributes to their improved social and economic security.
Housing is a numbers game: The more people there are in any city or town, the greater the need is for housing. The number of people living on the planet is rising every second, as the World Population Clock shows, while the amount of habitable land (what housing specialists call “serviced land”) remains limited.
It is critical that additional affordable, decent dwellings be developed, as today’s world population of about 7.38 billion (increasing by more than 80 million per year, at the current population growth rate of about 1.13 percent per annum) approaches about 9 billion by 2030 and a projected 11 billion by 2050.
Urbanization intensifies the need for city-focused housing: By 2030, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be urban – and, even more daunting, nearly half of that urban population will be living in poverty, in substandard housing or in slums. , with intensifying urban congestion making it an urgent priority in Asia and Africa.