From basic financial services to board rooms, strengthening women’s role in finance is one of the keys to boosting economic growth.
In every country, women and men alike need access to finance so that they can invest in their families and businesses. But today, 42% of women worldwide – about 1.1 billion – remain outside of the formal financial system, without a bank account or other basic tools to manage their money.
With financial inclusion now established as an objective for most financial sector policymakers worldwide, the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring its achievement in a responsible, consumer-friendly, and evidence-based manner often falls to financial sector supervisors. Two challenges are particularly relevant: first, with an increased policy focus on financial inclusion, supervisors are often tasked with adapting reporting systems to collect granular data to monitor financial inclusion and inform policy. For example, how many customers are using each product? Are newly opened accounts active or dormant? What is the rate of growth of agent networks in rural areas?
Second, there is a global trend towards diversifying the range of financial service provider (FSP) types in a given market in order to improve competition and consumer choice, and ultimately financial inclusion. This means that non-bank FSPs such as mobile network operators (MNOs), fintech companies, financial cooperatives and microfinance institutions are increasingly brought under the supervisory mandate of supervisory authorities. This presents a significant challenge for financial sector supervisors who must cover a large and diverse set of FSPs with distinct risk profiles and capacities, stretching their already limited resources. Collecting and analyzing accurate, relevant, and timely information from these providers is at the heart of this supervisory challenge.
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.
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.
Opinions and approaches vary regarding how to ‘best’ utilize new technologies to support teaching and learning in ways that are engaging, impactful and ‘effective’.
A recent paper from J-PAL (Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review) finds that rigorous evidence about what works, and what doesn’t, in this area is decidedly mixed. While what works seems to be a result of many factors (what, where, when, by whom, for whom, why, how), what doesn’t work is pretty clear: simply buying lots of equipment and connecting lots of schools.
Why does this continue to happen, then?
Many in the ‘edtech community’ feel that policymakers simply don’t understand that buying lots of equipment won’t actually change much (aside from its impact on the national treasury), and that if they did understand this, they’d do things differently.
In my experience, the reason that many places end up just buying lots of equipment, dumping it into schools and hoping for magic to happen (a widely acknowledged and long-standing ‘worst practice’ when it comes to technology use in education) isn’t necessarily that the people making related decisions are dumb or uninformed or corrupt (although of course those scenarios shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand in some places).
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.
While child mortality rates have plummeted worldwide, nearly one-third of all children under 5 in developing countries are stunted. Children who are stunted (having low height-for-age) suffer from a long-term failure to grow, reflecting the cumulative effects of chronic deficits in food intake, poor care practices, and illness. The early years of life, especially the first 1,000 days, are critical; if a child’s growth is stunted during this period, the effects are irreversible and have lifelong and intergenerational consequences on their future human capital and potential to succeed.
For the water and sanitation community the year 2009 marked a turning point in our understanding of the role that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has on child stunting. A provocative Lancet article (Humphrey 2009) put forth the hypothesis that a key cause of child stunting is asymptomatic gut infection caused by ingestion of fecal bacteria. Small children living in poor sanitary environments are especially at risk, through frequent mouthing of fingers and objects during exploratory play, playing in areas contaminated with human and animal feces and ingesting contaminated food and water (Ngure et al. 2013). Researchers now estimate that up to 43 percent of stunting may be due to these gut infections, known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) (Guerrant et al. 2013).
Just last week estimates were released suggesting that poor sanitation is the second leading cause of child stunting worldwide (Danaei et al. 2016). In a key departure from previous work, the researchers defined risk as the sanitation level of a community, rather than an individual. This is consistent with mounting evidence showing that a community’s coverage of sanitation is more important than any one household’s (Andres et al. 2013). Across different studies, data sets and outcomes the evidence consistently shows that a threshold of around 60–70 percent household usage within a community is needed before the health and nutrition benefits of sanitation begin to accrue. Studies that have focused on an individual’s toilet use as a predictor, rather than a community’s use, may have vastly underestimated the impacts (Hunter and Prüss-Ustün 2016).
As we advance our understanding of the ways in which a poor sanitary environment impacts growth in small children, we can better design water and sanitation interventions to target these pathways. While there is a role for multi-sectoral interventions, which can simultaneously target the underlying determinants of child undernutrition, such as food security, access to health services, and childcare practices — there are ways that the water sector can adapt its own approaches so that they are more nutrition-sensitive, and more impactful on nutrition. Here are four key actions:
Surging account ownership among the poor. The highest rate of account ownership among women in developing countries. Widespread formal saving.
Those are some of the key financial inclusion trends in East Asia and the Pacific, as outlined in a new policy note drawing on the 2014 Global Findex database.
Since 2011, about 700 million adults worldwide have signed up for an account at a formal financial institution (like a bank) or a mobile money account. That means 62 percent of adults now have an account, up from 51 percent three years ago.
East Asia and the Pacific made an outsized contribution to this global progress. About 240 million adults in the region left the ranks of the unbanked; 69 percent now have an account, an increase from 55 percent in 2011 (figure 1). Poor people led the regional advance, as account ownership among adults living in the poorest 40 percent of households surged by 22 percentage points — to 61 percent. Much of the growth was concentrated in China — which saw account penetration deepen on the bottom of the income ladder by 26 percentage points — but China was hardly alone. In both Indonesia and Vietnam, account ownership doubled among adults living in the poorest 40 percent of households.
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.
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.