Joint Development Bank's ATM, Lao PDR. IFC Photo Collection
While some 700 million people have gained access to a transaction account between 2011 and 2014, there are still about 2 billion adults in the world who lack access to transaction accounts offered by regulated and/or authorized financial service providers. The increased role that non-banks play in financial services, particularly in the payments area, has contributed to making them available and useful to many people who were previously locked out of the financial system.
There is broad recognition that financial inclusion can help people get out of poverty as it can help them better manage their finances. Access to a transaction account is the first step in that direction. A transaction account allows people to take advantage of different (electronic) ways to send or receive payments, and it can serve as a gateway to other financial products, such as credit, saving and insurance.
Payment services are usually the first and typically most often used financial service. Understanding how payment aspects can affect financial inclusion efforts is important not only for the Committee of Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI) of the Bank for International Settlements and the World Bank Group, but for all stakeholders with interest in increasing financial access and broader financial inclusion.
More than half of the world’s population lives in Asia and its robust growth is supporting the world economy. After weathering well the 2008 crisis Asia is now in the spotlight with currencies depreciating and capital markets in retreat. One widely voiced concern is rapid expansion of credit in the past decade fueled by abundant liquidity. Globally, and in Asia, regulatory response to the 2008 crisis has been to strengthen financial regulation and de-risk financial intermediation. Yet the reality of credit markets in most Asian economies is quite different from that in high income economies. While domestic credit by financial sector represented on average over 100% of GDP for high income OECD countries, emerging Asia’s average in 2014 stood at 60%. The differences across countries are substantial in this diverse region, but in two thirds of Asian economies domestic credit is less than 60% of GDP. The reality for most economies in Asia is that of limited and often inefficient financial markets which do not serve fully their growth needs. Low level of financial inclusion is a major contributing factor and a major challenge.
The Client Protection Principles: Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (the "Model Law"), recently launched by the Microfinance CEO Working Group, has the potential to be a useful resource for the many developing and emerging economies that are seeking to design and implement international best practices in financial consumer protection, having recognized that consumer protection is a critical element in building and maintaining trust in the financial sector and achieving financial inclusion targets.
The Model Law was prepared on a pro-bono basis by the international law firm DLA Piper on the basis of the 7 Client Protection Principles of the Smart Campaign. The project, which took place over a 15-month period and was managed by Accion on behalf of the Council of Microfinance Counsels, included consultations with financial inclusion stakeholders and legal experts, who undertook a review of existing legal frameworks in various countries. Reference was also made to international best practices and principles such as the World Bank’s Good Practices on Financial Consumer Protection and the G20 High Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.
The Model Law is a high-level, activities-based law that is intended to apply equally to all financial-services providers. This includes “banks, credit unions, microfinance institutions, money lenders and digital financial-service providers.” The apparent aim is to ensure an equal level of protection for all consumers and a level playing field. The consumers concerned may be an individual or a micro-, small or medium-sized business, and so the law will apply equally to consumption and small-business facilities. Many of the provisions are framed in terms of principles, the detail of which would need to be filled out in related legislation.
The framework of the Model Law follows the Smart Campaign’s 7 Client Protection Principles, and so it covers the topics of appropriate product design and delivery; prevention of overindebtedness; transparency; responsible pricing; fair and respectful treatment of clients; privacy of client data; and mechanisms for complaint resolution. There is also a section covering the establishment of a dedicated supervisory authority with broad functions relating to the regulation, supervision and registration of financial-services providers, market monitoring and enforcement.
This was the issue the president of the World Bank Group, UN Secretary-General, UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, private and public sector leaders discussed at an event, Universal Financial Access 2020, during the 2015 World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings.
Transaction accounts can open up access to those currently left out of the banking system, providing a basic entry point, or pathway, to broader financial inclusion.