When women do well, everyone benefits. Giving women access to better jobs and financial security are keys to ending poverty. Gender gaps harm the entire economy. We know that when women control the finances, they tend to spend money on the things that matter most – essential food and water, school fees and health care for the family. It’s amazing what small changes can do – a mobile money account opens up the ability to get small loans, buy insurance, and make payments. The World Bank is working to empower women around the world, supporting women entrepreneurs in Pakistan and supporting women and their families with cash cards in Lebanon.
Considering Bangladesh’s lack of development and a predominantly rural context, it would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago that an elderly widow living in a remote corner of this impoverished South Asian country could be receiving money from her son living in Dubai sitting right at home or making petty payments through her mobile phone. Not any more, though.
Bangladesh has recently emerged as a curious case of digital innovation to widen coverage and reach remote pockets. The country reached the lower middle income country status in 2015, and has showcased the potential of combating rural poverty through inclusive digital financial services.
This has proved to be an effective weapon to eliminate poverty and secure the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while the country advances towards Vision 2021 — lifting millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty. Innovation and digitization will surely set Bangladesh firmly on the path to becoming a middle-income country. Although ambitious, it is exactly what both the government and private sector are working towards.
Access to the formal financial system remains a challenge for the rural poor in Bangladesh even though the central bank announced a plan for inclusive digital financial programmes in 2015.
Ugandan’s access to financial services has improved dramatically in recent years. More than half of Uganda’s adult population now has access to an account at a formal financial institution. This is almost twice as many as in 2009. The entry and fast penetration of mobile money is the main reason for the increase, having allowed 8 million Ugandans to conduct financial transactions.
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.
4 unprecedented disruptions to the global financial system
Climate change, migration, correspondent banking and cybercrime are putting unprecedented and unforeseen pressures on global financial markets.
They aren’t just disrupting the global financial system, but also affect how we approach international development work.
Let’s examine each trend:
- “Greening the financial sector” is the new buzz term to finance a transition toward a climate-resilient economy and to help combat climate change. This topic is now getting a lot of attention from the G20 to the Financial Stability Board. The international community is trying to understand what this transition will imply: , and how efficiently the financial sector can allocate financial resources. What we know is that currently fossil fuel subsidies and a lack of carbon tax are hindering the market from shifting financial resources from brown to green.
- Globally, an estimated 65 million people are forcibly displaced. Migration, resettlement or displacement, of course, impact where and how to channel aid to those in need. But more importantly, as displaced people settle down -- no matter how temporary or long-term -- to become self-sufficient and thrive, they will need to establish new financial relations. This can be for simple transactions such as receiving aid through payment cards (as opposed to cash) or for sending remittances. Or it can be for something more complex as getting a loan to start a business.
- At the same time, as the global banking industry is tightening regulations, large banks are withdrawing from correspondent banking and shutting down commercially unsustainable business lines. This recent phenomenon can have a huge impact in some regions on SMEs and on money transfer operators, which largely handle remittances.
- . The focus on cybersecurity risk has increased along with the proliferation of internet and information technology. Fintech is transforming the financial industry -- by extending access to financial services to people and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) previously left out of the formal financial system – but is also raising many questions, including concerns about cybersecurity. The same technology advancements that are propelling fintech are also addressing cybersecurity risk. However, there is a need to develop an appropriate regulatory framework in combination with industry best practices. This framework is evolving and regulators are grappling with how and when to regulate.
Will cash and checks still exist 15 or 20 years from now given the increasing digitization of money? Is the smartphone our new bank? Will many people working in the financial sector industry lose their jobs due to growing use of technology, robots, algorithms, and online banking? Is financial technology (FinTech) the solution to providing financial services to the 2 billion people in the planet that still lack access to finance? Will digital currencies and other innovative FinTech products pose systemic risks in the future? What is the best approach to regulate FinTech companies?
In the past decade, the Islamic finance industry has grown at double digits despite the weak global economic environment. By 2020, the Islamic finance industry is projected to reach $3 trillion in total assets with 1 billion users. However, despite its rapid growth and enormous potential, 7 out of 10 adults still do not have access to a bank account in Muslim countries. This means that 682 million adult Muslims still do not have an account at a banking institution. While some Muslim countries have high levels of account ownership (above 90 percent), there are others with less than 5 percent of their adult population who reported having a bank account.
While most adults in developed countries have an account at a bank or another formal financial institution, this is not the reality in many developing countries, including Senegal. A recent World Bank Group (WBG) Financial Capability Survey revealed that less than one in five Senegalese adults (17%) report owning an account at a formal institution, which includes banks, microfinance institutions, or e-money agents. While Senegal’s financial inclusion levels are similar to those in other lower-middle income economies, the country lags behind the average inclusion rate among Sub-Saharan African economies.
Government leaders and advocates came together during the Annual Meetings to discuss a major development goal – ensuring everyone has access to affordable financial services such as a bank or mobile money account. While a lot of progress has been made on “financial inclusion,” new rules affecting the flow of funds threatens to slow or even reverse some gains.
Financial Inclusion not Exclusion: Managing De-Risking brought together Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s Minister of Finance. Arun Jaitley, India’s Minister of Finance, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and Juan Manuel Vega-Serrano, the president of the Financial Action Tax Force (FATF), which sets international standards for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats.
Some 700 million people were brought into the formal financial system between 2011 and 2014 – a major success – but 2 billion people remain cut off, said Queen Máxima, who is the United Nations Secretary-General’s special advocate for inclusive finance for development.
A new challenge to financial inclusion is a trend toward “de-risking” by banks. Many larger banks are increasingly terminating or restricting business relationships with remittance companies and smaller local banks in certain regions of the world. De-risking has therefore made money transfers more difficult for migrant workers and humanitarian organizations working in war-torn places.