Also available in: Tiếng Việt
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.
Adults around the world and in all income groups use a variety of financial services, ranging from digital payments and savings accounts to loans and insurance. Many low-income adults, however, rely largely on informal financial services — 2 billion adults worldwide, or 38 percent, reported not having an account at a formal institution in 2014, according to Global Findex data. The World Bank has launched the ambitious goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020. This goal is not an end in itself. Rather, financial inclusion is a means to an end.
Which bring us to the question: What do we know about the link between financial inclusion and inclusive growth benefiting all income groups?
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Private Sector Development
- Sustainable Communities
- World Development Report 2016
- digital development
- Digital Development Partnership
- digital dividends
- Rural Communities
- infrastructure sharing
- solar energy
- off-grid solar
- Rural Development
- mobile money
- financial inclusion
- Disruptive Technologies
- high-speed Internet
- Internet Access
- Broadband Internet
Photo Credit: Women’s World Banking
Two years ago, Visa announced a commitment, alongside other organizations, to provide financial access to 500 million unbanked adults as part of the World Bank Group’s goal of achieving Universal Financial Access (UFA) by 2020. It’s widely reported that —no bank or savings account, no formal way to store or send money, no basic financial tools to manage life or business or help to generate income.
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.
Financial technology, “fintech,” has been reshaping the financial services industry with the level and speed of innovation that’s simply fascinating.
A month ago, my colleagues and I attended the 5th Annual Lendit USA conference to check out about the latest innovations and thinking in this field and see how we can apply it to our work.
There is growing interest in trying to figure out this new industry and take advantage of the opportunity. Now billed as the largest Fintech industry meeting in the world, Lendit organizers started this event four years ago with about 200 participants. This year’s event attracted more than 5,000 people.
We work on various areas of financial inclusion and are interested in new ways that can help expand access to financial services to hard-to-reach populations and small businesses in developing countries.
We returned with a new appreciation for the magnitude of change that is coming, and how quickly it could occur – and already is in some instances. Some innovations will help developing countries leapfrog into this new tech era. This could have a significant – and potentially highly positive - impact on financial inclusion, and fundamentally change the nature of financial infrastructure.
However, these opportunities come with potential risks, such as those related to (un)fair lending practices related to unmonitored use and analysis of big data or increased systemic vulnerabilities due to threats to cybersecurity.
Two Tanzanian entrepreneurs: Hadiya and Mzuzi. Hadiya has built a successful micro-business taking advantage of mobile money services, including money transfers and savings products that are low cost and safe, as well as short term micro-loans. But Mzuzi, the owner of a small, 10-person enterprise, is facing a financial crisis despite huge personal drive and inventiveness because of his inability to access credit to expand.
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.