Over the past 15 years, China has emerged as one of the world’s financial inclusion success stories. While much attention has been paid to the rapid innovation and massive scaling of Chinese fintech companies, China’s successes in financial inclusion reach beyond fintech. Account ownership has increased significantly and is now on par with that of other G-20 countries. One of the largest agent banking networks in the world has been established. And a robust financial infrastructure has been developed that underpins these successes.
So what can policymakers in other countries learn from China’s experience? While China is in some ways a unique environment, there are still valuable lessons to be learned from both its successes as well as its remaining challenges.
A new report released last week -– Toward Universal Financial Inclusion in China: Models, Challenges, and Global Lessons - provides a wealth of data and information about the various initiatives and efforts that have contributed to China’s advances in financial inclusion. The report, which was jointly written by the People’s Bank of China and the World Bank Group, also outlines remaining challenges and distills lessons for policymakers in other countries.
East Asia and Pacific
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is often considered by economists and policymakers as integral to economic growth – a cornerstone of modernization, income growth and employment.
Yet for many countries, FDI can be elusive, and chasing it can lead policymakers to frustration.
Even economies built by FDI – for example, Singapore – are on this continuous chase, aware that attracting and retaining FDI is not an easy task. They also know that the benefits of FDI do not accrue automatically and evenly across all countries, sectors and local communities.
But first, there must be a realization of the importance of FDI. Singapore – a country once called a “political, economic and geographic absurdity” by its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew – never doubted the centrality of FDI, promoting it from the outset of its independence. Singapore saw in FDI an opportunity to develop a substantial industrial base, to create new jobs for its then-poor and low-skilled workforce, and to generate crucial tax revenues for its nascent government to spend on education and infrastructure.
Two decades after that initial strategic acceptance of FDI, Singapore emerged as a newly industrialized economy.
It is little surprise, then, that Singapore’s experience was highlighted at a recent World Bank Group peer-to-peer learning event here in the city-state. Responding to strong demand from client countries, two teams from the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice – the Investment Policy and Promotion (IPP) team and the Singapore Hub team – co-hosted the learning forum entitled "Promoting Investment Policy and Promotion Reform in Times of Uncertainty."
Supported by SPIRA – the Support Program on Investment Policy and Related Areas – the forum enabled some 80 government officials from East Asia, South Asia and Africa to share their experiences in economic and export diversification; to discuss the role of international trade and investment agreements as leverage toward domestic reforms; and to discuss how to translate investment policy and promotion strategies into measurable results. SPIRA, implemented by the IPP team, supports client countries across all regions in attracting, facilitating and retaining different types of FDI.
Both Malaysia and India are countries steeped in innovation with a strong desire to foster new, innovative start-up enterprises.
With a global focus on providing more support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) – and recognizing that – Asian countries are keen to learn from each other’s experiences. These efforts have taken on a greater priority in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and his “Make in India” and “Start-Up India” campaigns.
, which is one of the most widely recognized impediments to SMEs, particularly for start-up enterprises. Through the $500 million MSME Growth Innovation and Inclusive Finance Project, the World Bank supports MSMEs in the service and manufacturing sectors as well as start-up financing for early stage entrepreneurs. The start-up support under this project ($150 million) is for early stage debt funding (venture debt) which isn’t well evolved. (Unlike India’s market for early stage equity which is considered to already be reasonably well developed.)
As part of this project, the World Bank and the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), recently held a workshop in Mumbai to allow market participants to learn from one another, and particularly about Malaysia’s successful support for innovative start-up SMEs. The workshop’s participants included banks, venture capital companies, entrepreneurs, fintech companies, seed funders and representatives from the Malaysian Innovation Agency (Agensi Inovasi Malaysia – AIM).
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.
Did you know that low-income Mongolians are better at managing daily finances than higher income earners, although those with better incomes are more likely to make provisions for the future?
These were the findings of a comprehensive demand-side assessment on financial capability in Mongolia which the World Bank Group carried out in 2013.
These findings make sense. Poor people – those with low and irregular incomes – devote a lot of time to thinking about how to stretch their money to put food on the table while being able to cover other daily spending needs. They tend to have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives despite having limited income, the Portfolios of the Poor found.
How do you help a burgeoning democracy like Myanmar with its transition to a market-based economy after 50 years of isolation, poor infrastructure and limited capacity for reform? You do it by engaging closely with the government, the private sector and development partners, and by providing the full range of data, financing and knowledge available across all sectors of the economy.
As I conclude my first visit to Myanmar, a fragile and conflict-affected country where the World Bank Group started our development engagement just three years ago, I've witnessed first-hand how the WBG can best support such an economy in transition. As Myanmar looks forward to its first free and fair election in over two generations – an event coming up in November – the challenge will be to ensure continued reform momentum during a period of dramatic political change.
Seldom have we faced such dramatic circumstances in a country where our engagement is in such an early stage and where the development potential is so great. A country of 50 million people that went from once being the rice basket of Asia to today having the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality among ASEAN countries as well as vast untapped farmland, Myanmar provides a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity. This situation offers a chance for the WBG’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice to contribute to the transformation of an economy and society by supporting regulatory reforms, improving trade policy and trade facilitation, helping generate investment and improving the ability of the country to compete in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
I was privileged during my visit to meet with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Commerce and their senior staff, and to open the Third Session of the Trade Sector Working Group, which the WBG co-chairs with the European Union and the Ministry of Commerce. Surrounded by India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Lao PDR – countries that together have about 40 percent of the world’s population – Myanmar has markets at its doorstep that are ready to be tapped. The removal of investment and trade sanctions by the West has also opened significant new opportunities farther afield.
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 United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the contributions this group of countries has made to the world, and to raise awareness of the development challenges they confront – including those related to climate change and the need to create high-quality jobs for their citizens.
The Third International Conference on SIDS in September in Apia, Samoa will be the highlight event. The World Bank Group is helping shape the debate on both climate and jobs with a delegation led by Rachel Kyte, the Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and with senior-level participation in the conference’s Private Sector Forum.
Is the global jobs agenda relevant to small islands states?
Tackling the challenges related to the jobs agenda in large and middle-income countries could be seen as the most significant issue for the Bank Group’s new Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, of which I’m a member. Yet the Minister of Finance of Seychelles recently challenged my thinking on this.
At the June 13 joint World Bank Group-United Nations' High-Level Dialogue on Advancing Sustainable Development in SIDS (which precedes the September conference on SIDS), the presentation by Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment of Seychelles – who is also the chair of the Small States Forum – led to a lively discussion on various job-creation and growth models that the SIDS countries may want to pursue.
The sentiment among SIDS leaders was that one-size-fits-all solutions will not do when it comes to jobs and growth. Yes, they do want to continue to address the tough fiscal challenges they face, but they want to tackle them while creating job opportunities for their citizens.
Decades of reforms have not helped SIDS grow at a rate similar to the rest of the world: On average, their pace of job creation is about half the global rate. The lack of opportunities felt by many generations resulted in a heavy “brain drain” that exceeds the level seen in other developing countries.
It is becoming very clear that business as usual in SIDS will not do. Creative solutions need to be found now.