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Crossing the finish line to digital financial inclusion

Digital technology has changed the path to the global goal of universal financial inclusion.

September 28, 2020

By Shelley Spencer, CEO of Strategic Impact Advisors. Hear Shelley at this year’s NetHope Virtual Global Summit.

Digital technology has changed the path to the global goal of universal financial inclusion. Mobile phones are now mobile wallets used to store funds, pay school fees, access financing to buy a solar system and receive payments. Small shops throughout Africa and Asia have become bank branches, opening accounts and transforming cash into electronic money that can travel instantly at the push of a button or click of any app.

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Governments are sending Covid-19 relief payments directly to bank accounts accessed by a mobile phone or that can be used to purchase groceries at a social distance after ordering on WhatsApp and paying with mobile money. Members of the diaspora can now send remittances directly to their loved one’s mobile wallet. In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money account openings continue to grow, reaching 50 million new registered accounts in 2019 alone. In Indonesia, more women than men now have financial accounts.

While gains in financial inclusion are posted with each measurement by the World Bank in its Global Findex, 1.7 billion people still remain financially excluded, the gender gap in financial account ownership has stagnated globally, and active use of mobile money accounts continues to be counted using the metric of one transaction every 90 days. The work of NetHope Members is key for many to cross the finish line to digital financial inclusion, which studies have shown can move women out of poverty and support resilience as recognized by USAID in its Digital Strategy.

There are a number of cross-cutting issues in digital development that can impact the pace of our work and future gains in digital financial inclusion. Development organizations have largely moved away from cash in managing their own internal payments, but there is more work to be done in integrating digital financial services as a program tool.

During this year’s NetHope Virtual Global Summit we’ll be hosting a panel discussion about what remains to be done and how we cross the finish line to digital financial inclusion. We hope to see you at the session: From Cash to Digital: Practical Steps to Move the Needle on Global Financial Inclusion. We encourage you to think about four issues and how they might be incorporated in your work during the Summit and in your virtual chats with others.

Issue 1: How do we close the gap, especially for women, in mobile phone ownership?
Consider this:

  • 197 million fewer women than men (10%) in low and middle-income countries own a mobile phone.
  • This gender gap widens to 23 percent in use of the mobile internet1.

With affordability being a top barrier, what is the value of supporting the purchase of mobile phones or mobile phone financing?

Issue 2: How do we empower those we work with to develop and protect digital identities that can be used to access financial services?
Consider this:

  • The World Bank estimates 1 billion people in the developing world lack proof of legal identity2.
  • One of the targets for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, SDG Target 16.9, is to provide legal identify for all including free birth certificates by 20303.

We identify who we work with but how does that link to other systems that can support identity for accessing financial services? Are we linking to government digital identification systems and how are we evaluating the risks? 

Issue 3: How do we build literacy in those new to digital financial services to understand the technology and evaluate the options for use and, importantly, to use it safely?
Consider this:

  • In low and middle-income countries, GSMA ranked literacy as the top barrier to women’s use of mobile internet services and the second highest barrier to mobile phone ownership, ranking only behind the top barrier of device affordability.
  • CGAP’s FinEquity Community of Practice looked at the intersection of digital and financial literacy to identify the enabling factors for women’s digital financial literacy.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, remote transactions are essential for personal and business survival, whether it be for smallholder farmers, health workers, educators or refugees. How do we work together to build literacy to prevent people’s isolation and exclusion from economic activity? 

Issue 4: Cybersecurity is important to all digital platforms and money transaction platforms; how do we build trust and ensure consumer protection?
Consider this:

  • GSMA developed a code for certification of mobile money providers with eight principles designed to certify a provider’s ability to deliver secure and reliable services, to protect the rights of consumers and to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. 13 mobile money operators have been certified by independent assessors under the code.
  • National regulations for financial service providers typically set standards for network security and consumer complaint resolution.
  • As part of NetHope’s work with USAID, we presented a model for development organizations to identify and test levers for increasing women’s trust level in digital financial services.

How do we build trust in the digital payment systems we use in our programs and among those we serve who open accounts?

[1] GSMA Connected Women, The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, accessible here.
[2] World Bank. 2019. Global ID Coverage, Barriers, and Use by the Numbers: An In-Depth Look at the 2017 ID4D-Findex Survey, Washington, DC: World Bank License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 IGO (CC BY 3.0 IGO) accessible here.
[3] Indicators and a Monitoring Framework Launching a Data Revolution for the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

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