Despite a concerted effort from governments, NGOs and the private sector, the world has made only patchy progress towards digital money readiness, according to a report from Citi and Imperial College London.
In their latest Digital Money Index, Citi and Imperial rank the "readiness" of 90 countries for adopting non-cash payments based on each nation's level of government and market support, financial and technology infrastructure, amount of digital options, and the population's propensity to adopt.
Citi says that digital money has the potential to transform economies, making payments faster, cheaper, safer and more transparent. With two billion people worldwide not having any kind of bank account, a 10% increase in digital money adoption would allow 220 million people to enter the formal financial sector.
Yet, since their first report in 2014, the partners say they have seen just a two per cent shift towards digital money readiness. And progress is patchy, with the gap between those countries at the top of the index and those at the bottom widening - while the digital leaders have seen an average improvement of three per cent over the past three years, those at the bottom have seen a 0.5% rise.
Greg Baxter, global head, digital, Citi, says: "The efficiencies and cost savings of moving to digital money are potentially staggering. And the social benefits from wider financial inclusion enormous. It is therefore a concern that the Index is highlighting a risk that some low-income countries and potentially even low income segments within developed countries could fall irretrievably behind in the digital economy."
The 2017 Index represents more of a shuffling than shifting of countries in their comparative readiness to embrace digital money. Overall, there has not been significant movement across categories. Rather, it’s been a story of small movement within the higher clusters and significant fluctuation within the lower ones.
One major country that is improving its position is India, which saw its year-on-year score rise by almost 10% and its ranking jump nine places, thanks to a holistic approach that has seen advancements in regulation, infrastructure, solutions and adoption.
"No-one is saying it is easy. But it does seem that developing countries have some salutatory lessons to offer even the world’s digital money leaders. Go back to basics, ensure there is true interoperability, incentivise the unbanked and underbanked and do not forget the power of evangelism. Not only will you reap the rewards, but you will also minimize the threat of lower income citizens being further left behind," says Baxter.
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