Financial inclusion is on the rise globally, accelerated by mobile phones and the internet, but gains have been uneven across countries and men remain more likely than women to have an account, according to a new World Bank report.
Around the world, 69% of adults - 3.8 billion people - now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider, up from 62% in 2014 and 51% in 2011, says the Global Findex report, which shows that in the three years to 2017 515 million people obtained an account.
The report, put together by the World Bank with Gallup and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers an encouraging picture of the role that fintech is playing in financial inclusion.
Between 2014 and 2017, an increase in the use of mobile phones and the internet to carry out financial transactions has contributed to a rise in the share of account owners sending or receiving payments digitally - from 67% to 76% globally, and in the developing world from 57% to 70%.
Jim Yong Kim, president, World Bank Group, says: "Having access to financial services is a critical step towards reducing both poverty and inequality, and new data on mobile phone ownership and internet access show unprecedented opportunities to use technology to achieve universal financial inclusion.”
However, 1.7 billion adults around the world remain unbanked, with progress often held back by large disparities between the genders. The gap between men and women in developing economies remains unchanged since 2011, at 9 percentage points.
The World Bank argues that handsets can help change this. Around two thirds of the unbanked have mobile phones that could help them access financial services. Specifically, paying government wages, pensions, and social benefits directly into accounts could bring formal financial services to up to 100 million more adults globally, including 95 million in developing economies.
Says Melinda Gates: We already know a lot about how to make sure women have equal access to financial services that can change their lives. When the government deposits social welfare payments or other subsidies directly into women’s digital bank accounts, the impact is amazing. Women gain decision-making power in their homes, and with more financial tools at their disposal they invest in their families’ prosperity and help drive broad economic growth.”
The popularity of mobile money is seen in figures from Sub-Saharan Africa; while the share of adults with a financial institution account remained flat in this region between 2014 and 2017, the share with a mobile money account almost doubled, to 21%.
Meanwhile, India has benefitted from its huge biometric identification programme, which has seen the percentage of people with accounts rise to 80%, with big gains among women and the poor.
Ruth Goodwin-Groen, MD, Better Than Cash Alliance, says: “The most important takeaway from this year’s Financial Inclusion Index is that the biggest gains overall and, the most significant progress in gender equality, are in countries where the government has made digital payments a top priority. It’s no surprise, it’s a result of strategy and purpose. India and China are excellent examples as they both reached 80% account ownership."