Deepening financial inclusion

In 2011, the World Bank with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Global Findex database. It aims at promoting financial inclusion and has become the world’s most comprehensive dataset on how adults save, borrow, make payments and manage the associated risks. According to the Global Findex database (2017), 69% of adults around the world have an account. In the same period under focus, the Global Findex database revealed that about 1.7 billion adults globally remain unbanked (without an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider). The dataset is used to track progress toward the World Bank’s goal of ensuring Universal Financial Access by 2020.

Why Unbanked

In a bid to promote financial inclusion, governments and other institutions have made efforts at creating access and widening it, but people are still unbanked for many reasons. The reported established that people are unbanked because: (1) financial institutions are too far away from them, (2) they consider financial services are too expensive, (3) they lack the necessary documentation (Know Your Customer), (4) they don’t trust financial institutions,(5) religious reasons prevent people from owning account (6) insufficient funds (7) they rely on someone in the family who already has an account (8). Also, it came to light that people didn’t find the need for financial services and, therefore, remain unbanked.

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Creating Access

In Sub- Saharan Africa including Ghana, the Global Findex Report confirmed that relatively simple, text-based mobile phones have powered the spread of mobile money accounts. Nonetheless, it revealed that mobile phones and the internet can drive financial inclusion when they are anchored on robust financial and physical infrastructure such as reliable electricity and internet access which otherwise have been the bane of many countries on the continent.

Financial infrastructure includes adequate payment systems and a physical network to deliver payments to both urban and rural areas. Indeed, people are reluctant to use digital payments when network outages or other technical problems continue to undermine their dependability. Again, the report urged financial institutions that did not find it cost-effective to open brick-and-mortar branches in the large unbanked population(communities) to explore agent banking. Agent banking involves forming partnerships with post offices or retail shops to offer basic financial services to customers.

Addressing Related Issues

It is commonplace knowledge that the financial system thrives on public trust and confidence and lack thereof is a barrier to account ownership. The Global Findex Report indicated that quality product design and strong consumer protection standards are strong catalysts for driving financial inclusion even in the midst of mistrust resulting from bank failures or activities of unlicensed financial institutions inter alia. People lose their deposits during bank failures when there is no guarantee insurance in place to protect same.  It further averred that, even though financial service providers may not be able to address the systemic causes of mistrust, they can shore up trust in their own products and services by treating their customers fairly and providing quick, convenient, and effective redress to their grievances within a reasonable time. Such efforts the report identified are critical in ensuring that newly banked adults benefit from financial inclusion.

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Indeed, with barely a year to 2020 where the World Bank aimed at ensuring Universal Financial Access, one can realise that much efforts are required to achieve the goal. In this regard, authorities in many countries have intensified their activities including financial literacy programmes to deepen financial inclusion. In Ghana, for instance, financial inclusion strategies have taken the forms of Mobile Money Interoperability (MMI), digitisation of government payments, collaboration between the Telcos and the banks, relaunch of the national biometric identity card and the financial sector regulation (reforms) among others. God Bless You for reading!

This script was written by a Chartered Banker with a flair for feature writing. Apart from his work schedules, he edits or proof-reads corporate material for his colleagues, executive managers – including distinguished professionals working in various fields outside Banking. Through this column, his articles feature on third-party online media platforms in Ghana and outside. Email: Kwaku.Anumu@gmail.com

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