Defining financial inclusion and its true value to society

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At least 1.5 billion adults worldwide do not have access to financial services. Those people are not benefiting from financial inclusion, or being part ofthe financial systems in any way. Despite this number having recently dropped, it is still a lot of people.

Financial inclusion is also linked to human rights, opportunities to get a job, to have a home and access utilities. Those without financial services are not only in developing countries, but also in Western Europe and North America – but we can see hope that the situation is getting better.

Opening a bank account depends on several factors. Banks want to choose their customers, and with tough KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) requirements banks are getting even more selective. Financial services now include many more options than just simple banking.

Some obstacles people face to get access to financial services include:

  • No finance history, i.e. not having used any other financial services previously;
  • No credit score; 
  • No data to prove finance or other history;
  • No permanent job;
  • No permanent address.

The reality is that financial inclusion requires new models and a new way to conduct business. Technology, especially fintech solutions, can help a lot, but at the same time there is a requirement for business models that can include and encourage these new customers to come to and use the services. For example, in western countries it can include working with people and communities that are not just missing out on banking, but also other functions in society.

Technology can help financial inclusion in many different ways. For example:

  • it is much more cost-effective to set up mobile finance services for customers that have less money and may require small loans;
  • there are many new models to effect credit scoring even if a person has no financial services history;
  • mobile data, including location and social media profiles, help to know customers and their backgrounds better;
  • international money transfers, e.g. from relatives in western countries, can been used as a guarantee for loans;
  • and there is no longer a need for expensive legacy banking IT systems, when new cloud-based solutions can offer the same services with much lower costs.

People can now start to use mobile wallets to receive salary and other payment, and international money transfers with at reasonable cost. They can also start to take small loans without credit history or permanent addresses, and in that way also build their finance history. At the same time, service providers can offer these services with lower costs and investments. Technology is really  the key component for improving financial inclusion and equality.

Financial inclusion is not only important for these people, but for the whole economy. When people are included in financial services, they can better work, use money, buy a house and save money. This is fundamental for all economies. It also means people can start to pay taxes. When many people are outside finance services, it is not only a problem for those people but for society and a country’s economy.

Of course, this is not only about technology, but as we have seen many other areas, when a technology becomes commodity, it enables many new things. We see now this development in financial services. Many banks are still stuck with their legacy systems, but it doesn’t stop new players emerging that have newer, more cost-effective solutions.

Beyond the technology, financial inclusion needs also the right attitude. It needs people who see opportunities to offer financial services to these excluded people. It is not altruistic thinking, it is also seeing opportunities outside the traditional ‘fat cat’ approach. One could also say, it is a choice, if you want to only handle the millions of dollars of a few people, or a few dollars from millions of people. With the traditional banking model, the latter option was not so attractive, but fintech has now made it a real choice and at the same time help these people, bottom lines and economies grow.

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