Earlier this year, Bill Gates projected that two billion people will enter the formal financial system by 2030. Why is he so confident? Why is large-scale financial inclusion now more likely than ever, even in the world’s poorest places? Because the world has gone digital.
Ninety percent of the world’s poor are covered by a mobile signal, a simple and powerful inroad to mobile money and digital banking. And using digital payment technologies, especially those that use mobile phones, can reduce transaction costs by more than 90%. With digital financial services, we have the tools to introduce billions of people to the security of formal banking, and we can do so without introducing unique or prohibitive risks and costs to banks. The transition to digital is clear and imminent; it’s time for the world to fully capitalize on a model that benefits everyone.
But how can we bring this model to fruition worldwide? Digital payment systems are thriving in Kenya, India and other countries. But who will make it so that every country can offer its entire population a safe and easy way to spend, save and share funds digitally?
The answer to that question is: all of us. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re working with partners across government, the private sector, the banking industry and nonprofits to make digital financial services accessible and desirable to everyone. The initiative I am leading — the Level One Project — has a vision for how to build shared, flexible infrastructure that will make digital transactions as seamless, reliable and secure as possible to flourish around the world.
Crucial to our goal is an open technology platform with shared principles and features. For digital financial tools to flourish, users have to be able to perform transactions with anyone, regardless of carrier, brand or bank. Interoperability is the only way to bring about worldwide usage, and, ultimately, large-scale financial inclusion.
Building such a system will not be easy, but fortunately there are plenty of places to look for inspiration. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is just the latest example. In licensing 11 “Payment Banks” across the nation, the RBI is doing two things that are crucial for powering financial inclusion. First, it is creating the means for high-volume, low-margin transactions, which is exactly the kind of activity poor people engage in. Second, it is using the infrastructure of non-banks to enable simple bank-like transactions for customers, thus avoiding the liquidity and credit concerns of traditional bank relationships and providing an ideal, low-risk way to introduce India’s poor to the formal financial world.
Strides like these require leadership and innovation. But is there any doubt it is worth it? From a commercial point of view, you have billions of new customers to enlist and transact with. From a national point of view, you have an economy that grows, stabilizes, innovates and thrives.
And from a human point of view, you have billions of people who escape the threats and uncertainties of life outside the formal financial system. The value of performing transactions in minutes instead of hours or days cannot be measured only in time. And the value of a more secure way to save and plan ahead cannot be measured only in dollars.
We challenge you to be a part of this movement. Bring your courage, knowledge and innovation to the table. Let’s design an infrastructure on a global scale. Let’s make it easy to use, safe, secure and accessible to all people.
An economy that includes everyone benefits everyone. Will you join us in creating it?
The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 is taking place in Dalian, China, from 9-11 September.
Author: Konstantin Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Image: The Gates Foundation