Fourth Industrial Revolution

3 ways digital payments can support sustainable economic growth

A customer uses a phone to pay for a New York City subway ride on the first day of operation of the OMNY (One Metro NY) contactless payment system in New York, U.S., May 31, 2019

Digital payments have transformed our lives in many ways Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Charlotte Hogg
Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Visa Inc.
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  • In our fast-urbanizing world, digital payments can make cities more liveable.
  • The data generated can help encourage more sustainable consumption.
  • By improving access to finance, it can promote gender equality too.

Five years ago, every member of the UN agreed to work in partnership with the private sector to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a global payments network with infrastructure that operates in 200 countries and territories, we believe Visa has a role to play in supporting the UN’s agenda for sustainable development. Here is how:

1. Sustainable cities and communities

According to the UN Population Report 2018, the population shift from rural areas could mean another 2.5 billion people are living in urban centres by 2050, with 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa.

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The emergence of megacities is well documented; the world is projected to have 43 cities with a population of more than 10 million by 2030. The results of this growth could have devastating effects on the health of our cities. By 2040, transport emissions are projected to make up one-third of global emissions. In these scenarios, public transport is vital to maintaining liveable, workable cities that can thrive. For a city's domestic economy, offering commuters a seamless, quick, and efficient door-to-door journey will be critical; for tourism, making the experience of visiting the city welcoming and easy to navigate will be a priority.

Digital payments, such as credit and debit card payments processed by open networks and based on global acceptance standards, can help cities connect all forms of transportation – buses, trains, metros and ride-sharing services, but also tolls, bridges, parking and electric vehicle charging points. Digital payments can also give cities the information they need to meet the increasing demand for public transportation, and to reduce congestion while improving the lives of millions of their inhabitants. They provide critical insights to transit operators, such as what nationalities most frequently visit their city and what languages they speak; it also helps them plan routes and make more informed infrastructure investments. We are seeing some evidence, for example, that locating electric vehicle charging points near community areas and shops supports business growth in those areas.

Positive change takes an ecosystem, however, and we are seeing good examples of partnerships emerging. London, New York and Hong Kong are examples of large urban centres in which the partnership between local government, banks and open payment networks is supporting sustainable growth and offering a more seamless journey for millions of tourists and commuters.


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2. Gender equality

Women power economies around the world – inspiring and making an impact as household leaders, small business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet women are universally underpaid, underrepresented and face many barriers, such as access to formal financial services. The World Bank reports a staggering $300 billion annual credit deficit for women-owned small and medium-sized businesses. Without capital, it is nearly impossible to start and sustain a business. Yet when women-owned micro and small businesses thrive, their livelihoods improve, and they reinvest in their local communities. This is why Visa created the She’s Next initiative, and is partnering with the International Trade Center (ITC) on the She Trades initiative.

·She’s Next is empowering women across the globe by providing access to education, tools and services that help their businesses - and the communities in which they operate - to thrive. In addition, through a $20 million grant, the Visa Foundation is supporting Women’s World Banking to create financial access for 10 million women, and to help 1.5 million women-owned micro and small-business owners increase their assets and take control of their household finances.

She Trades, an initiative supported by Visa and a partnership of the World Trade Organization and the UN, is on track to enable three million women-owned companies to begin exporting by 2021. This innovative partnership will equip women entrepreneurs to reach new customers and grow their businesses by helping them connect to global value chains, thereby improving women’s access to opportunities and supporting economic growth through entrepreneurship.

3. Responsible consumption

Evidence suggests that consumer behaviour is shifting toward a preference for sustainable consumption. For example, our digital payments data suggest that consumers in the Nordics are responding to the call to action to protect the planet by taking fewer flights. This aligns with data from Swedavia, which operates 10 airports in Sweden, that registered a decline in passenger numbers in 2019. There also is evidence that consumption in the US is changing; sales of sustainably-marketed consumer-packaged goods in the US have grown more than five times faster than traditionally-marketed goods, according to the Sustainability Market Share Index by the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business.

So, what would it take for consumers to continue to shift their spending toward more sustainable products and behaviours? Greater insight into their current and projected spend could certainly help. Digital tools that allow individuals to calculate and limit their CO2 impact based on their spending are among the next wave of solutions. Working in partnership with NGOs, merchants and banks we have an opportunity to raise awareness of the environmental footprint associated with purchasing activity and make that data readily and consistently available around the globe.

For the past 60 years, Visa has been guided by its mission to connect the world through our global network and help individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. Pursuing this mission has always required partnership with governments, banks, merchants, NGOs and many other stakeholders. We believe that achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will only be possible through partnerships and we are committed to playing our part. Offering data insights to empower individuals, businesses and communities to thrive is one way; applying our brand, global network and payments expertise is another.

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