> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

A Rwandan farmer uses her cell phone to access markets for beans and maize. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation support this initiative of increased opportunity through enabled mobile phone usage.When we talk about “on-ramps” to financial inclusion, we are engaging with the idea that there are “entrance points” to the road that will take us to global inclusion, just as there are ways to access a highway to get people closer to their final destinations. We’ve already blogged about a number of different on-ramps: payroll loans, post office service points, savings groups, and mobile money, to name a few.

MasterCard’s Amit Jain and Gidget Hall explore another on-ramp: electronic bill payment.

I would venture to say that most people do not find bill pay exciting. In my house, the prospect of paying bills is a subject that tends to trigger groaning and deferral.

However, Jain and Hall observe that bill payment is a financial management exercise that is common among most people, including those with no existing banking relationships. They argue that of any potential on-ramp to financial inclusion, bill pay is the most common across the world. In addition, they note that bill payment is a regularly recurring process, which, if approached as an on-ramp to financial inclusion, could contribute to a habit of efficient and effective financial management.

From a supply-side perspective, electronic bill payment has the potential to benefit a range of players including retailers, banks, billers, and aggregators. Working together, under this logic, would benefit all of the parties. For example, billers could lower their costs associated with accepting payments at their physical offices, banks could engage and acquire customers, and the government could reduce the black economy and make transactions easier to track.

On the demand side, the authors observe that paying bills electronically could benefit people who would not have to travel as far, or work in cash only, and would therefore attract clients to formal financial services. An added benefit could be the development of good financial habits. This move toward the formal financial system would initiate an engagement with other products, including other electronic payments, borrowing, investment, savings, and insurance.

Perhaps most compelling is the authors’ point that bill payment has the potential to drive lending. When bill payment is electronic, lending institutions have more data on which to base their decisions. The authors offer that in fact, in Bhuvaneswar, India, people are already applying for loans and using their bill pay records to prove their dependability and creditworthiness. Even in the absence of formal credit bureaus, such proof of responsible financial decisions could provide critical information.

For more information and to read the whole paper, visit MasterCard here.

Image credit: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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