> Posted by Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, the Council on Foreign Relations
The following post was originally published on Democracy in Development, Coleman’s CFR blog.
Imagine life without a bank account. Completing a simple financial transaction can require traveling a distance, incurring expenses, and losing precious income. Savings are more difficult to track and certainly don’t earn interest. Theft or loss of the proverbial “cookie jar” is a constant worry. Indeed, studies show that informal savers lose as much as 25 percent of their hard-earned cash each year due to theft and loss. Yet for over 2.5 billion people globally, this inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive reality is the case.
There are many reasons to believe that the number of unbanked people will shrink significantly in years to come, with important positive implications for economic growth and poverty reduction. First, grassroots and country-level efforts, both nonprofit and for-profit, are already showing how “unbanked” doesn’t have to be the status quo—and these efforts are greatly facilitated by mobile phones. Kenya is well-known for the widespread use of its mobile money system M-Pesa, which allows people to pay for goods and services through cell phones instead of with cash. Started in 2007, M-Pesa has already been used by the vast majority of Kenya’s adults.
Second, major financial institutions are supporting efforts to give more of the world’s population access to bank accounts and standard financial tools. Last summer, I wrote about Visa’s purchase of the mobile payments system Fundamo and the collaboration between USAID and Citi to expand financial inclusion, a promising instance of big financial institutions bringing their resources to bear on closing the financial inclusion gap.