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Financial Inclusion on the Rise, But Gaps Remain

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Financial inclusion is on the rise globally, accelerated by mobile phones and the internet, but gains have been uneven across countries. A new World Bank report on the use of financial services also finds that men remain more likely than women to have an account.

Globally, 69 percent of adults – 3.8 billion people – now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider, a crucial step in escaping poverty.  This is up from 62 percent in 2014 and just 51 percent in 2011. From 2014 to 2017, 515 million adults obtained an account, and 1.2 billion have done so since 2011, according to the Global Findex database. While in some economies account ownership has surged, progress has been slower elsewhere, often held back by large disparities between men and women and between the rich and poor. The gap between men and women in developing economies remains unchanged since 2011, at 9 percentage points.

The Global Findex, a wide-ranging data set on how people in 144 economies use financial services, was produced by the World Bank with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Gallup, Inc.

“In the past few years, we have seen great strides around the world in connecting people to formal financial services,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Financial inclusion allows people to save for family needs, borrow to support a business, or build a cushion against an emergency. Having access to financial services is a critical step towards reducing both poverty and inequality, and new data on mobile phone ownership and internet access show unprecedented opportunities to use technology to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Download The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution

There has been a significant increase in the use of mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions. Between 2014 and 2017, this has contributed to a rise in the share of account owners sending or receiving payments digitally from 67 percent to 76 percent globally, and in the developing world from 57 percent to 70 percent.

 “The Global Findex shows great progress for financial access–and also great opportunities for policymakers and the private sector to increase usage and to expand inclusion among women, farmers and the poor,” H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, said. “Digital financial services were the key to our recent progress and will continue to be essential as we seek to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, yet two-thirds of them own a mobile phone that could help them access financial services. Digital technology could take advantage of existing cash transactions to bring people into the financial system, the report finds. For example, paying government wages, pensions, and social benefits directly into accounts could bring formal financial services to up to 100 million more adults globally, including 95 million in developing economies. There are other opportunities to increase account ownership and use through digital payments: more than 200 million unbanked adults who work in the private sector are paid in cash only, as are more than 200 million who receive agricultural payments.

“We already know a lot about how to make sure women have equal access to financial services that can change their lives,” Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. “When the government deposits social welfare payments or other subsidies directly into women’s digital bank accounts, the impact is amazing. Women gain decision-making power in their homes, and with more financial tools at their disposal they invest in their families’ prosperity and help drive broad economic growth.”

This edition of the Global Findex database includes updated indicators on access to and use of formal and informal financial services.  It adds data on the use of financial technology, including mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions, and is based on over 150,000 interviews around the world. The database has been published every three years since 2011.

“The Global Findex database has become a mainstay of global efforts to promote financial inclusion,” World Bank Development Research Group Director Asli Demirgüç-Kunt said. “The data offer a wealth of information for development practitioners, policymakers and scholars, and are helping track progress toward the World Bank Group goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Regional Overviews

In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money drove financial inclusion. While the share of adults with a financial institution account remained flat, the share with a mobile money account almost doubled, to 21 percent. Since 2014, mobile money accounts have spread from East Africa to West Africa and beyond. The region is home to all eight economies where 20 percent or more of adults use only a mobile money account: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Opportunities abound to increase account ownership: up to 95 million unbanked adults in the region receive cash payments for agricultural products, and roughly 65 million save using semiformal methods.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the use of digital financial transactions grew even as account ownership stagnated. Today, 71 percent of adults have an account, little changed from 2014. An exception is Indonesia, where the share with an account rose by 13 percentage points to 49 percent. Gender inequality is low: men and women are equally likely to have an account in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Digital financial transactions have accelerated especially in China, where the share of account owners using the internet to pay bills or buy things more than doubled—to 57 percent. Digital technology could be leveraged to further increase account use: 405 million account owners in the region pay utility bills in cash, though 95 percent of them have a mobile phone.

In Europe and Central Asia, account ownership rose from 58 percent of adults in 2014 to 65 percent in 2017. Digital government payments of wages, pensions, and social benefits helped drive that increase. Among those with an account, 17 percent opened their first one to receive government payments. The share of adults making or receiving digital payments jumped by 14 percentage points to 60 percent. Digitizing all public pension payments could reduce the number of unbanked adults by up to 20 million.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, wide access to digital technology could enable rapid growth in financial technology use: 55 percent of adults own a mobile phone and have access to the internet, 15 percentage points more than the developing world average. Since 2014, the share of adults making or receiving digital payments has risen by about 8 percentage points or more in such economies as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, and Peru. About 20 percent adults with an account use mobile or the internet to make a transaction through an account in Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica. By digitizing cash wage payments, businesses could expand account ownership to up to 30 million unbanked adults—almost 90 percent of whom have a mobile phone.

In the Middle East and North Africa, opportunities to increase financial inclusion are particularly strong among women. Today 52 percent of men but only 35 percent of women have an account, the largest gender gap of any region. Relatively high mobile phone ownership offers an avenue for expanding financial inclusion: among the unbanked, 86 percent of men and 75 percent of women have a mobile phone. Up to 20 million unbanked adults in the region send or receive domestic remittances using cash or an over-the-counter service, including 7 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

In South Asia, the share of adults with an account rose by 23 percentage points, to 70 percent. Progress was driven by India, where a government policy to increase financial inclusion through biometric identification pushed the share with an account up to 80 percent, with big gains among women and poorer adults. Excluding India, regional account ownership still rose by 12 percentage points—but men often benefited more than women. In Bangladesh, the share with an account rose by 10 percentage points among women while nearly doubling among men. Regionwide, digitizing payments for agricultural products could reduce the number of unbanked adults by roughly 40 million.

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Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

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Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.

The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.

 The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.

 The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.

 After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.  

The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.

A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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Global electricity demand is growing faster than renewables

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Renewables are expanding quickly but not enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand this year, resulting in a sharp rise in the use of coal power that risks pushing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector to record levels next year, says a new report from the International Energy Agency.

After falling by about 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 – driven by the global economic recovery – according to the latest edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report released today. The majority of the increase in electricity demand is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India.

Based on current policy settings and economic trends, electricity generation from renewables – including hydropower, wind and solar PV – is on track to grow strongly around the world over the next two years – by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022. But even with this strong growth, renewables will only be able to meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand over those two years, according to the new IEA report.

Fossil fuel-based electricity generation is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022, with nuclear power accounting for the rest. As a result, carbon emissions from the electricity sector – which fell in both 2019 and 2020 – are forecast to increase by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022, which would take them to an all-time high.

Renewable growth has exceeded demand growth in only two years: 2019 and 2020. But in those cases, it was largely due to exceptionally slow or declining demand, suggesting that renewables outpacing the rest of the electricity sector is not yet the new normal.

“Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security. “As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies – especially renewables and energy efficiency.” 

In the pathway set out in IEA’s recent Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, nearly three-quarters of global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2025 take place in the electricity sector. To achieve this decline, the pathway calls for coal-fired electricity generation to fall by more than 6% a year.

However, coal-fired electricity generation is set to increase by almost 5% this year and by a further 3% in 2022, potentially reaching an all-time high, according to the Electricity Market Report. Gas-fired generation, which declined 2% in 2020, is expected to increase by 1% in 2021 and by nearly 2% in 2022. The growth of gas lags that of coal because it plays a smaller role in the fast-growing economies in the Asia Pacific region and it faces competition from renewables in Europe and North America.

Since the IEA’s last Electricity Market Report in December 2020, extreme cold, heat and drought have caused serious strains and disruptions to electricity systems across the globe – in countries ranging from the United States and Mexico to China and Iraq. In response, the IEA is establishing an Electricity Security Event Scale to track and classify major power outages, based on the duration of the disruption and the number of affected customers. The Texas power crisis in February, where millions of customers were without power for up to four days because of icy weather, was assigned the most severe rating on this scale.

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