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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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Key Opportunities for Uzbekistan’s Development

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The World Bank has released its new Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) report for Uzbekistan, which analyzes key challenges and opportunities for the country’s development. The SCD contains policy recommendations for removing barriers to private sector growth, reducing the state’s role in the economy, focusing on people and their human capital, and transitioning to a green economy. The report provides the foundation for selecting priority areas for the World Bank Group’s cooperation with the Government of Uzbekistan throughout the 2022-2026 period.

In April 2022, the World Bank Group completed work on its second Systematic Country Diagnostic for Uzbekistan, following the first one that was produced in 2016. This flagship report is produced for a partner country every five years to identify key challenges and opportunities to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

Since 2017, the Government of Uzbekistan has implemented transformative reforms to liberalize the economy and business environment, improve the well-being of citizens, and steer the state towards meeting people’s needs, most of which are analyzed in the SCD.

Planning the next generation of reforms, Uzbekistan has set ambitious goals of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and reducing poverty by half by 2026. Achieving these goals requires much higher economic growth than the current level through faster job creation and reduced economic exclusion— especially among youth, women, and people with disabilities.

“The World Bank’s SCD is a rigorous analysis of the key opportunities and challenges we face as a country. As the report notes, the analysis was prepared under a new era of openness, data transparency, and collaboration between the World Bank, the Government, and other development partners. The priority areas it identifies are fully aligned with Uzbekistan’s development strategy for 2022-2026,” noted Djamshid Kuchkarov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction of Uzbekistan.

The new SCD sets out four development pathways that can help Uzbekistan achieve these ambitious goals: 1) encouraging more private sector growth and job creation; 2) reforming the role of the state in the economy; 3) investing in people-focused policies and human capital; and 4) building an environmentally sustainable and resilient future.

The report also outlines thirteen priority policy areas that emerged from the analysis in the SCD. Some of the key policy priorities recommended by the World Bank focus on the following areas:

Encouraging private sector growth. The authorities should improve the allocation of land, labor, and finance, as well as the legal and regulatory framework for competition across the private sector; adopt trade and investment policies that favor the private sector’s global integration; establish strong private sector support services; accelerate agricultural market  reforms that, among other things, will end the state’s interference in the agricultural market.

Strengthening the market enabling role of the state. The authorities should accelerate the state’s transition from producer to market enabler with fewer and better performing state-owned enterprises; address infrastructure gaps; reduce corruption and improve governance across the state institutions; decentralize government functions; increase public accountability.

Improving human capital. The authorities should address gaps in education quality; improve access to early childhood and tertiary education; strengthen the performance and affordability of the health system; improve water and sanitation services across the country; improve poverty measurement, policy, and targeting; develop labor market policies encouraging the inclusion of vulnerable groups; increase the coverage and adequacy of social safety nets for those in need.

Building an environmentally sustainable and resilient future for Uzbekistan. The authorities should manage natural resources more effectively, including water and land, more  efficiently; take measures to decarbonize and modernize the economy, including the energy sector; improve natural disaster management.

“We are grateful to the Government for their close collaboration and for making available all necessary data needed to prepare the SCD. The report serves as an important foundation for the World Bank Group’s new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for Uzbekistan, which will outline our financial and analytical support to Uzbekistan in implementing crucial reforms in the next five years,” said Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Uzbekistan.

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New Resilience Consortium to Forge Strategies for Recovery and Growth in Face of Multiple Crises

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COVID-19, climate change and, most recently, the war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis, are the latest reminders of the unprecedented capacity of external shocks to disrupt economies and societies. In a world of continuous, overlapping disruptions, organizations need to build and manage resilience to secure a sustainable, inclusive future for all.

Resilience for Sustainable, Inclusive Growth, a white paper published today, outlines seven key drivers of resilience, which have fundamental, cross-cutting business, economic and societal implications: climate, food, and energy; people, education and organizations; healthcare; sustainable economic development; trade and the supply chain; digital trust and inclusion; and finance and risk.

The United Nations, the World Economic Forum, McKinsey Global Institute, the International Monetary Fund and other leading organizations estimate that a significant share of annual GDP growth will depend on the degree to which organizations and societies develop resilience. Growth differentials of between 1% and 5% globally can be expected depending on how leaders respond to the many challenges, including climate change, the energy transition, supply-chain disruptions, healthcare availability, and income, gender and racial inequalities.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, is launching the Resilience Consortium, a new public-private leadership effort to drive global resilience. The consortium is bringing together leaders from the public and private sectors who are committed to advancing resilience globally – across regions, economies and industries. The aim is to develop a shared, comprehensive view of resilience and its drivers to help policy-makers and business leaders recognize the opportunities and lay the foundations of sustainable and inclusive, long-term global growth.

Building on existing Forum efforts on these resilience drivers, the Resilience Consortium will work to unlock synergies, accelerate collective action and enable a more systemic approach to investing in resilient economies and societies. The consortium will be led by a Steering Committee, comprising a dedicated group of public and private sector leaders across industries and geographies.

Experience of past crises has taught us five key lessons: managing disruptions defines sustainable growth more than managing continuity; crises evolve across categories and do not have single-point solutions; networks hide interdependencies, accelerating crises (as well as recovery); inadequate responses and unpreparedness can double the damage of crises; and crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in a society.

Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum,said: “Building greater resilience has become a defining mandate for this generation. The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact not only on the people of the region but also knock-on effects on global commodity prices that may cause political and humanitarian crises in other parts of the world. There is an urgent need for more collective action and coordination by the public and private sectors to mitigate risks and sustain growth against disruptive shocks, especially among the most vulnerable populations. Policy decisions and financial commitments made today will determine the future course of the planet, economies and societies. Now is the time for action.”

Bob Sternfels, Global Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company, said: “Our research shows two things: 1) failure to invest in resilience is costly and far exceeds the cost of weather proofing ahead of disruptions; and 2) resilient organizations outperform non-resilients before, during and after crisis. We are convinced that public and private sector organizations must take a new approach developing resilience that goes beyond defensive stances. In light of today’s increased economic volatility, fundamental environmental and societal challenges, and continuous disruptions, the time is now to build resilience as a strategic muscle. The Resilience Consortium will work towards a common resilience framework for public and private-sector organizations that can help organizations drive sustainable, inclusive growth.”

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Global economic growth downgraded due to spillover from Ukraine war

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A woman walks past sandbags piled for defensive protection, in Odessa, Ukraine. © UNICEF/Siegfried Modola

The global economy is expected to grow by only 3.1 per cent this year, down from the 4.0 per cent projected in January, largely derailed by the war in Ukraine, according to the UN’s latest World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report, launched on Wednesday. 

The mid-year forecast reveals how the conflict has upended the fragile economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking a humanitarian crisis in Europe, surging food and commodity prices, and exacerbating inflationary pressures. 

Global inflation is also set to reach 6.7 per cent this year, or twice the average of 2.9 per cent during the period from 2010 to 2020, with sharp rises in food and energy prices.   

Quick action crucial: Guterres 

“The war in Ukraine – in all its dimensions — is setting in motion a crisis that is also devastating global energy markets, disrupting financial systems and exacerbating extreme vulnerabilities for the developing world,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.    

“We need quick and decisive action to ensure a steady flow of food and energy in open markets, by lifting export restrictions, allocating surpluses and reserves to those who need them, and addressing food price increases to calm market volatility,” he added. 

The downgrade in growth prospects includes the world’s largest economies – the United States, China, and the European Union – as well as the majority of other developed and developing economies. 

Higher energy and food prices are particularly affecting developing economies that import commodities, and the outlook is compounded by worsening food insecurity, especially in Africa.  

Energy shock in Europe 

The WESP report, published by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), examines how the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine are impacting different regions. 

Russia’s invasion began on 24 February, and in addition to the tragic loss of life and the unfolding humanitarian crisis – with more than six million refugees alone – it has also exacted heavy tolls on the economies of both countries.  

Neighbouring economies in Central Asia and Europe, including the European Union (EU), are also affected. 

The rise in energy prices has dealt a shock to the EU, which imported nearly 57.5 per cent of its total energy consumption in 2020. Economic growth is forecasted to grow by only 2.7 per cent, instead of the 3.9 per cent projected in January. 

Nearly a quarter of Europe’s energy consumption in 2020 came from oil and natural gas imported from Russia, and a sudden halt in flows is likely to lead to increased energy prices and inflationary pressures.

EU member states from Eastern Europe and the Baltic region are severely impacted as they are already experiencing inflation rates well above the EU average, the report said. 

Inflation woes 

In the world’s developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), high inflation is reducing the real income of households.   

This is especially the case in developing countries, where poverty is more prevalent and wage growth remains constrained, while fiscal support to lessen the impact of higher oil and food prices is limited.  

Rising food and energy costs are also having knock-on effects on the rest of the economy which is presenting a challenge to inclusive post-pandemic recovery as low-income households are disproportionately affected. 

Additionally, “monetary tightening” by the Federal Reserve in the United States, the country’s central banking authority, is also set to raise borrowing costs and worsen financing gaps in developing nations, including the world’s LDCs. 

“The developing countries will need to brace for the impact of the aggressive monetary tightening by the Fed and put in place appropriate macroprudential measures to stem sudden outflows and stimulate productive investments,” said Hamid Rashid, DESA’s Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch, and the lead author of the report.   

Climate actions challenged  

The war is also unfolding at a time when global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are at a record high, and rising energy prices will also impact global efforts to address climate change.  As countries are looking to expand energy supplies amid high oil and gas prices, the report predicts that fossil fuel production is likely to increase in the short term.  

Meanwhile, high prices of nickel and other metals may adversely affect the production of electric vehicles, while rising food prices may limit the use of biofuels.  

“However, countries can also address their energy and food security concerns – brought to the fore due to the crisis – by accelerating the adoption of renewables and increasing efficiencies, thus strengthening the fight against climate change,” said Shantanu Mukherjee, DESA’s Director of Economic Policy and Analysis.    

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