June 30

Digital Tech Is Turning the Unbanked Into the Banked


In the worst days of COVID-19, when people around the world were out of work and struggling to pay for food and housing, many national governments came to the same conclusion about the best way to offer immediate help: send people cash. More than 200 countries introduced emergency cash transfer programs or expanded existing ones; India, for example, transferred money to 300 million people, 200 million of whom were women, in the weeks after its first lockdown. Brazil reached 70 million people with emergency transfers.

Imagine the risk involved in making these payments with paper money during a pandemic. Government workers would have to physically deliver these payments, potentially exposing them and everyone they encountered to the virus. In addition, the whole process would be expensive and time-consuming at a time when people need help as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, most governments didn’t have to resort to in-person payment. They were able to deposit cash transfers directly into people’s accounts—allowing them to give crucial support without paper bills changing hands. And during the pandemic, even more users were brought into the digital fold. For example, after financial regulators in West Africa temporarily allowed people to open accounts by text or telephone, more than 8 million signed up for accounts while their countries were in lockdown.

Photo courtesy of bfishadow.

Source: GatesNotes (link opens in a new window)

financial inclusion, fintech