November 23, 2010

Global Savings Forum Outlines Sustainable Solutions to Financial Inclusion

My previous entry presented various statistics explaining that while very few poor people have access to savings accounts, there is a strong desire to utilize such financial schemes. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 adults in developing and middle income countries do not have bank accounts and worldwide, it is the poor, women, and rural residents who are the least banked. Only about 10 percent of the 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 per day have access to a bank account. Rather than illustrating a dire picture, these statistics demonstrate the opportunity that exist in broadening savings services to a large segment of the most underserved people worldwide; otherwise known as financial inclusion. (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

At the Global Savings Forum in Seattle, the first global gathering focused on the role of savings in the developing world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $500 million over the next five years to expand savings. Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates noted that a package of six new grants totaling $40 million are part of the $500 million pledge. The grants support projects and partnerships to improve access to savings and other financial services, including:
  • Expansion of bank and microfinance services to include savings accounts;
  • Implementation of new approaches to reach the poor with savings, such as branchless banking and mobile money; and
  • Research to identify how people use formal and informal financial tools, including savings, credit, insurance, and payment services, and to analyze the impact of financial services on the lives of the poor.
“Savings doesn’t just help people mitigate the risks posed by a medical emergency or a bad crop,” said Mrs. Gates. “It also gives them the ability to marshal their resources to build something better for themselves and their children. It allows them to fund their own businesses, to look ahead with confidence. Savings helps families to take the giant leap from reacting to events to planning for a healthier, happier future.”

Explained by a Gates Foundation press release, “Technologies such as mobile phones are already providing safe, reliable, and easy options for people to access financial services. Sixty-nine percent of the developing world already has a mobile connection, and this number is expected to climb to 98 percent within five years.”

Emerging technologies such as mobile phones and innovations that enable banking services to be provided in post offices, neighborhood shops, and other convenient locations are creating a historic opportunity to deliver affordable, quality financial services to the doorsteps of the world’s poor. In Kenya, a service called M-PESA allows nearly 12 million people to transfer money and link to bank accounts using mobile phones. In Mexico, a network of government-operated convenience stores is serving as a platform to offer banking services to the rural poor. In Malawi, a bank is reaching thousands of first-time banking customers by mounting mobile banks on the back of pickup trucks. Here is a video detailing the Foundation’s program of promoting financial inclusion in Mexico:

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