How FinTech has unlocked new financial opportunities for millions

Investment in critical digital public infrastructure has laid the foundation for a surge in inclusive finance, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands tells Sibos conference

A pedestrian walks past an advertisment for the Central Bank Of India Ltd.'s digital banking services in Mumbai, India, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. India's Finance Ministry will recommend bold tax reform to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's growth-crimping cash ban wasn't in vain, people familiar with the matter said. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The global acceleration of FinTech and digital payment solutions since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has unlocked new financial opportunities for millions of people who previously did not have access to bank accounts, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands has said.

“The rise of inclusive finance is a genuine good news story at a moment of great challenges,” Queen Maxima said on Monday at the 44th edition of Sibos, an annual conference for the global financial services industry that is being held in Amsterdam.

“Investments in critical digital public infrastructure such as greater connectivity and digital IDs have laid the foundation for this amazing growth and the rise of digital payments has driven a massive increase in account ownership."

Since 2009, Queen Maxima, a former banker and economist, has served as the UN Secretary General’s special advocate for inclusive finance for development, which aims to increase universal access to safe financial services.

Seventy-six per cent of adults around the world now have an account either at a bank, other financial institution or with a mobile money provider, up from 68 per cent in 2017 and 51 per cent in 2011, the World Bank said in its Global Findex 2021 report, which was released in June.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred financial inclusion — driving a large increase in digital payments amid the global expansion of formal financial services,” the Washington-based lender said in the report.

“This expansion created new economic opportunities, narrowing the gender gap in account ownership and building resilience at the household level to better manage financial shocks.”

The pandemic led to lockdowns around the world and accelerated the move to digital services as consumers switched to cashless payments.

Globally, digital payments are projected to nearly double to $8.26 trillion by 2024, from $4.4tn in 2020, according to data research company Statista.

However, FinTechs and financial services companies have a responsibility to protect consumers rather than only focusing on transaction volumes and customer acquisition, Queen Maxima told the conference, which is being held under the theme of “Progressive Finance for a Changing World”.

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“The first priority is to make sure we do no harm,” she said.

“Ensuring key digital public goods are in place, like cybersecurity, consumer protection, data governance and digital literacy, can help marginalised communities navigate financial services more safely and in ways that really work for them.”

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Beyond transaction volume and customer acquisition, can we create the rails for transformative change to help users become more financially healthy?
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands

About 22 per cent of the GCC's population is unbanked, compared with 60 per cent in North Africa, according to a report by consultancy Strategy &.

Meanwhile, 79 per cent of young adults in the Mena region are unbanked and 72 per cent of the poorest citizens can benefit from financial inclusion, the Arab Monetary Fund said in a report.

“Beyond transaction volume and customer acquisition, can we create the rails for transformative change to help users become more financially healthy?” Queen Maxima said.

This would help people to better manage their day-to-day finances and access credit to plan and meet their future financial goals, she said.

“Financially healthy customers are better customers and those who provide the services can differentiate themselves from other providers," she said.

Updated: October 11, 2022, 4:30 AM
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