All of us who work in the technology sector can play a part in helping to figure out how to deliver economic services to nearly half of the worlds population, many of whom live without access to basic financial services such as a savings account.
Mobile technology, payments and e-commerce now make it possible to bring financial inclusion where services were not readily available or affordable before.
From our point of view, financial inclusion is critical, because it does service in three different ways.
Financial inclusion empowers consumers. We have a huge number of people who are already comfortable with online commerce, and cross-border travel has never been higher around the world. Yet, today, we have nearly 2.5 billion working-age adults who are unbanked.
Financial inclusion empowers merchants. In developing markets, close to 90% of merchants dont have the ability to accept or make payments electronically and yet these same merchants contribute about 40% of the worlds GDP. Nearly 70% of merchants in the developing world need external financing but dont get it.
Financial inclusion empowers society. The common misnomer is that cash is freeit is not. Cash costs money to print, store, handle, transfer, and provide security for, at a cost of between 0.8 - 2% of GDP. The use of cash promotes waste, loss, money laundering, tax evasion and other abuses. Cash is very expensive, while digital money transfers cut down on fraud and waste, and create an electronic paper trail for better monitoring.
As the needs in emerging markets differ greatly from developed markets, this is proving to be a catalyst for innovation. How governments distribute social benefits is one of those areas where our innovation and new advances in technology have led to greater efficiency and contributed greatly towards society. For example, we worked with the South African Social Security Agency to deliver social welfare benefitsas the government felt there were not enough places to access cash and there were high rates of leakage, we developed biometric-enabled debit cards. We also worked to equip local merchants with terminals so people can use their cards to buy basic necessities.
In another program, the state government of Chhattisgarh in India was distributing scholarship program money in cashand found most the cash was spent before courses even started. Together with the Central Bank of India, we worked to launch a student prepaid card for the distribution of scholarships. The card included a chip that required 70% of the money be used for fees at the institution that they were approved for.
And the World Food Program encountered challenges in either paying people or transferring food to refugees in Syria. We worked to create reloadable cards that are paid on a weekly basis, and these are used as payment for food and necessities with the local merchants, thereby supporting the local economy too.
We already see the positive effects of economic inclusion in developing regions. If you just look at remittances, there are 252 million immigrants who are making remittances each year, and for every 10% of per capita remittance increase, it reduces poverty by 3% in that country. And as we look at it, we see the drop down effect which flows to society.
Ultimately, companies working in technology and financial services have the ability to collaborate with government, social organizations and regulators and to ensure that more people enter the financial system and feel more secure. This is how we can be a force for good.
Vicky Bindra is president of Asia Pacific and Global Accounts for MasterCard in Singapore.