When Jakub Kowalski migrated to the UK in search of construction work, he needed a basic bank account to keep his earnings and make money transfers to his family back home in Poland. A friend introduced him to Monese, a mobile banking app that has helped over 300,000 migrants in Europe open accounts instantly with just a selfie and a picture of their passports, without needing to provide a local credit history or utility bills required by high street banks.
Purnima Kumar, who works as a nanny in a small town in eastern India kept her hard-earned earnings in a biscuit tin. Spurred by the government’s Jan Dhan (literally, “people wealth”) programme to encourage financial inclusion, she opened a zero-balance account at the local bank branch that provided her, apart from safe-keeping of funds, a life insurance cover. Since its launch in 2014, over 300 million families across India have opened their first bank accounts under the program.
In the not-too-distant past, banking and financial services were considered the exclusive domain of big businesses and wealthy individuals. As countries began to understand the link between wider financial inclusion and overall prosperity, this view has turned on its head. Financial inclusion can help build happier, more sustainable societies where people can use the banking system to make better choices for their well-being.
In short, banking is for everyone. This includes young millennials just entering financial adulthood; blue collar workers budgeting to send money home from their salaries; micro businesses built on dreams and toil; single mothers bringing up kids while managing everything else; and people with disabilities — or indeed of determination — who want to independently manage their money.
According to World Bank statistics released last month, the proportion of global population that owns an account with a financial institution or a mobile money service rose from 62 per cent in 2014 to 69 per cent in 2017. As many as 515 million individuals opened an account for the first time over the past three years. However close to two billion adults globally still remain unbanked, including five out of six people in the Middle East.
Technology, the great leveller
Rising smartphone usage is bringing banking services within the reach of a wider cross-section of people. Africa is the global leader in mobile money today with over 100 million customers, one out of ten adults, and growing at 33 per cent annually, helping it leapfrog traditional development.
Digital wallets enable providing immediate monetary aid during natural disasters with emergency cash transfers, helping populations in remote areas access goods and services locally. New age credit scoring algorithms based on social media or mobile phone usage help provide loans to customers who don’t have a credit history.
National identity card systems are helping real time verification of customer identities using biometric data. In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Development Bank has announced plans to use blockchain technology to develop Sharia-compliant products, which support financial inclusion across member countries. Closer home, over a fourth of Emirates NBD’s branch network in UAE is disability-friendly, with easier access and priority queueing for people of determination. The bank is also the first in the world to pilot an automated sign language translation system to help customers with hearing disabilities communicate and transact easily.
Innovation for inclusion
Innovation in customer outreach has been at the forefront of financial inclusion. In Nigeria, for instance, women’s access to financial services is made easier by having female bank agents visit open-air markets with connected mobile devices, and using these to facilitate account set-up, deposits and withdrawals without their customers having to leave their stalls. Similar mechanisms have been set up in China and India. In the UAE, which has a unique demographic of a large blue-collar expatriate workforce, products such as prepaid salary cards provide the cardholder access to essential services.
Fintech innovators around the world are working to create online marketplaces to lend to customers who don’t have access to banks. Crowd-funding platform Ethis enables its community of ethical investors from 25 countries to provide funding for social housing development projects in Indonesia, helping families break out of poverty, while earning a healthy return on the investment. Savings clubs exist in many markets across the world that provide members with informal saving options and credit access.
Reaching out to all categories of unbanked customers — whether they are migrant workers, single mothers or people with disabilities — requires that we step out of our comfort zone to better understand their needs, and innovate from the heart to provide meaningful solutions.
Suvo Sarkar is the senior executive vice-president and group head of Retail Banking & Wealth Management at Emirates NBD.
Source: Gulf News - Banking
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