Widespread mobile phones can offer banking services to the poor: World Bank


WASHINGTON: The spread of mobile phones to all corners of the world offers the opportunity to deliver banking services to poor and rural areas, improving lives, the World Bank says in a report Thursday.

Access to a bank account can especially help women, who are more likely to save and to spend on healthcare and education, World Bank economist Leora Klapper told AFP. Governments can drive those improvements by shifting to digital payments, which more people can access on mobile phones.

“I passionately believe formal financial services are key to eradicating global poverty and especially improving women’s economic empowerment,” Klapper said in an interview. The share of adults with accounts is growing but there are disparities among regions, and more starkly, between women and men, she said.

In the latest update to its Global Findex database, the World Bank found that 1.2 billion adults had gotten bank accounts since 2011 and 515 million since 2014, bringing the share of adults with accounts to 69 percent last year. But while “tremendous progress” has been made in making access to financial services and banking more inclusive, the report finds women and the poor continue to be left behind in some countries.

The data show 72 percent of men worldwide have an account but just 65 percent of women, while in developing economies the gender gap is unchanged at nine percentage points.

The report “shows great progress for financial access — and also great opportunities for policymakers and the private sector to increase usage and to expand inclusion among women, farmers and the poor,” said Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

Digital financial services “will continue to be essential as we seek to achieve universal financial inclusion,” she said in a statement. Maxima is the UN Secretary-General’s special advocate for inclusive Finance for development.