All of us who work in the technology sector can play a part in helping to figure out how to deliver economic inclusion to nearly half of the world’s population, many of whom live without access to basic financial services such as a savings account. Mobile technology 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 don’t have the ability to accept or make payments electronically and yet these same merchants contribute about 40% of the world’s GDP. Nearly 70% of merchants in the developing world need external financing but don’t get it.
- Financial inclusion empowers society. The common misnomer is that cash is free – it 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.
But how does MasterCard fit into all of this? We are a technology company in the financial services space. We essentially provide the railroads for money transfer and the intelligence for the transfer of money from one place to another. We don’t issue credit cards, but we provide the technology and innovation to enable the safe and secure transfer of money.
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. Here are three brief examples:
- We worked with the South African Social Security Agency to deliver social welfare benefits – As the government felt there were not enough places to access cash and there were high rates of leakage, MasterCard developed biometric-enabled debit cards. We also worked to equip local merchants with terminals so people can use their cards to buy basic necessities.
- The state government of Chhattisgarh in India was giving scholarship program money in cash – and found most the cash was spent before courses even started. MasterCard and the Central Bank of India 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.
- The World Food Program encountered challenges in either paying people or transferring food to refugees in Syria. MasterCard 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, you have 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, MasterCard and other 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.
This piece first appeared on PaymentsSource.com on August 13.
- Read a press release to find out how MasterCard’s technology partnerships around the world are driving financial inclusion.
- Read a press release about how Vietnam is taking steps towards becoming a cashless society with electronic payments now being accepted at the iconic Ben Thanh market.