For too long financial inclusion has been considered an issue which mainly affects the developing world. In fact, according to recent Mastercard research, over 130 million people are unbanked or underbanked across Europe. When individuals and small businesses cannot participate in the financial system and as a result transact exclusively in cash, a significant amount of wealth is stored outside of the financial system, making credit scarce and expensive. Individuals and economic growth suffer.
In Europe, the financially excluded are not always those we think they are. Mastercard’s The road to inclusion 2016 study found that more than one in eight of the financially excluded have lived in the same country all their lives. A third is employed full time and 35% are aged 18-34.
As a socially responsible business, Mastercard recognises the role it can play in driving inclusive growth by addressing this challenge. Across the globe we are sharing our digital payments expertise with governments and others with the aim of reaching 500 million excluded people by 2020.
This is key as access to technology via smartphones among the financially excluded has increased significantly from 29% to 49% over the past 3 years and interest in mobile banking has more than doubled over the same period.
Business has a role to play, but governments must provide leadership. Encouragingly, steps are being taken at EU and national levels. In 2014, the EU adopted the Payment Accounts Directive, which aimed to achieve greater financial inclusion. This translated into the right to a basic bank account – which is to be enshrined in national law across Europe. Basic current accounts must be guaranteed for every person in Europe.
By taking a lead on tackling exclusion and unlocking growth in this way, policy is likely to have a positive effect on people’s lives and government revenues.
The global digital economy is flourishing, and it relies on electronic payments to enable businesses, governments and individuals to connect. However, as an increasing number of services and consumers go digital the social and economic cost of financial exclusion is likely to increase exponentially if governments together with the private sector do not address this issue with speed.
 World Bank Data http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=1228