DIGITAL FINANCIAL INCLUSION

The digital transformation is evaded by few sectors and the financial sector is perhaps one where the transformation is most evident. Cryptocurrencies and neobanks are blooming while physical cash is threatened by mobile monies available at the user’s fingertips. Bank branches, the most central artifact of traditional banks, close their shutters one by one. While banks and financial services slowly withdraw from the physical space, new players in the digital financial sphere – amongst them many non-banks – roll up their sleeves. Investments in the alluring 'fintech' space have gone from a mere 5% to 20% in the last decade and the pandemic has boosted investments even further with a $13.4 billion raised only in the first quarter of 2021.

 

With the common goal to provide individuals and businesses access to useful and affordable financial services tailored to individual needs - fintech is certainly a key driver of financial inclusion. Though great progress on digital financial inclusion has been recorded especially in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific regions, 1.7B adults globally remain unbanked (56% being women). Nevertheless, two-thirds of them now have a mobile device. For forcibly displaced, being financially included is a crucial cornerstone for the integration into new communities, labour markets and for finding a path to long-term sustainable livelihoods. However, restrictive local regulations in host countries, lack of documentation of identity, and personal financial history are just some of the many barriers challenging the unbanked forcibly displaced. Turning towards the opportunities and the economic potential that digital finance holds,. a study has shown that lower-income countries could add 10% to 12% to their GDP if banking the unbanked.

 

The World Bank set the goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020. A year has passed since 2020. How do new models of digital financial inclusion targeting the unbanked look? How can forcibly displaced access these services safely? For the humanitarian sector, what is the case for venturing into the world of digital banking and FinTech? In the following future, we unfold how the digital transformation reshapes the banking and financial services sector and invite you to consider the following:

 

For forcibly displaced, how is digital surpassing current physical, political, and systemic obstacles for financial inclusion? and how do we ensure that digital financial inclusion is indeed inclusive, equitable and safe? 

Accelerators

Below, you find three selected accelerators, most prominently influencing the development of digital financial inclusion.

From inclusion to activation with open automation

In recent years, so-called 'neobanks' are rising to the challenge of enabling account creations globally. Here, players like Revolut bring free bank accounts including up to 10x cheaper transaction fees than traditional banks to the market. Their magic ingredient? Organise lean like a technology company but be a bank. With this philosophy, neobanks tap into a growing segment or generation that is currently underserved by the traditional banking players. In fact, estimates are that 72% of people under 30 distrust brick-and-mortar banks and rather hunt for the best user experience - often offered in and by the digital world. 

But to be financially included, people need not only access to accounts but also the means necessary to actually use the account – they need to be activated. Here digital interfaces play an important role. Today, Robo-advisors handle financial transactions in a machine-to-machine manner, our data (money) is stored on mobile apps, wearables, or implanted microchips and chatbots infused by machine learning greet us when accessing our digital accounts. Welcome to the era of finance as a digital self-service! Here, open banking and the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) support the interoperability necessary for the collaboration we now see between traditional banks jumping onboard digital and their digital challengers. Banks provide their financial services through open banking to fintech and other third parties in a banking-as-a-service manner to enable the likes of Tesla that for instance no longer sell cars alone,  but also car financing and insurances. 

In this future, we may see access, accounts, and financial services being increasingly automated and organised in lean and more cost-efficient ways. We may see the sector opening up to integrate more users - and even sectors. What opportunities does this offer for the humanitarian sector? Which digital partnerships might be beneficial to support in the digital financial inclusion of forcibly displaced?

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Unprofitable client turning profitable

Since the infamous launch of M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007, mobile money has spread across 90 countries and is today one of the leading non-cash-based payment platforms in Sub Saharan Africa. With the increasing global penetration of mobile technology, financial business models and financial services are reshaping how to enter the "bottom of the pyramid” - segments previously deemed unprofitable. Of particular interest to forcibly displaced, is the positive impact mobile telephones have had on solving the most basic financial need - like sending and receiving money. A need unmet in the analogue era. In the creative crossing of basic mobile phones and digital, we find that the portfolio of financial services open and diversifies even further.

Digital e-wallets like Leaf enables remittance across national borders, whilst also providing safe storage of money. Users can hold numerous currencies in their wallets, and optimise saving across multiple exchange rates. Services that are free amongst Leaf users, and cost < 1% fees between Leaf and non Leaf users. With every new digital technology introduced it seems new services are enabled. Within banking, Tala surpasses the issue of non-existing credit histories (often lost for forcibly displaced as they settle in new countries) by instead scoring its potential clients on 250 data points based on their history of mobile payments and online behaviours. With this, people that are online but undocumented and unbanked can access loans of up to $500.

The rising interest in these segments of so-called micro clients is made possible (read: profitable) with mobile technology and boosted further by digital that drives customer acquisition costs to zero. But when turning to forcibly displaced women, disabled and older forcibly displaced are significantly less likely to access digital financial services due to their lacking access to hardware, digital literacy, and financial literacy which leads to being excluded further. Elements of security also play a big role if and when considering services like Tala – especially for forcibly displaced whose very lives depend on not being tracked. As digital finance increasingly finds profit in the unprofitable - including forcibly displaced, whose responsibility is it to ensure new services offered are secure and inclusive in the long run?

Digital monies; diverse in form and creator

The vision of one universal currency presented in the original Star Wars movie seems far away. Instead, we find a proliferation of digital monies with multiple, overlapping currencies both fiat (government-issued) and private. In contrast to the current ca. 162 official currencies we have globally, digital monies in their utopian manifestation promote inclusiveness by means of their decentral, local and open design, using technologies such as blockchain. In this future, we have digital wallets holding numerous active currencies simultaneously.

The proliferation of monies stems from the widening of actors daring to enter the space of money creation. In addition to commercial & central banks issuing bank money and fiat money respectively, today companies, communities, and even cryptography create monies. These three groups have in recent years embarked on a complementary currency movement producing cryptocurrencies and local currencies that work alongside the current system. Bitcoin and Ethereum are the most known cryptocurrencies, but in fact, more than 5,000 different cryptocurrencies are in circulation. Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than 2,000 local currencies exist globally – currencies aimed at promoting local consumption and production and thriving rural micro-economies. eVouchers and Blockchain technology have clearly helped fuel local currencies and set the stage for so-called Community Inclusion Currencies (CIC). In places like Kenya, CICs have shown to “have a long-term multiplier-more than 21 times traditional donor assistance-effect on cash transfer fund impacts”.

Looking into the future, monies will increasingly turn into 1s and 0s, continuously challenging traditional cash and diversify the landscape of currencies. How will forcibly displaced benefit from the decentralised and local currency movement? Will digital monies impact their financial independence and engagement in the local economies? Will they themselves become creators of future monies? (And do we need to rewrite the Star Wars movie?)

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In this future, we shed light on the adoption of technology, the rise of new business models targeting micro clients with tailored financial services, and the increased diversity of digital monies and their creators. Digital in the financial sector unleashes new powers and welcomes new players – and payers. However, the adoption of technology brings the topic of financial literacy amongst forcibly displaced to light and raises concerns on how to financially include the many people without access to mobile.

 

The signals show advanced technologies that might elevate financial transactions, explore how technologies impact livelihoods already and which potential use cases might arise for digital finances in the future. For the many un- and underbanked, digital holds opportunities to access simple and useful financial services. Coming back to where we started this future, we challenge you to ask yourself again:

For displaced, how can digital financial inclusion surpass physical, political, and systemic barriers and reach them in an inclusive and equitable way?

  • Can digital finance become a business case for the humanitarian sector?

  • What opportunities do open banking offer? And what digital partnerships can support the digital financial inclusion of forcibly displaced?

  • What risks and opportunities do digital monies entail?

  • What if, digitally-enabled income generation will be the main livelihoods opportunity for forcibly displaced?

  • How can digital financial inclusion underpin important directions of the aid sector including localisation, nexus thinking, and whole-of-society approaches?

These questions and more, we will explore together on our journey forward!

So what?

Signals

Below, you find signals from the edge as well as from within the humanitarian sector. Click the signals to explore them further and use the arrows to navigate between them. Here, we encourage you to navigate this section with a “what if” mindset

- and note down any ideas and thoughts that may arise.

© 2021 by DareDisrupt for DRC