UNSGSA Queen Máxima highlights how the world has come a long way since mobile phones were first used to leapfrog brick-and-mortar bank branches in these pre-recorded remarks on the digital economy for inclusion and financial resilience recorded for the 2022 Global Fintech Fest held on 20 September 2022 in Mumbai, India. Click here to watch.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you by video and to be part of this wonderful festival for the first time.
Over the last decade as the UN (Secretary-General’s) Special Advocate, I have witnessed just how quickly financial inclusion has made a difference in people’s lives. As of 2021, 76% of adults have an account — a 50% increase since 2011.
This sharp rise has been fueled by a technological revolution stretching across the world. New data from the Global Findex report shows the long reach of financial technology. From India to East Africa, even the smallest rural merchants are being paid and making payments with the mobile phones they carry in their pockets.
Women are a big part of this change. Barriers to mobile ownership are starting to fall, and the gender gap has narrowed from nine to six percentage points. This means millions of more women can tap into the benefits of fintech and digital payments.
We have come a long way since mobile phones were first used to leapfrog brick-and-mortar bank branches.
People are sending and receiving payments in real time. Those who never had the right documents to open an account or take out a loan can now do so with digital IDs. Also innovative credit products are being developed under enabling regulatory approaches. Sandboxes, innovation offices, accelerators, and tech-sprints have been springboards for exciting new fintech solutions and regulatory adaption.
To sustain these gains, certain policies and infrastructure need to be in place. Namely, digital public goods.
Some are critical for accessing fintech and the digital economy, such as connectivity, network towers, and digital IDs.
Others make markets work better for customers, such as fair competition and interoperable payment systems.
Some protect the financial system and the people using it, like cybersecurity, consumer protection, and digital and financial literacy.
Too often, digital infrastructure and policies are considered in separate silos. But really, these public goods work best together. One digital public good that requires more attention is data governance and privacy.
When individuals and businesses share their data, they often do not know how valuable it is. Most grant consent without reading the terms and conditions, which as we all know, are often long and hard to comprehend.
Accessing one’s data is another challenge. For customers, it is nearly impossible to share their own data and use it to select suitable products or get better terms such as lower interest rates.
So, they cannot access their own data, and they are also not benefiting from it.
Customers deserve more transparency and involvement in how their data is collected, shared, and used. To better understand how we can empower individuals and small businesses, the EU Data Act and India’s Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture are two initiatives to watch.
India has been a global leader in showing what is possible with the India Stack, which combines Aadhaar ID cards, the United Payments Interface, and Account Aggregators into a powerful tool for inclusive digital finance.
Similar tools can be applied elsewhere, and not just in large economies. Peru and Estonia are examples of small nations that have created robust and inclusive digital public goods.
We have to learn from each other.
Organizations such as the Bank for International Settlements, the United Nations, and the World Bank Group can act as facilitators for governments and central banks to exchange knowledge on global public goods.
New global platforms are also guiding the conversation, such as the Digital Public Goods Alliance. Others are mobilizing global funding for digital public infrastructure, such as Co-Develop.
And critical international forums, such as the G20 and the IMF-World Bank annual meetings, can help prioritize digital public goods high on the global agenda.
At the heart of all these activities are the customers who want to live a financially healthy life and to seize opportunities that the digital economy can create.
Digital financial products and services should not only do no harm; they should also do good. Credit products can help people meet their long-term goals. But too much debt can damage financial health.
There are many opportunities to promote financial health. For example, with savings products that nudge people to reach a financial goal. Or, by encouraging financial institutions to measure the financial health of their customers and flag rising debt burdens.
During this week’s festival you will be able to discuss these important issues:
How can the public and private sector come together to effectively design, invest in, and govern digital public goods?
How can we empower individuals and small businesses with their own data?
How can we encourage the development of financial products that build resilience and financial health?
I wish you every success in your efforts to create a digital financial system that benefits everyone.