World leaders from the US, Europe, Africa and Asia called during the 68th United Nations General Assembly, for greater attention to be placed on harnessing digital technology to increase access to financial services as a means of alleviating poverty.
“One key innovation which I believe has as much potential to transform the lives of the poor as a new vaccine or yielding crop, is digital payments,” Mr. Bill Gates, Co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told a packed meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. “Digital payments give the poor a foothold [to escape poverty] by freeing them from one of their biggest obstacles to financial security: cash.”
Mr. Gates was speaking at a United Nations General Assembly event on Partnerships for Digital Financial Inclusion co-hosted by the Better Than Cash Alliance, UNCDF and UNDP. He was joined by other experts in electronic payments and financial inclusion including Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, UN Secretary General’s Advocate for Financial Inclusion and the Malawian Minister of Economic Planning and Development, the Hon. Ralph Jooma, M.P.
Today 2.5 billion adults are excluded from the formal financial services sector. While financial inclusion is a priority issue for many governments, development organizations and companies, these institutions still make billions of dollars in cash payments to people in emerging economies. Speakers highlighted that shifting these salaries, pensions, social welfare stipends and aid payments from cash to electronic has the potential to provide digital financial inclusion to recipients.
The gathered leaders did not simply brainstorm visions for the digital future. They demanded greater investment and political commitment, including that financial inclusion become a part of the UN Development Goals post-2015 agenda. Queen Máxima emphasized that the overall aspiration should be nothing less than universal access to financial services.
Achieving this vision is not without challenges. The leaders consistently highlighted the need for infrastructure, consumer education and coordination across multiple agencies. They also noted that partnerships between government, private sector and development organizations are the key to overcoming such obstacles and ensuring that financial services are accessible even to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark urged leaders from all sectors to work together, saying that UNDP firmly believes “that that by partnering together and leveraging the world’s current digital transformation, financial inclusion and inclusive growth can be significantly advanced”.
In closing the event, UNCDF Executive Secretary Marc Bichler asked all people to remember that “when we get it right, electronic payments accelerate and broaden people’s access to financial services and open new markets,” and stressing that “the future will indeed be digital.”
The full list of speakers at the event included:
- Ms Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
- Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, UNSGSA for Inclusive Finance for Development
- Mr. Bill Gates, Co-Chair, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director, The Better Than Cash Alliance
- His Excellency Jose L. Cuisia Jr., Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America
- Mr. Paolo Eugenio Baltao, President, G-Xchange, Inc.
- Mr. Marc Bichler, Executive Secretary, UNCDF
- Ms Beth Porter, Policy Advisor, UNCDF
About Better Than Cash Alliance
The Better Than Cash Alliance partners with governments, the development community and the private sector to empower people by shifting from cash to electronic payments. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, USAID and Visa Inc. are the founders and the U.N. Capital Development Fund serves as the secretariat. To learn more, visit www.betterthancash.org and follow @BetterThan_Cash.