Three quarters of adults now have a bank or mobile money account; gender gap in account ownership narrows

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred financial inclusion – driving a large increase in digital payments amid the global expansion of formal financial services. This expansion created new economic opportunities, narrowing the gender gap in account ownership, and building resilience at the household level to better manage financial shocks, according to the Global Findex 2021 database.

As of 2021, 76% of adults globally now have an account at a bank, other financial institution, or with a mobile money provider, up from 68% in 2017 and 51% in 2011. Importantly, growth in account ownership was evenly distributed across many more countries. While in previous Findex surveys over the last decade much of the growth was concentrated in India and China, this year’s survey found that the percentage of account ownership increased by double digits in 34 countries since 2017.

The pandemic has also led to an increased use of digital payments. In low and middle-income economies (excluding China), over 40% of adults who made merchant in-store or online payments using a card, phone, or the internet did so for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The same was true for more than a third of adults in all low- and middle-income economies who paid a utility bill directly from a formal account.  In India, more than 80 million adults made their first digital merchant payment after the start of the pandemic, while in China over 100 million adults did.

Two-thirds of adults worldwide now make or receive a digital payment, with the share in developing economies grew from 35% in 2014 to 57% in 2021. In developing economies, 71% have an account at a bank, other financial institution, or with a mobile money provider, up from 63% in 2017 and 42% in 2011. Mobile money accounts drove a huge increase in financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The digital revolution has catalyzed increases in the access and use of financial services across the world, transforming ways in which people make and receive payments, borrow, and save,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass“Creating an enabling policy environment, promoting the digitalization of payments, and further broadening access to formal accounts and financial services among women and the poor are some of the policy priorities to mitigate the reversals in development from the ongoing overlapping crises.”

For the first time since the Global Findex database was started in 2011, the survey found that the gender gap in account ownership has narrowed, helping women have more privacy, security, and control over their money. The gap narrowed from 7 to 4 percentage points globally and from 9 to 6 percentage points in low- and middle-income countries, since the last survey round in 2017.

About 36% of adults in developing economies now receive a wage or government payment, a payment for the sale of agricultural products, or a domestic remittance payment into an account. The data suggests that receiving a payment into an account instead of cash can kickstart people’s use of the formal financial system – when people receive digital payments, 83% used their accounts to also make digital payments. Almost two-thirds used their account for cash management, while about 40% used it to save – further growing the financial ecosystem.

Despite the advances, many adults around the world still lack a reliable source of emergency money. Only about half of adults in low- and middle-income economies said they could access extra money during an emergency with little or no difficulty, and they commonly turn to unreliable sources of finance, including family and friends.

“The world has a crucial opportunity to build a more inclusive and resilient economy and provide a gateway to prosperity for billions of people,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the supporters of the Global Findex database. “By investing in digital public infrastructure and technologies for payment and ID systems and updating regulations to foster innovation and protect consumers, governments can build on the progress reported in the Findex and expand access to financial services for all who need them.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the lack of an identity document remains an important barrier holding back mobile money account ownership for 30% of adults with no account suggesting an opportunity for investing in accessible and trusted identification systems. Over 80 million adults with no account still receive government payments in cash – digitalizing some of these payments could be cheaper and reduce corruption. Increasing account ownership and usage will require trust in financial service providers, confidence to use financial products, tailored product design, and a strong and enforced consumer protection framework.

The Global Findex database, which surveyed how people in 123 economies use financial services throughout 2021, is produced by the World Bank every three years in collaboration with Gallup, Inc.

Regional Overviews: 

Global Findex 2021 Regional Overviews


In East Asia and the Pacific, financial inclusion is a two-part story of what is happening in China versus the other economies of the region. In China, 89% of adults have an account, and 82% of adults used it to make digital merchant payments. In the rest of the region, 59% of adults have an account and 23% of adults made digital merchant payments—54% of which did so for the first time after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Double-digit increases in account ownership were achieved in Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand, while the gender gap across the region remains low, at 3 percentage points, but the gap between poor and rich adults is 10 percentage points.


In Europe and Central Asia, account ownership increased by 13 percentage points since 2017 to reach 78% of adults. Digital payments usage is robust, as about three-quarters of adults used an account to make or receive a digital payment. COVID-19 drove further usage for the 10% of adults who made a digital merchant payment for the first time during the pandemic. Digital technology could further increase account use for the 80 million banked adults that continued to make merchant payments only in cash, including 20 million banked adults in Russia and 19 million banked adults in Türkiye, the region’s two largest economies.


Latin America and the Caribbean saw an 18 percentage -point increase in account ownership since 2017, the largest of any developing world region, resulting in 73% of adults having an account. Digital payments play a key role, as 40% of adults paid a merchant digitally, including 14% of adults who did so for the first time during the pandemic. COVID-19 furthermore drove digital adoption for the 15% of adults who made their first utility bill payment directly from their account for the first time during the pandemic—more than twice the developing country average. Opportunities for even greater use of digital payments remain given that 150 million banked adults made merchant payments only in cash, including more than 50 million banked adults in Brazil and 16 million banked adults in Colombia.


The Middle East and North Africa region has made progress reducing the gender gap in account ownership from 17 percentage points in 2017 to 13 percentage points—42% of women now have an account compared to 54% of men. Opportunities abound to increase account ownership broadly by digitalizing payments currently made in cash, including payments for agricultural products and private sector wages (about 20 million adults with no account in the region received private sector wages in cash, including 10 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt). Shifting people to formal modes of savings is another opportunity given that about 14 million adults with no account in region—including 7 million women—saved using semiformal methods.


In South Asia, 68% of adults have an account, a share that has not changed since 2017, though there is wide variation across the region. In India and Sri Lanka, for example, 78% and 89% of adults, respectively, have an account. Account usage has grown, however, driven by digital payments, as 34% of adults used their account to make or receive a payment, up from 28% in 2017. Digital payments present an opportunity to increase both account ownership and usage, given the continued dominance of cash—even among account owners—to make merchant payments.


In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money adoption continued to rise, such that 33% of adults now have a mobile money account—a share three times larger than the 10% global average. Although mobile money services were originally designed to allow people to send remittances to friends and family living elsewhere within the country, adoption and usage have spread beyond those origins, such that 3-out-of-4 mobile account owners in 2021 made or received at least one payment that was not person-to-person and 15% of adults used their mobile money account to save. Opportunities to increase account ownership in the region include digitalizing cash payments for the 65 million adults with no account receiving payments for agricultural products, and expanding mobile phone ownership, as lack of a phone is cited as a barrier to mobile money account adoption. Adults in the region worry more about paying school fees than adults in other regions, suggesting opportunities for policy or products to enable education-oriented savings.

Entrepreneurship is flourishing— a key step toward tackling development challenges.

Alittle help. That’s what Koray Bahar needed.

In 2016, the Turkish entrepreneur founded Figopara, an online marketplace for small business loans. The platform would allow business owners to use pending invoices as collateral – a revolutionary idea in Türkiye – and see big banks compete for their business.

While the concept was sound, some Turkish lenders balked at joining a potentially disruptive platform. That’s when Bahar would mention that IFC was an investor in Figopara.

“We were the new guys. The IFC brand helped us a lot,” said Bahar, whose company now works with several major banks and serves 4,000 businesses. “It opened doors and the deals started turning.”

IFC’s backing of Figopara was part of a larger effort to support Türkiye’s technology scene, especially companies that have the potential to create jobs, funnel capital to small businesses, and tackle long-standing social and environmental problems. Since 2014, IFC has committed $95 million in venture capital funds that specialize in Türkiye and Eastern Europe, including $19 million since the start of the pandemic.

“Technology has the potential to make the lives of everyday people better,” said Ufuk Demirci, IFC’s global lead of venture capital funds. “That’s especially important in developing countries, like Türkiye, where it can democratize access to everything from bank loans to healthcare.”

A ways to go

Investments in Turkish startups have risen 10-fold in the last decade and the technology sector has seen the minting of several unicorns, companies worth $1 billion-plus. Those include delivery app Getir, which was valued at more than $7.5 billion following a funding round in mid-2021, Peak Games, which was acquired by Zynga in 2020 for $1.8 billion, and Trendyol, which was valued at $16.5 billion in 2021.

But capital remains hard to come by for many startups. From 2014 to 2020, venture capital investments in Türkiye were $48 per capita, according to market research firm PitchBook Data. In the United States, it was $2,253 and in Israel, $3,922.

That’s why IFC in recent years has focused on channeling money to entrepreneurs through Türkiye-focused venture capital funds. In 2020, the institution invested €15 million in a vehicle from Revo Capital that focuses on more established companies. In 2021, through its Startup Catalyst Program, IFC invested 2.5 million euros in a fund from 500 Istanbul, which targets early-stage startups. The idea is that those investments will help provide cash-strapped entrepreneurs with the funding they need to bring potentially game-changing ideas to market.

“No bank will listen to an early-stage startup. Five university students working out of their garage have no place to go,” said Sobhi Mahmassani, an IFC investment officer who specializes in venture funds. “Through investments in funds like 500 Istanbul we can reach hundreds of entrepreneurs and help set them on a path to success.”

One company that benefitted from IFC’s work is electronics retailer Anka Mobile. The Istanbul-based firm uses Figopara’s online service to convert pending invoices into working capital.

“Thanks to the service provided by Figopara, we can now access finance much faster,” said CEO Burcu Genç.

The middle-income trap

For years, Türkiye and its neighbours in Eastern Europe have leveraged low labour costs to become manufacturing and outsourcing hubs. But as they’ve become more prosperous, wages have risen and growth has slowed – the dreaded middle-income trap.

Technology is seen by many as a way for Türkiye to free itself from that and transition to a model of growth built on innovation.

That’s become increasingly important amid COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, a World Bank analysis found that 1.6 million people in the country have slipped into poverty.

“While growth has rebounded in the last year, the reality is that Türkiye needs to be thinking about how it can continue to be competitive over the long term,” said Arnaud Dupoizat, IFC Country Manager for Türkiye. “Embracing technology – and re-enforcing the whole startup ecosystem – is a way it can do that.”

Istanbul-based electronic payment provider Paycore is emblematic of that promise. Founded two decades ago, the company now reaches clients in 35 countries and employs more than 400 people. Its products include software that turns a tablet or phone into a point-of-sale device, a setup tailor-made for retailers.

“For businesses, including smaller ones, advanced technology leads to lower costs, better service quality, and increased production, all of which ultimately help create jobs,” said Ali Kancal, Paycore’s CEO. (Revo Capital owns 5 percent of Paycore.)

“Technology is also helping Turkish businesses expand their horizons,” said Kancal. “For companies in our region, it is opening up a global market.”

Success stories like Paycore are why IFC plans to ramp up its investments in the technology space in Türkiye, said Mahmassani.

“Getting involved with startups and venture funds is a way to have a large impact with a modest investment.”

Read more about IFC Disruptive Technologies and Venture Capital here.

Despite certain advances in the scope of women entrepreneurship in France, the latter remains far from the ideals of gender parity. To accelerate the progress, La Poste France breaks the silos and lends its hand to the most creative and impactful start-ups across the country.

According to a 2021 report by French firms EY and France Digitale, just 12% of digital start-up founders in France are women. The report, Social and Economic Performance of French Digital Start-ups Barometer 2021, surveyed more than 780 participants in France in 2020 and 2021. It also found that only 11% of respondents’ CEOs are women – up from 9% in 2018.

The reported noted that even with this upward trend for women CEOs as well as an increase in the overall parity among employees – 43% were women, versus 36% in the previous edition – more still needs to be done to support female digital entrepreneurs in France. One company seeking to do just that is the French postal operator, La Poste.

For the past three years, La Poste, along with its key partners, has run the #FemmesduNumérique Coups de Coeur awards, which are aimed at women entrepreneurs who have an innovative digital project or a digital service solution.

According to Vanessa Chocteau, Director of Transformation and Start-up Co-Innovation at La Poste, the awards “encourage women to realize their projects, by making them visible and by obtaining the first financing.”  They also act as “a first step towards entrepreneurship,” she added.

La Poste’s communications department launches and monitors the award campaign each year. Women entrepreneurs are encouraged to put forward their ideas, after which La Poste’s innovation team brings in its expertise and works with its ecosystem of more than 100 partners to go through all the entrants. A shortlist is then drawn up, which includes two entrants from each region in France. The public is then asked to vote for the overall winner – the “Coups de Coeur”.

“Finally, KissKissBankBank [a collaborative platform for funding innovative projects] assists in setting up the financing campaign on its crowdfunding platform,” Chocteau added.

This year, there were 13 award winners and one “Coups de Coeur,” which went to Laurence Havé, who created the Stand Me App. This application helps patients with cancer to practice physical and cognitive activities, according to Chocteau. Every award winner received €2,000 and the “Coups de Coeur” received €4,000.
Looking at the reasons behind the selection of these particular winners this year, Chocteau explained, “They are impact-driven innovations – all the chosen digital solutions have a positive impact on society, economy, and the environment.”

For La Poste, one of the key benefits of running such an awards programme is that the winning start-ups could end up being future partners of the company. “If detected and supported at the earliest opportunity, the projects can turn into solid companies and future partners of our Group,” said Chocteau. “They can then be supported by our other programmes for entrepreneurs and open innovation.”

One of those other programmes is La Poste’s business accelerator project, French IoT. French IoT supports start-ups at a more advanced level of maturity than those in the Coups de Coeur awards. The programme assists them with market launch and growth.

“Every year since 2015, we have selected around 15 start-ups for the French IoT programme,” Chocteau said. “They then follow a six-month programme meant to boost their project alongside experts with bootcamps, coaching and workshops. They develop business and investor connections to help develop their business and create more value. They also take part in the most popular innovation events within our Group.”

According to Chocteau, the French IoT project is a win-win for both La Poste and the start-ups. “Our ambition is to co-develop with the start-ups new digital useful services to answer the challenges of our society. The Group brings in its power and the start-ups – their agility. Together, we create value. Since 2015, we have had more than 30 active partnerships, with 14 projects currently under test, from around 110 accelerated start-ups. There have been more than 260 workshops led by experts and 180 hours of individual coaching and mentoring. Furthermore, today there are more than 300 start-ups who are part of the French IoT community, a pool of innovation for La Poste Group and its partners.”

The French IoT programme is also focused on economic empowerment of women, just like the Coups de Coeur awards are. “For the past three years, we have selected as many start-ups created by women as by men [within French IoT]. Thanks to the implementation of this parity goal, we have gone from 9% of start-ups created by women to 50%. We are proud of this progress, which promotes the leadership of women in the digital sector,” concluded Chocteau.

As part of its deepened engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Bank Board of Directors approved last week a $250 million development policy operation for foundational economic governance reforms and $500 million to strengthen transport and connectivity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both projects are financed by the International Development Association (IDA)*.

These two operations represent a strengthened engagement and dialogue between DRC and all levels of the World Bank Group. This dialogue has enabled us to redefine and take our partnership to a new level which we hope will help improve the lives of more than 90 million people,” said Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Foundational Economic Governance Reforms operationthe first IDA financed budget support operation in the DRC since 2005will support the government’s program of reforms to address key governance challenges in public finance, market liberalization, and forestry aimed at accelerating a green, resilient and inclusive development. It will also support transparency, a prerequisite for enhanced government accountability, and the sustainable management of DRC’s vast rainforest, which is key to sustaining community livelihoods and represents a carbon sink of global importance.

After the signing of the two financing agreements today, Nicolas Kazadi, DRC Finance Minister, expressed satisfaction that the reforms undertaken by the Government of President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo were bearing fruit: “The return of budget support after more than fifteen years is a sign of the Government’s commitment to improve governance, free the potential for economic growth in key sectors, and improve living conditions for Congolese people. It reflects the deepening of development cooperation with our technical and financial partners and should catalyze significant funding allowing the Government to address the immense development needs of DRC.”

The Transport and Connectivity Support Project is the first in a series of three projects designed to provide safe, resilient and sustainable transport and digital connectivity in and between the Kasai region and the eastern part of DRC, while also supporting strengthening of sector governance. It will support the government’s ambitious program of better integrating the country by re-establishing the East-West road transport link, modernizing key transport infrastructure, and improving digital connectivity. Specifically, it will finance the upgrading and paving of 440 kilometers of climate resilient roads in the Kasai and North Kivu provinces, while laying fiber optic infrastructure along the roads financed by the project.

The Transport and Connectivity Support Project includes measures to mitigate and address the risk of gender-based violence linked to the sudden influx of workers in construction areas. These measures include third-party monitoring, capacity building to train all project stakeholders, and partnering with civil society and other community-based entities to manage potential grievances. The project will also support climate-resilient infrastructure and strengthen forest preservation. Local communities will be supported on improved management of natural resources and the project will finance reforestation activities along road areas.

*The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 74 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.3 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has provided $458 billion to 114 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $29 billion over the last three years (FY19-FY21), with about 70 percent going to Africa. Learn more online: #IDAworks

The five advocates are successful women entrepreneurs and pioneers in the digital economy.

UNCTAD has appointed new “eTrade for Women advocates” to empower women in the digital economy and promote more inclusive e-commerce ecosystems.

Birame Sock from Senegal, Damilola Olokesusi from Nigeria, Lennise Ng from Malaysia, Mona Ataya from the United Arab Emirates and Pierangela Sierra from Ecuador are the third cohort of advocates since UNCTAD launched its eTrade for Women initiative in 2019.

“The global economic landscape has changed tremendously since we launched the eTrade for Women initiative almost three years ago,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

“But the challenge remains the same: we need to take action to reduce a growing digital divide. The advocates can help us change the rules of the game to level the playing field for women,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Bridging the gender divide in the digital economy

The advocates will help tackle gender disparities in the digital economy.

They will serve as role models, using their knowledge and experience to help other women digital entrepreneurs across the world overcome gender biases and grow successful businesses.

Studies by the International Finance Corporation show that women could add over $14.5 billion to e-commerce markets in Africa alone and $280 billion in South-East Asia, between 2025 and 2030.

A critical part of the advocates’ mandate is to bring the voice of women to the policymaking table and help create more and better opportunities in the digital space.

They will engage with policymakers to ensure the needs of digital small and medium enterprises are considered by governments when making policies and regulations on digital ecosystems.

Over 200 women entrepreneurs supported

UNCTAD’s advocates have supported over 200 women digital entrepreneurs across the globe since 2019.

Under their leadership, the initiative has held eight regional masterclasses in Latin America, West and East Africa, South-East Asia, the Balkans, and the Arab region.

They have also created eTrade for Women regional communities of women digital entrepreneurs in 34 countries.

Meet the advocates

Birame SockBirame Sock

Ms. Sock is the new eTrade for Women advocate for French-speaking African countries.

She is the founder and CEO of Kwely, a new business-to-business wholesale sourcing marketplace for products made in Africa.

She is also the founder and managing partner of Founder 5, Inc. a startup management group focused on developing and advising ventures in the United States and Africa in various areas.

Ms. Sock is a tech visionary with over 20 years of experience as a technologist, entrepreneur, and high-level executive in digital media.


Damilola OlokesusiDamilola Olokesusi

Ms. Olokesusi is the new eTrade for Women advocate for English-speaking African countries.

She is the founder and CEO of Shuttlers, Nigeria’s leading technology-driven transportation startup.

Shuttlers is revolutionizing how professionals and organizations commute in some of Africa’s busiest metropolises.

She is also behind the initiative “Shemoves Shuttles”, an all-female shuttle service turning female professionals’ commute into learning time.


Lennise NgLennise Ng

Ms. Ng is the new eTrade for Women advocate for South-East Asia.

She is the founder and CEO of Dropee, an artificial intelligence-based business-to-business marketplace that allows brands and distributors to better serve over 100,000 mom-and-pop stores across Malaysia and Indonesia.

She is on a mission to help digitize small and medium enterprises – especially women-led companies – across South-East Asia as a source of economic growth and development.


Mona AtayaMona Ataya

Ms. Ataya is starting the second year of her tenure as the eTrade for Women advocate for Arab States.

She is the founder and CEO of Mumzworld, a leading online marketplace for products for mothers, babies, and children in the Middle East, based in the United Arab Emirates. 

She has received over 80 awards and is considered one of the most influential businesswomen in the Arab region.


Pierangela SierraPierangela Sierra

Ms. Sierra is starting the second year of her tenure as the eTrade for Women advocate for Latin America and the Caribbean.

She is the founder and CEO of Tipti, the fastest-growing groceries e-commerce company in Ecuador and Panama.

She is also the director of the Ecuadorian-American Chamber of Commerce.




UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative is funded by the governments of the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

Sustainable social and economic development in the years ahead will depend on efforts to build networks and partnerships between big corporate players and the world’s innumerable micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

And just as important will be a global networking push among MSMEs themselves, according to an online panel hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) earlier this month ahead of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day (MSME Day).

Celebrated annually on 27 June, the day was initiated by the UN General Assembly in 2017 to recognize the crucial role of MSMEs in sustainable development.

As drivers of promoting innovation, creativity, and decent work for all, these enterprises are a crucial factor in the pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are typically defined as those with annual turnover up to about USD 50 million or employing up to 250 people. Recent years have shifted emphasis increasingly to the micro players, those employing up to 10 people or with turnover of USD 2 million or less.

Economic engines

Formal and informal MSMEs make up over 90 per cent of companies worldwide, accounting for 70 per cent of total employment and up to 50 per cent of global GDP, according to United Nations estimates. With their innate flexibility and knowledge of local markets, MSMEs can be uniquely well placed to solve market-specific challenges or meet emerging needs on the ground.

“This day is a reminder that tech micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises are the engine of today’s digital economy,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “At a time when one third of humanity is still unconnected, MSMEs are essential to achieving the level of connectivity and digital transformation that countries are striving for.”

Over the last eight years, ITU has progressively increased its focus on the role of small businesses in the digital ecosystem, targeting small tech firms with knowledge-sharing and mentoring programmes, dedicated networking events, awards, and a discounted ITU membership category.

The ITU Telecom World SME Awards Programme, for example, has spotlighted innovations with the potential to change lives for the better using information and communication technologies (ICTs). The awards have also given small and medium enterprises (SMEs) a platform to connect with vital resources and partners for sustainable tech projects.

The winners of the 2021 ITU Telecom SME Awards Programme joined the MSME Day panel held as part of the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2022, an annual gathering of the world’s ICT for development community.

Building the digital ecosystem

Receiving an award from the UN agency dedicated to ICTs boosts visibility and can help make early-stage projects bankable. The panel also highlighted the need for support from international organizations to forge and develop partnerships with large industry players, as well as local, regional and national governments.

“It was very important to win this award,“ explained Armando Aguirre, co-founder of Mexican connectivity provider and recent SME Award winner WIWI. “The follow up is to be able to work with ITU and other organizations to explain how important this is, to show authorities how connectivity benefits the underserved.”

Having claimed the top prize in ITU Telecom’s Connectivity category, WIWI is working to establish free, stable WiFi connectivity on public transport networks in cities across Mexico, enabling commuters who spend an average of two hours daily on a bus to connect to the Internet for free.

Another winner in the Connectivity category was China-based SME IPification, for a proprietary platform touting a unique blend of security, user experience, and privacy protection. Deployed in a telecom provider’s core network, the platform can identify and verify the user behind any given IP (Internet Protocol) address.

“The ITU award really helped put us on a global stage as our project depends on credibility,” said Stefan Kostic, Chief Executive Officer at the company. “The ITU and UN recognition put an additional stamp on our project and our company as a whole.”

The resulting plaudits and credibility boost have, in turn, helped solidify partnerships with 53 telecom operators covering 3 billion subscribers as IPification takes its solution to scale.

Bringing it to scale

While SMEs tend to be flexible and adaptable, they can benefit from aligning with large companies and organizations that can negotiate trade and development solutions worldwide to address regulatory restrictions. The advantages of such relationships flow both ways.

“Big companies can’t develop without small companies, and SMEs can’t grow without corporate support,” said Joaquin Patron, Executive VP of Urbit, Telecom award winners in the Digital Finance category and providers of fintech services to rural and underserved areas in the United States. “We are just one piece of the puzzle in serving underserved customers, so we need to find partners to grow and break the inertia of doing the same thing by taking a risk on innovation,” he added.

Secretary-General Zhao underlined how ITU’s SME-related initiatives help to foster this key component of sustainable development.

“I am delighted to see how this award has helped SMEs scale up and address societal challenges,” he said. “I encourage others to join ITU’s growing SME community and take a seat at the table alongside governments and larger businesses to address the world’s most urgent challenges and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.”

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the joint UN-WTO International Trade Centre (ITC) have also launched major initiatives to support MSMEs in the tech sector. These include ITC Global Trade Helpdesks and the WTO MSME platform, new online tools providing direct and practical support to tech entrepreneurs anywhere.

ITU’s support for small tech ventures continues to evolve. The organization’s recent World Telecommunication Development Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, affirmed the importance of enabling supportive environments where entrepreneurship-driven innovation can accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, with a new resolution: “Fostering telecommunications/ICT-centric Entrepreneurship and digital innovation ecosystems for sustainable digital development.”

The resolution calls on governments and ITU’s wider membership to:

  1. develop policies and strategies, and projects nurturing digital innovation at the national level,
  2. promote the uptake of entrepreneurship-driven technology-centric schools,
  3. ensure access to domestic procurement and international markets to allow small/new enterprises to test, validate and scale-up their innovations, and
  4. pursue multisector multistakeholder collaboration to support synergies in achieving these goals.

Are you an MSME interested in joining ITU? Learn more about ITU membership benefits for MSMEs.

The country’s support has helped build knowledge, capacity and consensus on how to harness the digital economy for development.

Sweden has committed 10 million Swedish krona (approximately $1 million) for research, technical cooperation, and consensus-building activities under UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme  in 2022 and 2023.

The contribution will boost UNCTAD’s capacity to support member states in building inclusive digital economies – a shared challenge made more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing digital and data divides.

“The digital transformation opens great opportunities for inclusive growth, jobs and sustainable development around the world,” said Krister Nilsson, state secretary to the Swedish minister for foreign trade and Nordic affairs.

“The post-pandemic recovery must include support for the participation of developing countries in the digital economy,” he added.

Making digitalization work for all

Supporting countries with the lowest levels of readiness to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the risks presented by digitalization helps make digitalization a force for a more resilient, equitable and sustainable world.

“We are proud to welcome Sweden among the core donors of the e-commerce and digital economy programme,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.

She also noted that Sweden’s accession to the programme’s advisory board of core donors follows member states’ decision to strengthen UNCTAD’s mandate to support developing countries in digitalization.

Ms. Sirimanne said this is a welcome recognition of the results of UNCTAD’s work in this area, which were highlighted by a recent independent evaluation.

The evaluation, covering 2019 to 2021, found that activities undertaken under the programme’s technical cooperation pillar, particularly the eTrade readiness assessments, help to boost the e-commerce and digital economy agenda within beneficiary countries.

Partnerships for development

Such partnerships and stakeholder engagement initiatives contribute to a more holistic and collaborative approach to e-commerce and the digital economy for development.

A long-standing partner of the programme, Sweden’s generous support to date has made possible a number of initiatives under the programme, including work on measuring e-commerce and the digital economyeTrade for alleTrade for Women and eTrade readiness assessments.

The advisory board, which also includes Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, meets once a year after the release of the programme’s Year in Review.

It allows members to share experiences and lessons learned from supporting digitalization for development efforts and outline priorities for future support.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected poor urban communities and laid bare pre-existing inequalities – including a digital and social divide that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. As per our recent study, only one of every 26 jobs can be done from home in low-income countries, and across the globe. Young, poorly educated workers and those on temporary contracts are least likely to be able to work from home and more vulnerable to the labor market shocks from COVID-19.  How can this digital divide be closed? The experience of a small team from the World Bank shows that efforts to collect data can offer opportunities to expand digital literacy in local communities.

In 2020, the World Bank team partnered with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and Cities Alliance to collect geospatial data for the most vulnerable informal settlements (including access to basic services) in eight cities to improve and validate the COVID-19 contagion risk hotspot mapping. But what started as a data-gathering exercise became a larger pilot going beyond its original scope and leading to varied direct and indirect positive outcomes.

One such outcome was enhanced digital skills of local SDI affiliates  — support non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and urban poor federations – in five countries. The World Bank formed a small team of geospatial data experts and trainers to design and deliver these trainings, and, along with the broader SDI team, created an interactive seven-week virtual-training program. SDI country-based teams include mappers and urban planners with varying levels of geospatial skills (basic to semi-advanced). Therefore, we co-designed the content with SDI based on the existing skillsets of trainees and with their specific needs in mind.

Chart showing the process of data collection

The content of these trainings ranged from open data tools and mapping to remote sensing data tools, advanced geo-spatial data analytics, and data visualization tools. The team of trainers designed three modules, each six to seven hours and sub-divided into technical, demo, and practice sessions. We recorded and shared all trainings with trainees, and every week, we provided materials to practice tools offline. This interactive model allowed for a deeper level of understanding and better application of tools while making the transition from theory to actual implementation on-ground easier.

These capacity-building trainings came in handy for the local teams during field data collection and focus group discussions.  For example, the Open Data Kit (ODK) and Kobo toolbox was used to collect data more efficiently and accurately during the pandemic. Similarly, satellite imagery allowed teams to digitize, validate, and edit some of the data points while they could not travel to informal settlements due to lockdown and other mobility restrictions. Advanced QGIS tools helped in analyzing the data. By estimating the number of people using a public facility and network analysis to the proximity of these facilities. Lastly, story maps and other interactive visualization tools were helpful in SDI’s advocacy work.

Training community meetings in Nairobi, Kenya

The additional chain of people trained by the original cohort of trainees represented the positive spill-over effect. Each country team conducted a series of trainings for additional team members, traveling the field for data collection. For example, the SDI Kenya team of five trained 150+ mappers/volunteers/local community members within the course of a few weeks.

Focus group discussions highlighted a strong demand amongst local communities (especially youth) for digital skills trainings, as it can potentially improve their employability prospects.  As quoted by a Freetown resident during discussions, “we need more of these vocational training for our youth, as most of them are unemployed which leads them to steal and gamble for money.”

To conclude, community-led data collection can provide an entry point to engage with the community and deliver skills training, starting with geospatial skills to broader digital and vocational skills. This can have several collateral benefits for local communities in post-pandemic cities, from disaggregated data collected and owned by communities for evidence-based planning to improved skills for changing the job market, community empowerment, and opportunities to partner with cities in decision-making. The World Bank and SDI are jointly exploring avenues to scale up these trainings to a broader network of local mappers, volunteers, and community members in more cities.

SDI network brings together over a million informal settlement dwellers in over 30 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, who work together through federations and support NGOs to collect city-wide data and information on informal settlements, and in this process, they train youth, volunteers, and slum residents on a recurrent basis and advocate for their rights.

The World Bank team included Swati Sachdeva (Urban Specialist); Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep (Lead Environmental Specialist and Global lead for disruptive technology), Yves Barthelemy (Senior Geospatial consultant), Nuala Margaret Cowan (Senior Geospatial consultant), Hrishikesh Prakash Patel (Geospatial consultant) and Isabel Maria Ramos Tellez (Geospatial Consultant).

Pioneering research by The MetLife Foundation, Cenfri, UNCDF, UNSGSA, FSDK, and FSDZ (among others) on financial health has significantly increased doubt that bank and mobile money accounts alone are particularly meaningful for most people in the developing world. Access to formal financial services is generally considered an intermediate step towards meaningful outcomes like an improved ability to cover daily expenses, deal with unforeseen shocks, and effectively manage debt.

However, the body of evidence on this is quite mixed from randomized controlled trials (RCT)s that show increased consumption and consumption smoothing as a direct result of using mobile money, to RCTs that show no increase in savings or reduction in poverty and surveys that show negative correlations between increased formal account usage and financial health.

The term financial inclusion has become so confused in the literature, that many have abandoned it and are redefining impact through terms like financial health and financial wellbeing that have arrays of indicators. While these indicators make sense from a developmental impact perspective, they are difficult to measure and cannot be assessed from the GSMA dataset. However, this supply-side data does offer a useful perspective on what people use mobile money for and how useful they find it. Deeper analysis requires demand-side data, which will be available in the forthcoming Global Findex and UNCDF hopes to revisit this topic then.

Three Out of Four with Access Do Not Use Mobile Money

The last global demand side study for financial services (Global Findex) was done in 2017 by the World Bank and showed that only 4% of adults globally had mobile money accounts after about a decade of sector expansion. Whether this statistic is high/low or meaningful, depends on the analysis one is conducting. It is not very meaningful for this discussion as adults in many countries do not need mobile money services as they have superior options, and half the countries in the world do not even have a provider that offers the service.

It is more useful to examine places where mobile money is used, and its highest use is in low-income countries, where 18% of adults had a mobile money account in 2017. The model for mobile money was forged in Kenya, and the service is really designed to integrate seamlessly into informal cash-based economies. Those are the places where customers have found it valuable. The GSMA data helps understand the degree to which mobile money is useful in the places where it is used.

Assuming registered customers have access to mobile money is reasonable. The GSMA data shows that consistently over the last ten years, on average, 73%-81% of customers that were registered for mobile money did not make a single monthly transaction. This insight needs to be interpreted in juxtaposition to the goal to extend access to finance for all. Often, access to finance alone is not enough to inspire usage.

And while it is true that many still do not have access to mobile money accounts, this shows that for approximately three out of four people who likely do have access, they either hardly ever or possibly never use it. This seems to counterpoint assumptions that mobile money, on its own, alleviates poverty, transforms lives or is a solution to a commonly held problem for most people. It is likely only a component of solutions that strive to improve market efficiency and resilience in informal cash-based economies.

Mobile Money Usage is Limited to Six Products

Despite services like mobile money not being for everybody, there were still almost 350 million customers active on a 30-day basis at the end of 2021. While we showed in the last article that this growth rate has slowed significantly over the past years, it is still quite positive and robust, and all these statistics should be lauded by the mobile money and financial inclusion communities that have worked so hard to achieve them. It is also important to evaluate what these 350 million people are using the service for, as it has implications from a revenue standpoint, a systems evolution angle, and an impact perspective.

This analysis uses both the number of transactions made (volumes) and the amount of money transacted (values) for each mobile money product to measure their relative importance to the system. Cash-in and cash-out (CICO) transactions, which are 28% of volumes and 42% of values are excluded as they are not product-level transactions. t is worth noting that after 15 years of product development there are still only six product lines, showing limited innovation in the ecosystem.

Further, the pie charts in Figure 2 show that from a volumes perspective there are only four products of note, and the top two, airtime and P2P together account for 72% of volumes. The story is similar from a values perspective since there are again only four significant products and P2P itself accounts for almost two-thirds of transaction value. However, from a values perspective, merchant payments and bulk payments have surpassed bill pay as a use case, which is notable.

Mobile Money Product Suite is Evolving, But Slowly

The importance of a product depends on why it is being analyzed. Some may be important from a profit perspective, but not provide much impact for customers or only for customers wealthy enough to benefit from it, limiting its impact from a financial inclusion perspective. Some products, like P2P, we expect to decline as the mobile money system evolves, while others like merchant payments will determine whether mobile money can remain relevant in the digital era. To visualize product suite evolution, the next charts present five-year snapshots over the last 10 years (2011, 2016, 2021). Figures shown are percentages of the product suite from the corresponding year.

From an evolution perspective, airtime volumes have declined significantly, as have P2P transaction values. These trends are likely to continue as 3rd party providers increasingly sell airtime, and other emerging product categories erode the relevance of the P2P as a ‘catch-all’ function. The small yet steady growth of bulk payments and merchant payments are encouraging. However, bulk payments must solve its unidirectional flow issue to scale. Mobile money is designed for balanced flows into and out of the system, and bulk payments are unidirectional flows, which break the liquidity balancing mechanisms. This system will likely need to be redesigned for significant growth.

Merchant payments are very important from a systems evolution perspective as they are the most common customer transaction type, but they still account for a very small proportion of mobile money transactions. Growth has begun as the value proposition for the merchant has been cracked in some cases. However, it is unclear how deeply into the MSME category merchant payments will penetrate beyond some select verticals like petrol stations and restaurants. Bill payments started with strong growth a while back but may have leveled off, and international remittances remain a frustratingly difficult product to scale.

From an impact perspective, much has been written about the ability of domestic remittances to increase financial resilience, for which there is supportive evidence. However, P2P is a generic tool that customers use to solve many different issues, and it has never been well teased apart. Many describe it as a mechanism for domestic remittances from cities to rural areas.

However, data from the Helix Institute showed that the float and cash needs of agents did not match that narrative, and astute observers and long-time users understand much of this category is payments for services in the informal economy, and settling accounts within families and friends. To really understand the impact of P2P, we must first better understand how people use it.

The same is true for bill pay and bulk payments (G2P), especially since we know a portion of these categories is gambling, but we do not understand how much. In theory, G2P payments certainly have a high potential for impact, as they could make the delivery of government services and subsidies to low-income populations much more convenient and cost-effective, but they have struggled to scale.

For bill pay, it is unclear why growth has decelerated over the last five years, but it could be because this product is mostly for urban working class and wealthier families that can afford to have utilities, and those populations are relatively small and now served. While bill pay may generally not be designed for low-income populations, it has supported the evolution of selected businesses models like Pay-as-you-Go (PAYG) solar and smart device financing as well as school fee payments, which do have real impact.

Similarly, merchant payments are currently not for most people. For most adults in the developing world that earn cash and spend cash in small amounts close to their residence, the value proposition of merchant payments has yet to be articulated. Lastly, international remittances have the potential to be impactful for the portions of adults in the developing world that use them, if mobile money systems can make them less expensive and more convenient. However, the above figures show that this is still being solved as the service is seldomly used.

In conclusion, most impact narratives for mobile money discuss P2P payments as an anchor product that allow providers to earn revenue, garner a significant customer base, and then evolve a more sophisticated suite of products. Over the last 15 years, that has happened to some degree, but innovation has been quite limited and growth in other product categories has been slow. This weakens the narrative that mobile money is a gateway to product offerings in other categories that could offer more impact to customers.

The landscape changes when we include products developed by technology companies that could be delivered through mobile money systems. However, innovation from these stakeholders has been limited by the difficultly of partnering with the very mobile money systems that stand to benefit from them and are needed to enable their scale.

Even Active Mobile Money Users are Not Very Active

The next level of analysis focuses active users. We previously discussed how mobile money is used, but it is also important to understand how frequently. Given most people make several transactions a day in their daily lives, how many are made on a mobile money platform? Just focusing on the product level transactions (i.e. excluding CICO transactions), a 30-day active customer makes just over ten mobile money transactions a month, which is about one transaction every three days.

Examining the data by product category, that amounts to an airtime top-up and a P2P transfer about once a week, a bill payment and a merchant transaction about once a month, a bulk disbursement about once every two months, and an international remittance about once every three years. Therefore, on average, even active users do not use the service very actively.

Thus, arguments that mobile money itself is alleviating poverty or transforming lives and deserves significant public sector investment may be overextended. It is still a helpful service for many, and UNCDF supports the continued development of these systems as they can be essential to enabling people to interact with the digital economy. However, we should be circumspect about its ability to have an impact in otherwise analog environments.

Large Average Transaction Sizes do not Indicate Impoverished Users

While the previous analysis focused on how services are used and to what degree, this final analysis examines what can be gathered about the demographics of the users from this supply side data. To do this, we analyze the value of the average transaction by product category. Again, we would have preferred to use median values to account for skewed distributions, but they are not available.

This analysis is important because the average size of the transaction may be a proxy for the income-level of the user. For small transaction values this is less likely to be true as even high-income people may make small purchases of items like airtime. However, for high value transactions it is unlikely that low-income people are conducting them, and the data reveals transaction values are surprisingly high. International remittances stand-out having an average transaction value of over US$130, indicating that on average the users are not at the bottom of the income pyramid.

Further, the average transaction values around US$30 for cash-in, cash-out, P2P, and bulk disbursements are also remarkably high. For example, in leading East African mobile money markets, this would be 45% of monthly GNI per capita in Uganda, 33% in Tanzania, and 20% in Kenya. In essence, the average adult could only afford to conduct two transactions a month of this size in Uganda, or five in Kenya. This leads to the assumption that the average mobile money user has a higher income than the average adult. This would be a different understanding than what is popularly believed in the financial inclusion community and deserves more research.

Mobile Money Improves Lives, Just Not as Much as Advertised

This analysis points out some major discrepancies in the mobile money impact narrative. Namely, it is used less, for fewer reasons, and likely by wealthier people than commonly assumed. It has also been slow to evolve. However, these are not indictments of the system. They are just reason to recalibrate our expectations of it. Mobile money has reached hundreds of millions of people who use it to make their lives easier in very tangible ways, and it is probably particularly helpful to increase resilience during disasters as money can reach the affected more easily.

The financial inclusion community should applaud these gains, and also not be satisfied by them as much work is left to do. It will involve a new cadre of builders that use technology to better customize products and integrate them into the digital economy, and it will require the financial inclusion community to embrace an improved set of metrics to measure their impact. Future solutions may ride on these mobile money payments channels or just be inspired by lessons learned from building them. Either way, mobile money has pioneered mass-market finance in many developing countries. Its legacy should be celebrated, and its impacts accurately understood to drive further innovation.

Note to Reader: This article is part of a #MobileMoney Mysteries series that uses the last 15 years of mobile money data provided by GSMA to reflect on progress in the sector and gauge where we are in answering some of the big questions still being debated.

The fifth edition of the EU-Africa Business Summit, which was organized by the European Business Summits (EBS) and which took place held in Brussels, provided for high-level panel discussions among around 100 physical guests and over 3,000 online participants who discussed the future of economic relations between the European Union (EU) and Africa.

“In a context of increasing challenges, digital is key for the resilience of businesses”, said Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Managing Director for Digitalization, Technology and Agri-business of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). “At the same time, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have the ability to bring together public and private finance to create resilient ecosystems as they mobilize investments while creating jobs”.

In addition to an interview with news media Euronews, the UNIDO Managing Director also contributed to the roundtable discussion on “Investment climate and trade within EU-Africa relations”, which was co-hosted by David Clarnival, Acting Minister of Foreign Trade of Belgium. Other roundtable participants included Alan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade and Industry of Ghana; Solomon Adegbie-Quaynor, Vice President of the African development Bank; and Soha Gendi, Assistant Foreign Minister for African Organizations of Egypt.

The Summit also allowed for strategic discussions towards increasing international cooperation, including with Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture; Arnaud Thysen, Director of the European Business Summits; and Cécile Billaux, Head of Unit, Micro-economic analysis, investment climate and private sector & employment, DG INTPA.

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