By Ken Macon
Account ownership and digital payments have increased, so has the gender gap in account ownership, according to the World Bank, after it analyzed the Global Findex 2021 database.
The World Bank attributed the improvement on financial inclusion by controversial modern digital-ID systems, and called for more investment in the technology.
“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-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a non-profit that supports 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,” Gates added.
Between 2017 and 2021, account ownership in Europe and Central Asia grew by 13%. The largest improvement in developing regions was in Latin America, where the increase was 18%.
According to the Global Findex, lack of IDs in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the major reasons 30% of the region’s population do not own financial accounts. As such, there is “an opportunity for investing in accessible and trusted identification systems.”
“Beyond simply keeping an ever watchful eye over what citizens are up to, governments would also be able to decide on more radical and in immediate terms much more damaging moves, such as cutting people off from their money. The world has recently learned through Canadian authorities’ flabbergasting actions when bank accounts of participants in a civil protest were frozen, that this is perfectly doable even without centralized, government-issued digital money.
“But imagine if that form of currency were the only one available? The unprecedented level of financial mass surveillance itself would be almost insignificant compared to the potential damage done by replacing all other forms of currency, including fiat money, and cash as one of its manifestations, say critics.
“This would remove private banks and physical cash as “middlemen” leaving citizens “alone in the room” – and all the money they have to their name – with the state. And from that point on, they would have to trust that state implicitly and explicitly not to misuse that massive power. But that is becoming a less and less likely option for more and more people, exhausted by, but also wiser to, the various forms of creeping authoritarianism that the pandemic and the response to it has brought in some expected places – like China – but also some unexpected ones, like Canada.
“All this is a far cry from the original idea of decentralized cryptocurrencies, supposed to assume the role silver and gold had before the “onslaught” of paper money, and allow for safe, protected, unrestricted and universal transactions.”
The gender gap in financial accounts ownership decreased by 4 points in North Africa and the Middle East.
The World Bank acknowledges that COVID-19 increased digitization and the wide use of remote financial services.