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FEATURE STORYJuly 21, 2022

COVID-19 Boosted the Adoption of Digital Financial Services

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World Bank Group

The Global Findex Database 2021 reports increases in financial inclusion around the world.

  • 71% of people in developing countries have a financial account
  • The gender gap in account ownership has also shrunk for the first time, narrowing from 9 to 6 percentage points in developing countries
  • More work needs to be done as 1.4 billion people worldwide remain unbanked

The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on a lot of progress over the last three years, but for financial inclusion it was a catalyst that drove 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 households’ resilience to better manage financial shocks, according to the Global Findex 2021 database.  

Financial inclusion matters and is the cornerstone of development. When people have a financial account, it enables them to take advantage of other financial services like saving, making payments, accessing credit.

Findex is showing us that digitalization of financial services is changing the game.
Jean Pesme
Global Director, World Bank Finance, Competitiveness & Innovation (FCI) Global Practice

In developing countries today, 71% of people have an account, up from 42% a decade ago. (Globally, 76% of adults around the world have an account today, up from 51% a decade ago.) These tremendous gains are also now more evenly distributed and come from a greater number of countries than ever before. 

The biggest growth has been in the use of digital payments, which surged during COVID-19 mobility restrictions and when cash was perceived as unsanitary. 

Two-thirds of adults worldwide now make or receive a digital payment.  In developing countries, excluding China where digital payments are widespread, some 40% of people who made a digital payment from their account (to a merchant or for a utility service) did so for the very first time since the start of the pandemic.  

Digital payments are typically safer and more convenient, and can be an entry to using other financial services. Findex data show that adults who receive a payment into an account in developing economies make use of financial services more than the average adult. 

In developing economies, 36% of adults received a payment into an account, such as private or public sector wage payments, government transfer or pension payments, payments for the sale of agricultural products or domestic remittances. 

Of those 36% who received a payment into an account, 83% also make a digital payment, about two thirds use the account to store money for cash management, and about 40% tell us they use their account to save or to borrow money. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fundamental role that digital infrastructure can play in rapidly delivering services and social assistance to people. Integration of digital ID, digital payments, and trusted data sharing platforms is critical for serving the poor at scale and connecting communities to opportunities,” says Christine Zhenwei Qiang, Global Director for Digital Development Global Practice.  “This report underscores that for many developing country consumers, the gateway to innovative financial services is mobile money, supported by improvements in coverage, affordability and reliability of digital infrastructure.” 

The gender gap in account ownership has also shrunk, narrowing from 9 to 6 percentage points in developing countries. The data now find that 74% of men but only 68% of women in developing economies had an account.

Reaching the 1.4 billion people who remain unbanked

Globally, some 1.4 billion adults remain unbanked.  These people are hardest to reach – and more commonly women, poorer, less educated, and living in rural areas.  
While digitalizing government and other payments is the way to go, much more is needed. Governments, private employers and financial service providers, including fintechs, should work together to lower barriers to access and improving physical, data and financial infrastructure. 

“To reach them, governments and the private sector will need to work hand-in-hand to forge the policies and practices needed to build trust in financial service providers, confidence in using financial products, new tailored product designs, as well as a strong and enforceable consumer protection framework,” says Leora Klapper, Lead Economist in Development Economics Vice Presidency and main author of the Global Findex report. 

Also, despite this continued growth in account ownership, only about half of adults in developing economies report that they could reliably access extra funds within 30 days if faced with an unexpected expense, according to the Findex findings.  And about two-thirds of adults are very worried about at least one area of financial stress, whether it’s paying for medical bills, paying for school fees, paying for regular monthly bills, having enough money for old age.

“Findex is showing us that digitalization of financial services is changing the game, which is very inspiring for those financially included – and for Bank staff working on these issues,” says Jean Pesme, Global Director for Finance in the Finance, Competitiveness & Innovation (FCI) Global Practice. “Much more is needed. We need to focus on countries that have made least progress and redouble our efforts to reach the most vulnerable, notably women. This is key to fostering inclusion and increasing resilience.” 


World Bank Live replay

Findex Website

Animated video 

Blog: Unveiling the Global Findex database 2021 in five charts 

Blog: Global Findex: Digitalization in COVID-19 Boosted Financial Inclusion 



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