New, Individual-Level Data on Financial Inclusion: The “Unbanked” Are Deterred by Cost, Documentation, and Travel Requirements

December 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2012 – Policy makers can boost the number of people using formal financial services through policies that help reduce the cost, documentation requirements, and travel distance associated with accessing a bank account, says a new World Bank research paper.

Policies addressing financial barriers have proven to be especially effective among the world’s 2.5 billion “unbanked,” including 75 percent of the world’s poor and those living in rural areas, according to the paper, which analyzes newly released microdata as part of a large, multi-year Global Financial Inclusion data project.

The World Bank Policy Research Working Paper analyzes how 150,000 individuals in 148 countries use formal accounts. Among other things, the new data help explain why adults in countries such as India and Bangladesh use more financial services than those in countries with similar gross domestic product per capita.

Our results can help more countries make evidence-based decisions that will ultimately remove barriers to financial inclusion, so more people can begin to save in a safer and more effective manner,” says Asli Demirguc-Kunt, the Bank’s director of development policy and chief economist of the Finance and Private Sector Network.

The release of today’s individual-level data follows the April publication of country-level data, which showed that three-quarters of the world’s poor didn’t have a bank account, among other findings.  

The new Global Findex micro-dataset, which is the largest of its kind, provides valuable details about individuals and their banking habits. The data set covers 41 indicators ranging from the use of informal savings clubs, the prevalence of formal borrowing, to the use of mobile payments. The data also include individual characteristics, such as gender, age, education, and income, as well as reasons given by the unbanked for not having an account.

Access to microdata facilitates a more nuanced understanding of how individuals balance savings, credit, payments, and risk management,” says Leora Klapper, supervisor of the Findex database and a lead economist in the Bank’s Development Research Group.Through the new data, policy makers, researchers and practitioners can see how all these financial behaviors fit together.”

The Global Findex data were collected by Gallup, Inc. using the Gallup World Poll Survey. The Bank’s Development Research Group is building the database with a 10-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The complete data set will be updated again in 2014 and 2017.

The Bank’s financial inclusion portfolio totals over $3 billion, with projects in over 60 countries. It supports country action plans for financial inclusion and responsible finance, as well as increasing access to financial products and services such as credit, savings, payments, and insurance through low cost delivery mechanisms (ATM kiosks, mobile phones).

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