Massive Drop in Number of Unbanked, says New Report

April 15, 2015

700 million adults worldwide became account holders between 2011 and 2014;
20 percent drop in the number of unbanked, according to 2014 Global Findex

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 — From 2011 and 2014, 700 million people became account holders at banks, other financial institutions, or mobile money service providers, and the number of “unbanked” individuals dropped 20 percent to 2 billion adults, says a new report released today.

“Access to financial services can serve as a bridge out of poverty. We have set a hugely ambitious goal – universal financial access by 2020 – and now we have evidence that we’re making major progress,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. "This effort will require many partners – credit card companies, banks, microcredit institutions, the United Nations, foundations, and community leaders. But we can do it, and the payoff will be millions of people lifted out of poverty.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of adults with an account increased from 51 percent to 62 percent, a trend driven by a 13 percentage point rise in account ownership in developing countries and the role of technology. In particular, mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa are helping to rapidly expand and scale up access to financial services. Along with these gains, data also show big opportunities for boosting financial inclusion among women and poor people.

The findings come in the latest edition of the Global Findex, the world’s most comprehensive gauge of progress on financial inclusion. Financial inclusion, measured by the Global Findex as having an account that allows adults to store money and make and receive electronic payments, is critical to ending global poverty. Studies show that broader access to, and participation in, the financial system can boost job creation, increase investments in education, and directly help poor people manage risk and absorb financial shocks.

The 2014 Findex found there is still more work to be done to expand financial inclusion among women and the poorest households. More than half of adults in the poorest 40 percent of households in developing countries were still without accounts in 2014. And the gender gap in account ownership is not significantly narrowing: In 2011, 47 percent of women and 54 percent of men had an account; in 2014, 58 percent of women had an account, compared to 65 percent of men.  Regionally, the gender gap is largest in South Asia, where 37 percent of women have an account compared to 55 percent of men (an 18 percentage point gap).

"Among those of us passionate about advancing access to financial services for the poor, this landmark new edition of the Global Findex provides data that allows us to see what is working, what isn’t, and how we can focus our efforts most effectively to reach the goal of universal financial inclusion,” said H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development and a strong early proponent of the power of data to drive financial inclusion.

In 2011 the World Bank – with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in partnership with Gallup, Inc. – launched the Global Findex in over 140 countries to study how adults save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk. This update of the Findex tracks progress on global financial inclusion over time, including on the gender gap. 

“When a woman has an account and a safe place to save outside the home, she also has greater control over finances and household incomes,” said Sri Mulyani Indrawati, World Bank Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer. “Equipped with access to formal savings and credit, women participate more in the economy. They can set aside funds for emergencies, for schooling, or for starting a business. This is an important stepping stone out of poverty and towards more equality.”

One way to rapidly expand financial inclusion is new technology, particularly mobile money accounts. Consider what is happening in Sub-Saharan Africa: It is the only region where on average more than 10 percent of adults report having a mobile money account. In 13 countries, usage exceeds 10 percent and, among those, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have more adults using a mobile money account than an account at a financial institution.

Technology also can spur account usage and transform the way domestic payments are made, a new topic probed in the 2014 Global Findex. For instance, 355 million adults in developing countries with an account report sending or receiving domestic remittances in cash or over the counter, including 35 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, 1.3 billion adults with an account  in developing countries pay their trash, water, and electric bills in cash, and over half a billion adults with an account in developing countries pay school fees in cash. Access to digital payments, through a mobile phone or point-of-sales terminal create opportunities to provide more convenient and affordable payment options.

By paying private-sector wages and government wages and transfers digitally (as opposed to in cash), governments and the private sector can play a pivotal role in rapidly opening accounts and increasing financial inclusion. Globally, paying government transfers and government wages through accounts (instead of cash) can increase the number of adults with an account by up to 160 million.  

The 2014 Global Findex also explores financial resilience. People were polled about how they would pay for an emergency requiring spending the equivalent of one twentieth of their annual income, assuming they would need access to the money within a month. Globally, 76 percent of adults reported that they could come up with the local currency, and 28 percent—1.2 billion adults—in developing countries report they would use their savings in case of an emergency. Yet 56 percent of these adults do not save at a financial institution.

“Having a source of emergency funds when calamity hits, whether the death of a family member, a medical emergency, or a natural disaster, can keep people from falling into extreme poverty and my hope is that access to formal savings instruments—providing a safe place to save—can be made easier and less onerous for people at the bottom 40 percent of societies everywhere,” said Asli Demirguc-Kunt, World Bank Research Director, co-author of the Global Findex 2014. Leora Klapper, Lead Economist in the Research Group, manages the Global Findex and co-authored the research report.

The indicators in the Global Findex database are drawn from survey data covering more than 150,000 people in 143 economies. The survey was carried out over the 2014 calendar year by Gallup, Inc. as part of its Gallup World Poll, which since 2005 has surveyed approximately 1,000 people annually in up to 157 economies, using randomly selected, nationally representative samples of adults age 15 and older. Surveys are conducted in the major languages of each economy.

FACTSHEET — Global Findex 2014: Regional Portraits of Universal Progress

East Asia and Pacific region increased account ownership by 25% and made significant progress expanding account ownership among the poor. Adult account ownership rose to 69%, up from 55% three years earlier. In Indonesia, ownership among the poorest 40% doubled to 22%. Although less than 1% of adults have a mobile money account, 17% of account holders –including 19% of account holders in China—make payments from their bank account using a mobile phone, as compared to 13% in developing countries on average. Also, 79% of adults in China own an account, up from 64% in 2011. There are still several opportunities for governments and the private sector to reach the region’s 490 million unbanked. About 30% of the unbanked receive wage or government transfers in cash; moving these payments into accounts could help up to 140 million adults become account owners.

Europe and Central Asia is home to seven of the 10 developing economies with the highest share of adults who paid a bill or made a payment through the Internet. Account ownership among adults increased from 43% in 2011 to 51% in 2014. The percentage of unbanked adults on the lower 40% of the income ladder dropped by 10 percentage points. 28% of adults use their accounts to receive wage or government transfer payments. The Global Findex points to the challenge of reaching the region’s 105 million unbanked adults—30% of whom say they do not trust banks.

Latin America and Caribbean made good strides bringing the poor into the financial system, including 40 million adults who receive government payments into accounts. In Brazil, 88% of government transfer recipients do so into an account. 51% of adults in the region now have an account, up from 39% in 2011, but 210 million remain unbanked. In Argentina, account ownership among the poorest 40% of households doubled to 44% from 2011 to 2014. Across the region, 28% of adults make payments directly from their account using a debit card, as compared to 14% in developing countries on average. Yet big opportunities remain to boost usage: 135 million adults have an account, but pay their utility bills in cash.

In the Middle East, opportunities to expand financial inclusion are big, particularly among women and the poor. The region increased account ownership to 14% of adults, up from 11% in 2011. Men are twice as likely to have an account as women, and 7% of adults in the poorest 40% of households have an account compared to 19% in the richest 60%. Only 15% of unbanked adults cite religion as a reason for not having an account. More than 85 million adults in the region remain unbanked, but digitizing private sector wages could help cut that number by 6 million (or 7%).

South Asia has added 185 million adults with new accounts since 2011, but there are clear opportunities to boost usage of accounts. 46% of adults now own an account, up from 32% three years ago. In India, 43% of adults with an account made no deposits or withdrawals in the past year, and 230 million with an account pay utilities or school fees in cash. 18% of adults in South Asia own a debit card, compared to 31% in developing countries on average. Shifting payments for agricultural products from cash to accounts could help reduce the number of unbanked adults by up to 105 million or about 17%.

In Sub-Saharan Africa mobile technology has the potential to vastly expand financial inclusion. 34% of adults now have an account, an increase from 24% in 2011. 12% of adults in the region have a mobile money account compared to just 2% globally. Kenya leads with mobile money account ownership at 58%, while Tanzania and Uganda have rates of about 35%. 13 countries in the region have mobile money account penetration of 10% or more. In Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, more adults have a mobile money account than an account at a financial institution. In Kenya more than half of adults who pay utility bills use a mobile phone to do so. And in Tanzania, almost a quarter of those receiving payments for the sale of agricultural products do so into a mobile account. 48% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa send or receive domestic remittances: Shifting domestic remittance payments from over-the-counter money transfer operators to accounts could double account ownership in Senegal, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Republic of Congo.

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