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The Global Findex Database 2021

Executive Summary Visualization

The benefits of financial inclusion have spurred efforts to expand account ownership and productive usage. Since 2011, the Global Findex survey has documented growth—at times incremental and at times dramatic—in account ownership across more than 140 economies. The Global Findex 2021 survey was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic—a crisis that further mobilized financial inclusion efforts across the world. This and other factors have contributed to the following key findings:

  • Worldwide, account ownership has reached 76 percent of adults—and 71 percent of adults in developing economies.

Globally, in 2021, 76 percent of adults had an account at a bank or regulated institution such as a credit union, microfinance institution, or a mobile money service provider. Account ownership around the world increased by 50 percent in the 10 years spanning 2011 to 2021, from 51 percent of adults to 76 percent of adults. From 2017 to 2021, the average rate of account ownership in developing economies increased by 8 percentage points, from 63 percent of adults to 71 percent of adults. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this expansion largely stems from the adoption of mobile money. Moreover, the gender gap in account ownership across developing economies has fallen to 6 percentage points from 9 percentage points, where it hovered for many years. 

  • Receiving payments into an account is a catalyst for using other financial services, such as relying on an account to save, borrow, and store money for cash management.

In developing economies, the share of adults making or receiving digital payments grew from 35 percent in 2014 to 57 percent in 2021. In high-income economies, the share of adults making or receiving digital payments is nearly universal (95 percent). Receiving a payment directly into an account is a gateway to using other financial services. Indeed, 83 percent of adults in developing economies who received a digital payment also made a digital payment, up from 66 percent in 2014 and 70 percent in 2017. Almost two-thirds of digital payment recipients also used their account to store money for cash management; about 40 percent used their account for saving; and 40 percent of payment recipients borrowed formally.

  • Mobile money has become an important enabler of financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa—especially for women—as a driver of account ownership and of account usage through mobile payments, saving, and borrowing.

In Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021, 55 percent of adults had an account, including 33 percent of adults who had a mobile money account—the largest share of any region in the world and more than three times larger than the 10 percent global average of mobile money account ownership. Nor are mobile money account owners just using their accounts for person-to-person payments, as these products were originally designed to do. In 2021, about three in four mobile account owners in Sub-Saharan Africa used their mobile money account to make or receive at least one payment that was not person-to-person. Mobile money accounts have also become an important method to save in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 15 percent of adults—and 39 percent of mobile money account holders—used one to save—the same share that used a formal account at a bank or other financial institution. Seven percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa also borrowed using their mobile money account. 

  • COVID-19 catalyzed growth in the use of digital payments.

In developing economies in 2021, 18 percent of adults paid utility bills directly from an account. About one-third of these adults did so for the first time after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of adults making a digital merchant payment also increased after the outbreak of COVID-19. For example, in India about 80 million adults made their first digital merchant payment during the pandemic. In China, 82 percent of adults made a digital merchant payment in 2021, including over 100 million adults (11 percent) who did so for the first time after the start of the pandemic. In developing economies, excluding China, 20 percent of adults made a digital merchant payment in 2021. Contained within that 20 percent are the 8 percent of adults, on average, who did so for the first time after the start of the pandemic, or about 40 percent of those who made a digital merchant payment. These data point to the role of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions in accelerating the adoption of digital payments.

  • Despite promising growth in account ownership and use, only about half of adults in developing economies could access extra funds within 30 days if faced with an unexpected expense, and about half of adults were very worried about at least one area of financial stress.

Only 55 percent of adults in developing economies could access emergency money within 30 days without much difficulty. Friends and family were the first-line source of emergency money for 30 percent of adults in developing economies, but nearly half of those said the money would be hard to get. Furthermore, women and the poor were less likely than men and richer individuals to successfully raise emergency money and more likely to rely on friends and family as their go-to source.

About 50 percent of adults in developing economies were very worried, in particular, about covering health expenses in the event of a major illness or accident, and 36 percent said health care costs were their biggest worry. In Sub-Saharan Africa, worry over school fees was the most common worry overall (for 54 percent of adults) and the biggest worry for 29 percent. Eighty-two percent of adults in developing economies were very worried (52 percent) or somewhat worried (30 percent) about the continued financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Governments, private employers, and financial service providers—including fintechs—could help expand financial access and usage among the unbanked by lowering barriers and improving infrastructure.

Lack of money, distance to the nearest financial institution, and insufficient documentation were consistently cited by the 1.4 billion unbanked adults as some of the primary reasons they did not have an account. There are clear opportunities to address some of these barriers. For example, global efforts to increase inclusive access to trusted identification systems and mobile phones could be leveraged to increase account ownership for hard-to-reach populations.  Findings from the Global Findex 2021 survey likewise reveal new opportunities to leverage digital payments for wages, government transfers, or for the sale of agricultural goods, to drive financial inclusion and expand the use of financial services among those who already have accounts. Digitalizing some of these payments is a proven way to increase account ownership. In developing economies, 39 percent of adults—or 57 percent of those with a financial institution (excluding mobile money) account—opened their first account specifically to receive a wage payment or receive money from the government.

  • Financially inexperienced users may not be able to benefit from account ownership if they do not understand how to use financial services in a way that optimizes benefits and avoids consumer protection risks.

About two-thirds of unbanked adults said that if they opened an account (excluding mobile money) at a financial institution, they could not use it without help. One-third of mobile money account holders in Sub-Saharan Africa say they could not use their mobile money account without help from a family member or an agent. Women are 5 percentage points more likely than men to need help using their mobile money account. Inexperienced account owners who must ask a family member or a banking agent for help using an account may be more vulnerable to financial abuse. Also, one in five adults in developing economies who receive a wage payment into an account paid unexpected fees on the transaction. Together, these issues point to the fact that less experienced financial customers may be more vulnerable to fraud. Thus investments are needed in numeracy and financial literacy skills, product design that takes into account customer usage patterns and capabilities, as well as strong consumer safeguards to ensure that customers benefit from financial access and to build public trust in the financial system.

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