Digital payments for poor households in the developing world need to be viewed in the same way. Providing access to financial services for some and not all could create an even larger gap not just between the rich and the poor, but also among the one billion people in developed countries who still live in extreme poverty in 2015. Creating a two-tier system among poor households could mean the financially excluded see their livelihoods suffer on the back of an unlevel playing field. Furthering the divide are the long-term consequences of better health and education for the financially included.
Financial inclusion also necessitates repayment programmes, interest on loans and debt. Are the charitable foundations backing this cause also ensuring that the people they want to include know how to play the finance game? Right now, it’s governments who appear to have rolled a six, with electronic payments saving them up to 75% of their running costs. Will these savings be spent on the expensive infrastructure and technical skills needed to deploy digital payments across a nation, or will they be diverted from other essential programmes for the poor?
While financial inclusion, digital or traditional, is bound up with the march of progress, those pushing it need to make sure it doesn’t lead to a greater problem of exclusion.
—Claire MacDonald, Paris, France
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©OECD Observer No 302, April 2015