Responsible Finance Forum

Fighting poverty, profitably

01 September 2013
Source:  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Transforming the economics of payments to build sustainable, inclusive financial systems

The Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor program (FSP) believes that effective financial services are paramount in the fight against poverty. Nonetheless, today more than 2 billion people live outside the formal financial sector. Increasing their access to high quality, affordable financial services will accelerate the well-being of households, communities, and economies in the developing world. One of the most promising ways to deliver these financial services to the poor – profitably and at scale – is by using digital payment platforms.

These are the conclusions we have reached as the result of extensive research in pursuit of one of the Foundation’s primary missions: to give the world’s poorest people the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.

FSP conducted this research because we believe that there is a gap in the fact base and understanding of how payment systems can extend digital services to low income consumers in developing markets. This is a complex topic, with fragmented information and a high degree of country-by-country variability. A complete view across the entire payment system has been missing, limiting how system providers, policy makers, and regulators (groups we refer to collectively as financial inclusion stakeholders) evaluate decisions and take actions. With a holistic view of the payment system, we believe that interventions can have higher impact, and stakeholders can better understand and address the ripple effects that changes to one part of the system can have. In this report, we focus on the economics of payment systems to understand how they can be transformed to serve poor people in a way that is profitable and sustainable in aggregate.