Ruth Goodwin-Groen
15 Oct 2018

By Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director, BTCA

As world leaders met at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, many discussions focused on how to ignite greater progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Increasingly, digital financial inclusion is emerging as a key answer.

Today, two in three adults worldwide, more than ever before, have access to mobile money, formal accounts, electronic payments and fintech apps, making it easier to reach those who had previously been excluded from the formal economy. When deployed responsibly, digital financial services can be an important part of the solution for critical issues, including hunger, health, clean energy and climate change.

That’s why, around the world, many public, private and development sector players are shifting from cash to digital payments to achieve efficiency, transparency and financial inclusion – advancing many of the SDGs in the process. This includes governments from India to Kenya, global brands like H&M and Gap Inc., and international organizations like the U.N.

Here are a few of the growing number of governments and companies that are leading by example.

Building a better foundation

Kenya - Widespread use of digital financial services helped lift around 1 million people out of extreme poverty between 2008 and 2014.

In Kenya, the spread of mobile money lifted roughly 1 million people out of extreme poverty in just six years – the equivalent of 2 percent of the population. This impact was mostly driven by changes in financial behavior. Access to mobile money increased financial resilience and savings, and improved labor market outcomes. As a result, many women moved out of agriculture and moved into business – allowing for a more efficient allocation of labor, effectively reducing poverty.

In Indonesia, Raskin, a subsidized food assistance program, had become the country’s largest social transfer for poor families. However, nearly half of the procured rice was lost and never made it to the targeted households. It was impossible to identify where in the delivery chain the rice went missing. Last year, the government shifted to card-based vouchers for the country’s 1.4 million recipients of subsidized rice. Since then, 9 out of 10 beneficiaries receive better quality, quantity and regularity of food.

In India, reported requests for bribes from officials decreased by 47 percent when the government switched from cash to smart cards for pension payments in Andhra Pradesh between 2010 and 2012. The likely reason was that the beneficiaries no longer had to interact with intermediaries to access their funds.

And at the height of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone a few years back, payment-related strikes put the effort against the disease at risk. Cash payments to response workers were slow, inaccurate and open to graft and theft. When officials made the move to pay workers digitally, payment processing times were cut from over one month to around one week, which eliminated worker strikes. Digital payments also saved more than US $10 million by eliminating double-payment, reducing fraud, and saving on cash logistics and security. Ultimately, this helped save countless lives.

Improving opportunity for all

A field experiment in Nepal showed that when low-income, women-headed households were given access to digital savings accounts, they were able to save and dedicate 20 percent more of their funds to their children’s education.

Digital financial inclusion of women doesn’t only empower them at home, it also improves their economic condition outside of the household. Similar to the case of Kenya mentioned above, the likelihood of South African women participating in the labor market increased by 92 percent points when the government used digital cards for safety net transfers.

And in Mexico, small retailers increased sales revenue by up to 30 percent after working with Grupo Bimbo to adopt digital payments. Grupo Bimbo also provided these small merchants with trainings and added-value services such as managing expenses.

Preparing for the future today

Worldwide, there are 690 million registered mobile money accounts, enabling new business models for affordable and clean energy companies. Pay-as-you-go solar power companies have used digital finance to provide 10 million people with affordable, modern energy in the off-grid sector. The pay-as-you-go business model allows companies to avoid losses by ensuring high collection rates. In turn, the use of mobile money gives them the opportunity to avoid the costs of handling cash – such as transport, security, collection and reconciliation – and frees up agents’ time to focus on other activities.

Rwanda still card

In Rwanda, bus operators were able to meet growing demand after a switch from cash to digital payments for bus riders, which increased bus revenue by 140 percent in just one month. This happened mostly by reducing leakages. The increased revenue enabled operators to open more routes, and the digital payments provided data and insights on when and where these new routes were needed most.

Meanwhile in China, a digital finance platform is allowing users to monitor the environmental friendliness of their potential purchases, helping them adapt their purchase decisions. These nudges have prevented 150,000 tons of carbon emissions in just nine months.

A way forward

The digital revolution can help us reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals more quickly. But the key to unlocking digital financial inclusion’s many benefits rests with decision-makers in government, business and civil society. This means prioritizing financing for building digital infrastructure, working to digitize payments in every sector, and passing regulations to ensure that digital financial services can be used by everyone.

With less than 12 years to go before 2030, we can spark greater progress on the SDGs if we collectively embrace digital financial inclusion as a solution today.

Read the new compendium, “Igniting SDG progress through digital financial inclusion.”

This post was originally published on BTCA’s website


Shafique Jamal
10 Oct 2018

By Shafique Jamal, IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion


In Ghana, Digital Financial Services (DFS) providers are increasing financial inclusion. The Partnership for Financial Inclusion is working with one bank, for example, to expanding its presence geographically, to better reach the unbanked and under-banked. To this end, carefully planning where to recruit and place agents in various parts of the country.  The bank is specifically targeting areas with low rates of financial inclusion. Having a vast network of effective agents will also allow their branches to focus on higher value activities, further strengthening their financial ecosystem. The Partnership is also working with a mobile network operator (MNO), undertaking initiatives to increase the adoption of mobile money among its customers and wants to have measures of the local likelihood of mobile money adoption for each cell tower.

In both cases, these IFC clients have found value in having an interactive map that plots the entities of interest (like concentrations of unbanked individuals) and data associated with those entities (like rates of cell phone ownership).  This information shows where to focus efforts to increase financial inclusion at specific geographic points. A picture is worth a thousand cells in a spreadsheet, and an interactive tool that visualizes location-tagged data in ways that are specific to a client’s needs is worth much more. The interactive mapping tool informs strategy and operations to support outreach campaigns.  These types of tools equally support responsible financial services, precisely by helping providers to better understand their markets and how to deliver more inclusive offerings. Data-driven DFS providers are implementing tools like these to understand their markets and scale access to new customer segments. More information about similar case studies can be found at the Data Analytics and Digital Financial Services Handbook.


The IFC team needed to support the client to visualize the locations of branches, potential banking agents, target customer areas, existing customers, and survey areas for planning surveys of retail outlets and target customers. Initially the team used Google Maps to create these maps, but limitations of Google Maps made using this solution difficult. The team therefore created this application to generate more customized maps with fewer limitations. Over the course of the engagement, the maps were refined in consultation with the client and added additional capabilities based on the availability of supplementary survey data. With the added data and capabilities, the client increasingly found the application more useful and requested that it be made available to them on their computers.


The Geomapping Application is a geovisualization dashboard that allows the bank to visualize the locations of various entities of interest – its branches, proposed agents, target customers, existing customers, survey areas, surveyed persons, as well as retail outlets, which include competitors and potential agents.

Figure 1: Derby avenue area in Accra, with outlets, branches, and agents show. Agent details are shown for one of the agents.

The mapping tool answered the following important questions to inform the roll-out:

  • Where are the existing branches and agents? Where are the competitors?
  • How many agents were within 3 km from a given branch?
  • What are the survey areas? (where are they, what are the boundaries?)
  • Which branches, agents, and outlets are in the survey areas?
  • What kinds of outlets are in areas where our target market is located (type of businesses)?
  • What is the density of the existing and target market in any given location in Ghana?
  • Where are the customers that were surveyed? Which were unbanked, under-banked, and banked?

Figure 2: Kumasi area in Ashanti, showing details (including a photo) for one of the surveyed outlets.

In the above plots, the customer’s category is reflected in the color of the small circle for the customer. The large blue icons represent agents, and the large orange icons represent branches. The dark blue pins represent surveyed outlets.

Having ready access to this information allowed the bank to better plan their agent recruitment efforts to have agents in the best locations for reaching the unbanked and under-banked. For example, the bank can be sure that during the initial roll-out it will not have too many agents near the same branch, so that the branch is not overwhelmed with having to support too many agents. Also, the bank can make sure it has agents in areas of high density of their existing and target market.


DFS providers are undertaking initiatives to reach the unbanked and under-banked with products to promote responsible financial services. These initiatives can be better informed by an interactive, well-designed picture of where relevant entities are located, along with important information about them. Customized mapping tools provide DFS providers with the information necessary to reach those who would benefit most from responsible finance products.

This post was authored by Shafique Jamal, IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion, for the Responsible Finance Forum Blog September, 2018. Additional case-studies on how data analytics can be used to advance the adoption and use of DFS are presented in the Data Analytics and Digital Financial Services Handbook (June, 2017).