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Inclusive Finance, Inclusive Future

Power of Ideas
Inclusive Finance, Inclusive Future

If money makes the world go round, everyone deserves a spin. There is no doubt that increasing access to financial services catalyzes more inclusive growth and prosperity, and it’s exciting to see the innovation in this space. Banks, FinTech, and microfinance platforms across the developing world have increased access to payments and other financial services, enabled entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, and helped to reduce poverty. Programs to catalyze investment in underserved segments are proliferating, and a focus on fair, equitable lending has taken off at large banking institutions.

Yet, the reality is we have a long way to go.

A more inclusive financial system is good for a shared future, and it’s also good for business.

Right now, nearly 1 billion women around the world don’t get enough support from the financial system, and another billion are completely left out of it, according to Women’s World Banking. On top of that, 30 million businesses run by women are struggling because they cannot access the money they need to grow and thrive, reports Mary Ellen Iskenderian.

But this issue transcends gender. Approximately 1.7 billion adults around the world are unbanked, with half of them concentrated in just seven developing countries.

Clear disparities in financial access and opportunity persist and deserve our collective attention to ensure everyone has a fair shot at economic success. But it’s also clearly a situation about doing well and doing good at the same time. Closing the gender gap in retail banking, for example, could yield an additional US$40 billion in revenues, Iskenderian also reports. The fact is, a more inclusive financial system is good for a shared future, and it’s also good for business.

Here are three ways leaders can foster financial inclusion.

  1. Boost financial literacy. Financial literacy is the first step toward financial empowerment. A recent Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report paints a harrowing picture: Only 34 percent of adults across OECD countries are considered financially literate. Increased financial literacy reduces stress, boosts productivity, and stimulates the economy, as people escape debt traps and are empowered to invest in their businesses and communities, purchase homes, and save for retirement.

  2. Embrace technological solutions. Technology is a powerful equalizer in the fight for financial inclusion. M-Pesa in Kenya, a mobile phone-based money transfer service, provided millions of unbanked Kenyans access to financial services; today, there are 1.75 billion registered mobile money accounts worldwide. GSMA, the mobile phone industry association, estimates that the GDP in countries with mobile money services was US$600 billion higher in 2023 than it would have been without this game-changing innovation. Blockchain has been used by the agriculture sector to help smallholder farmers manage their money, make the supply chain more traceable and transparent, and even help create new products and markets, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development. FinTech innovations such as digital wallets make it easier for people to send and receive money, and the opportunities of generative AI are only beginning to emerge.

  3. Collaborate for greater impact. No organization can bridge the financial inclusion divide alone—but companies and governments can join forces, across sectors, to make a real difference. Policymakers can prioritize inclusive regulations like digital identification, consumer protection, and moveable collateral registries to level the playing field for underserved customers. By pooling resources and expertise, companies can address key drivers of financial equity, such as access to banking, affordable housing finance, and capital for minority-owned businesses. Women’s World Banking, where I serve on the board, brings together over 70 financial institutions in 32 countries to provide low-income women with access to financial tools and resources. At EY, we’ve established the Entrepreneurs Access Network to help Black and Latino-owned business owners overcome disparities by connecting them with resources, networks, and coaching. We have also sought to support more social equality through the EY Uplift Social Equity campaign.

By bringing more people into the fold, we can build an economy where everyone thrives. Together, we can create a financial system that works for everyone, shaping our shared future and fostering a more equitable and more prosperous world.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.