ANANTHA NAGESWARAN AND CHANCHAL C. SARKAR
Financial Inclusion has long been recognised as a key enabler of economic growth and development. It plays a significant role in reducing poverty and empowering and connecting people within the ambit of a productive economy. Financial inclusion thus was rightly identified as an enabler for seven of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.
In late 2010 against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, the G20 Leaders recognised financial inclusion as one of the main pillars of the global development agenda. They endorsed a Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) and established the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) to implement it in G20 countries and beyond. GPFI thus works for those even beyond G20 countries.
Since then, much work for advancing financial inclusion has been steered by the GPFI. It has produced many useful policy documents and implemented them, including G20 High-Level Principles for Digital Financial Inclusion, reduced the cost of remittances and increased access to and usage of sustainable formal financial services, thereby expanding opportunities for underserved and excluded households and enterprises.
Technological innovations and the adoption of digital innovation in finance through smart phones, Fintechs, and high-speed internet have been major catalysts in nearly doubling account ownership to 71per cent in developing countries over the past decade (https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/globalfindex). This shift has been captured by the G20 as well. Digital Financial Inclusion and not just financial inclusion has been a major focus area for the past few years.
The G20 reports and policy guides usher non-member countries to leverage technology, innovation, and digitalisation to further financial inclusion. However, despite the many advances made, what is keeping the world from unlocking the full potential of digital technologies for financial inclusion? What makes India a global bright spot in accelerating financial inclusion?
With about 31 per cent of the world’s population, largely women, poor and less educated adults, still being excluded from the formal financial system, the time is ripe for rethinking the digital financial ecosystem and exploring ways to bring in the new wave of revolution for digital financial inclusion.
The India Stack is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of our country’s efforts to advance financial inclusion. The Stack brings together various stakeholders of the digital financial ecosystem, such as policymakers, regulators, the private sector, and users and converges components such as identity, payment systems, databases, open networks, and open interfaces (APIs) into a unified platform to complement one another. Such an ecosystem approach has leapfrogged developmental trajectory as it fosters an environment for regulators to regulate and the private sector to innovate whilst always striking a balance between the two. The India Stack, despite its nomenclature, is not limited to India alone and thus can help and facilitate others; its vision and ambitions go far beyond our national boundaries. The foundational template of the Stack can be applied in other country settings– whether developed or emerging – to fit their unique requirements (https://indiastack.org/index.html).
Owing to this unique template, within the last decade, India has achieved 1.3 billion Aadhaar enrolments, overseeing monthly UPI payment volumes of over Rs 12 lakh crore (https://www.npci.org.in/what-we-do/upi/product-statistics); and banking over 470 million beneficiaries under the Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile (JAM) trinity, of which 55% are women and 67% live in rural or semi-urban areas (https://pmjdy.gov.in/account). With merely seven years to attain our Sustainable Development Goals, this pace, volume and quality of financial services are needed to usher in digital financial inclusion as a worldwide revolution.
As Kolkata gets ready to host the First GPFI Meeting under G20 India Presidency, one of the key issues would be to address the challenges of financial inclusion by leveraging technology to achieve the threefold objectives of access, usage and quality of financial services, transform people’s lives, and enhance productivity in the economy.
The meeting will be accompanied by a dedicated initiative for building financial literacy and awareness among schoolchildren. The event is also looking forward to a showcase of various digital innovations in finance by the Public Sector Banks and Undertakings that have contributed to India’s outstanding success in reaching the last mile. Prominent speakers worldwide will also share valuable insights on how countries can leverage their technological capabilities to advance financial inclusion and productivity gains.
The first GPFI working group meeting in Kolkata is likely to initiate a long and prosperous journey of India’s approach to advancing digital financial inclusion globally.
(V. Anantha Nageswaran and Chanchal C. Sarkar are Chief Economic Advisor and Economic Advisor, respectively, in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. Their views are personal)