BLOG: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles reflects on financial inclusion globally and why the UK Government needs to make it a priority

October 17, 2016

The UK Financial Inclusion Commission is proud to be marking global Financial Inclusion Week, starting on Monday 17 October.  All around the world, increasing numbers of individuals and small businesses are being given the chance to access and participate in the financial system. However, significant challenges still remain.  Of course, the greatest of these challenges lie in the developing world,  but even in developed nations such as the United Kingdom, there are still far too many people and small businesses who are without bank accounts, unable to borrow, cannot save, insure themselves or manage their money in an efficient and fair way.

As this year’s Financial Inclusion Week recognises, the route to inclusion will increasingly be digital and mobile. In China in the last year, perhaps more than anywhere, millions of people are being brought into the financial system via their smart phones.  But digital delivery presents new challenges for those individuals who may either not have access to a standard hand held device, or do not have the necessary digital skills to benefit meaningfully – in particular amongst the elderly and disabled.

In only the past few days, there has been encouraging news on financial inclusion, in Britain and internationally.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government shows every sign of wanting to address the financial inclusion agenda, at least on the evidence of attendance by Ministers and policy advisers at the Financial Inclusion Commission Reception at the Conservative Party Conference. The government has stated its commitment to delivering “a country that works for everyone”, and a crucial element of this vision is a financial system which works for every section of society.  It is promising that the government is listening to arguments put forward by the Commission and others, and in recent weeks we have seen a concrete policy commitment, in the form of a new unified money advice body, which will cover pensions, debt and all other aspects of financial advice.

Internationally, it was striking at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington earlier in October, how financial inclusion had risen right to the top of the international public policy agenda, with numerous meetings and debates covering everything from digital inclusion to the dangers of a binary approach to de-risking.

Yet despite this promising progress, an end to financial exclusion will only be achieved through committed leadership and coordination from national governments. The UK Financial Inclusion Commission is therefore urging the British government to make financial inclusion a national public policy priority embedded across every relevant government department. We hope that internationally, global leaders everywhere will also adhere to this call, as financial exclusion has no place in the 21st Century.

The Financial Inclusion Commission is supported by Mastercard, but remains wholly independent. 
Promoting financial inclusion inclusion is a global corporate objective for Mastercard and supporting the work of the Financial Inclusion Commission is a key part of our efforts to promote financial inclusion in the UK. Mastercard believes that all people should have an opportunity to participate in the economy. Our payment innovations, such as prepaid and mobile solutions, as well as our philanthropic and consumer education programs, bring the benefit of finance to the unbanked and underbanked, helping them build a stronger future for themselves, their families and their communities.