Financial Inclusion is Rapidly Growing but the Access to Financial Services Remains Modest
Financial inclusion refers to people’s ability to hold a current account with a bank. The degree of financial inclusion is measured by the share of individuals and businesses that use the financial services offered by banks and other financial institutions. Financial inclusion has become extremely relevant among financial sector operators and supervisory authorities as a mean to evaluate both growth and development potential and to guarantee adequate controls to safeguard the stability of the system. Interest in this topic has also been growing because it is included in the UN’s sustainable development goals (the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). This note intends to identify where countries currently stand in relation to the inclusion target, with a focus on Central, South and Eastern European (CESEE) countries, by using the new data from Global Findex, updated by the World Bank in July 2022. The Global Findex is a vital source of data that is only partially used here to evaluate the degree of diffusion of accounts and basic banking services (deposits and credit) in the CESEE sample. Financial inclusion had improved further by 2021. In many countries, it has become very high and is now at the level of major high-income countries. Most of the unbanked are still concentrated in a few Asian countries. Digital payments strengthened in all regions, especially in Asia. However, the gap between ownership and utilisation of credit and debit cards remained large in 2021, suggesting there is a need to further incentivise use. Customers often have an account but still prefer to use cash. Ownership is not utilisation. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal could realistically be reached by 2030, but now it is necessary to improve financial education and digital literacy to encourage more effective and extensive use of financial accounts. Nevertheless, the ample diffusion of financial inclusion can be reached mainly with a more even income distribution, in all countries and in all the different development models which are spreading in the world.
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