Cell phones, biometrics fuel jump in bank account ownership


Roughly seven out of every 10 adults worldwide now has some form of a bank account, the World Bank said on Thursday, largely due to by the proliferation of cell phone-based bank accounts and other simple bank account programs in places like India and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The finding is a sign of the improved financial wellbeing of those living in developing countries and particularly women, who increasingly have a safe place to store their savings and are able to participate in the growing digitalisation of the global economy.
But women still lag behind their male counterparts in bank account ownership, the World Bank report said. An estimated 69 per cent of adults had some sort of bank account in 2017, up from an estimated 51 per cent in 2011 and up from 62 per cent in 2014.
The figures were released as part of the World Bank’s Global Findex Report, a study on financial inclusion released every three years that involves interviews or surveys of 150,000 people, covering 144 countries, representing 98 per cent of the world’s population. A chunk of the growth came from India, the world’s second-most populous country, where bank account ownership has more than doubled from 40 per cent to 80 per cent in six years.
Since 2014, the Indian government has been pushing a programme to sign up individuals for simple, no-fee accounts tied to government biometric identification cards.
Sub-Saharan Africa saw big growth as well, fuelled by mobile phone-based accounts. These “mobile money” accounts, as they are sometimes known, are tied to a person’s cell phone account instead of a bank, and allow users to transfer money to family or businesses.
In countries such as Kenya, roughly three quarters of Kenyans have a mobile money account, and other Sub-Saharan countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda also saw jumps in mobile phone account usage in the last few years.—Agencies

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