It’s time for a rethink on financial inclusion – new principles show how

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ajay S. Banga, Executive Chairman, Mastercard


  • While technology has served as a gateway for many, patchy internet access and the lack of affordable tools and access to digital skills has created a digital divide that risks barring the pathway to growth.
  • A new set of Principles offers a vision that makes digitally-led financial inclusion a natural outcome of an innovative and competitive financial system.
  • The Principles have been launched by the Edison Alliance.

Where trade thrives, people thrive. This has been true for centuries. From the agoras of ancient Greece to the bustling bazaars throughout the world today, trade has always been a vehicle for connections and commerce – and also for the exchange of cultures and ideas. Opportunity was a matter of getting to the marketplace.

These days, more and more of the work we do and the widgets we exchange are digitized. Even before the pandemic sparked a rapid shift to e-commerce and digitization, services and data flows were outpacing goods as the main units of trade. In theory, the internet became the global commons, a place where anyone with a solid business idea and internet access could link up to the supply chain system and become a legitimate entrepreneur.

A digital divide

The problem, however, is that while technology serves as a gateway for many, a lack of internet access, affordable tools and the skills to use them and navigate the system safely and beneficially has effectively created a digital divide. If we don’t find a way to close that divide soon, we will be barring the pathway to growth and opportunity for all.

The Internet of Everything won’t work without the inclusion of everyone. —Ajay Banga, Executive Chairman, Mastercard

Closing that digital divide and moving business forward with an eye on digital inclusion sits at the heart of the mission for The EDISON Alliance. Launched in January by the World Economic Forum, the initiative brings together champions from across the public and private sectors to harness the potential of digital opportunities for everyone. We’re taking the progress that individual organizations have already achieved and giving it jet fuel by working together toward this common goal.

Closing the financial inclusion gap by addressing the digital divide. Image: The EDISON Alliance

digital, COVID-19, EDISON Alliance

What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide. Nearly half of the world is still not online.

With more basic services moving online and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in wealthier nations, these deep digital gaps are exacerbating inequality and preventing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At The Davos Agenda, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-sector alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical sectors of the economy.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as the platform of platforms for partners with a common purpose for achieving the SDGs. Its vision is to ensure that every person can affordably participate in the digital economy.

Companies are invited to join the EDISON Alliance – read about how in our Impact Story.

EDISON Alliance – making strides towards financial inclusion

EDISON’s approach to digital inclusion focuses on three critical avenues of focus: education, healthcare and financial inclusion – each with potential to offer leaps forward thanks to technology, but only if no one is left behind. This focus has given those members in the financial services sector a chance to take another look at our approach to financial inclusion. Great strides have been made, but more than a billion people are still left out of the financial system – and others are underserved, meaning they have access but do not use their bank or mobile money accounts for a wide range of reasons. And that means they aren’t seeing the benefits of access.

Shared principles and a common vision

Existing approaches around financial inclusion are complex and tend toward philanthropic solutions. But there is not enough philanthropic money in the world to sustain these models over time. The programs with the greatest potential for long-term impact are the commercially viable solutions. They can be sustained over time, scaled up and encourage future-proofing by rewarding innovation and responsiveness to customer needs.

In support of this thinking, a number of The EDISON Alliance have partnered to develop a common vision in a set of Shared Principles for an Inclusive Financial System.

Inclusive digital marketplaces

The Principles outline the foundations for the inclusive digital marketplaces of the future – marketplaces where everyone has an opportunity to grow and thrive. The Principles seek to help us bring together new technologies – like open banking, fintechs, blockchain, artificial intelligence and more – to work for the banked and unbanked alike.

7 shared principles for an inclusive financial system. Image: The EDISON Alliance

By creating principles built on commercial viability and economic sustainability, we can incentivize a system that balances the needs, capabilities and benefits for all participants. This requires governments to encourage supply and uptake of services, maintain a level playing field, and promote competition and market entry. The goal is to prioritize high quality, safe and efficient financial services infrastructure with democratized access and innovation guided by the needs of users. And that requires trust – trust in regulations, trust in security and reliability, and trust in the transparent use of data.

Ultimately, The Principles are about how we foster that trust as partners – public and private sectors working together to ensure resilience for everyone.

Innovative and competitive business

That is why the EDISON Alliance members are extending an invitation to everyone in the financial ecosystem to bring this broad-based and adaptive set of principles into their planning and operations. They will help drive consensus-building conversations across the public and private sectors about what it takes to make financial inclusion a central part of the normal course of innovative and competitive business.

Here’s our chance to make the digital economy work for everyone, everywhere. We hope you’ll join us.

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