Comment written by Andrew Mitchell MP, Secretary of State for International Development, UK:
It is thanks in no small part to the extraordinary and unstinting efforts of innovators such as Muhammad Yunus, with whom I spent time in Bangladesh, that microfinance has, over the past 30 years, proved to be such a powerful tool in providing formal, reliable and secure financial services to the poor in developing countries.
There is little doubt that, for poor households, access to financial services such as savings, credit and insurance are vital tools for poverty reduction.
Access to financial services enables people to better withstand shocks, build assets to improve their livelihoods and pay for basic services such as health care and education. DFID has been a longstanding advocate of microfinance and has been supporting microfinance and financial sector development in many of its country programmes across the world for many years.
However, an estimated 2.7 billion people in developing countries still do not have access to formal financial services. It is vitally important that the key challenge of how to reach such an enormous number of people as quickly as possible is tackled with due urgency.
To take the pioneering work of Mohammad Yunus forward we must start to investigate approaches to new frontiers in banking, working beyond traditional models to reach the poor.
Branchless banking is the provision of banking services without relying on a building to host the services. It is still only at an early stage of development but it has the power to transform banking for the good of the poor.
For that reason developing country governments, policy makers, banks and technology service providers agree that the delivery of branchless banking using information and communication technologies and non-bank retail agents, through mobile phones or card-based networks must be extended.
This is an exciting agenda, which DFID is supporting through the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor’s Technology Programme for Branchless Banking, and through our country programmes. However the challenges are large and real breakthroughs require the joint efforts of government, the private sector, civil society and regulation bodies.
The G20 Summit agreed at the weekend to a set of Principles for Innovative Financial Inclusion, to remove policy and regulatory blockages to the expansion of branchless banking to vastly increase numbers of low-income clients. We have called on G20 countries to agree a concrete action plan at the next Summit in Seoul to achieve this.
This will be of real benefit to the economic security and prospects of many vulnerable people across the world.