Age of access: unlocking opportunity can bring parity and prosperity
Following more than a year of immense challenges and disruption, encouraging signs are emerging which set out a path from the pandemic to recovery, and beyond. Over 2.5 billion people have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, travel corridors opening during summer months spurred tourism, and restrictions on movement are being lifted. Each has had a dramatic impact on people’s daily lives, and commerce and economies at large. Our spending momentum index has shown higher vaccination rates allow a swifter return to more social spending, such as restaurants and shopping, and can also unleash retail booms before herd immunity1.
With this progress comes confidence that we may soon return to something more stable and familiar. It also provides an opportunity to learn from the pandemic era and actively shape the economies and societies to which we return. And while we all hope to soon emerge from one shared challenge, it allows us to reflect on remaining hurdles that will be just as difficult to overcome. As some doors open, others remain stubbornly closed.
Around the world, we face a painful and inequitable disparity in access. More than 1.8 billion – almost a quarter of the world’s population – still have no access to formal financial services. This number totals almost 700 million people in Central Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) alone, and is matched by the 60 million merchants who still do not accept digital payments today2. Sadly, for many people, the outlook doesn’t appear bright. Fewer than one in three people in developed markets feel their family will be better off in five years than they are now, and one in five people in a global survey felt the system isn’t working for them3.
Closing and bridging this gap to universal access will be the most impactful route to drive lasting and meaningful change and allow a prosperous ‘next normal’. At Visa, we passionately believe that economies that include everyone, everywhere uplift everyone, everywhere. We focus every day on enabling access to digital commerce for both buyers and for sellers, and over the course of the last year we have seen how important simple, safe and secure commerce is for everyone – whether that is merchants finding ways to sell while they have been shuttered, or consumers wanting to buy without handling cash.
While Visa is taking steps to address the access gap and be a payments network that truly works for everyone, we also know that this challenge is something too big for any organization to address alone. Partnership is crucial across the golden triangle of governments, private sector and civil society, and can truly drive progress by bringing together unique sets of strengths and capabilities – spanning policy, reach and education. We saw this when we successfully partnered to enable 500 million more people to have access to digital payments by 2020 and are already seeing similar with our efforts to digitally-enable more than 50 million small businesses.
In the same way that no organization can succeed in isolation, we believe that there is no one single way to address the disparity. Access exists – and is being blocked – in many different forms, and yet there are already steps being taken to address this for consumers, businesses and governments.
Across many emerging and developing markets, we see that the stellar work of financial institutions in bringing more people to banking is being supplemented by a new wave of fintech firms and mobile operators who are helping open financial services to those who are unbanked but mobile-connected. To showcase the appetite and potential, our partner STC Pay issued more than one million new virtual payment cards in Saudi Arabia within six months of launch4, and we have penned similar agreements in mobile money hotbeds such as East Africa. With almost 500 million mobile internet users expected in Africa by 20205, the potential to expand financial services through mobile devices is vast.
Similarly, and beyond commerce and traditional banking, other forms of payments can widen access by helping people move money faster and with more simplicity. Think of a gig worker who wants to send their salary to family overseas – currently they receive a monthly salary and then may face a cumbersome and costly way to move money across borders. We are developing solutions that allow them to get paid each day in real-time, and then be able to transfer money instantly around the world. We’re working with governments so they can make faster payments of disbursements and benefits to citizens, helping consumers receive faster insurance payouts to their accounts or cards, and bringing down barriers that have led many small businesses to only accept cash still now.
The more inclusive our financial system becomes the more everyone benefits. Over 60 years ago, when Visa was first founded, few could imagine a world beyond cash and cheques. For many, digital financial access is now a staple of everyday life, yet this is not the case for all. Access is a necessity, not a luxury and is a critical foundation for better outcomes and sustainable growth. As we look ahead, and take learnings from a year of upheaval, focusing on equitable financial access will be the surest way to unlock potential, helping individuals, businesses and wider economies and societies to thrive.
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2 Visa Investor Day, February 2020
3 Story of Access, Visa 2021
4 جريدة الرياض | stc pay تصدر مليون بطاقة Visa خلال أربعة أشهر(alriyadh.com)
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