Supporting innovation is key to unlocking inclusion for all consumers – POLITICO
More than 13 million adult EU citizens still lack access to formal financial services. In some parts of the EU, the percentage of those that remain unbanked is over 30 percent, and the pandemic has only further accelerated these inequalities, as well as worsening digital poverty, and exclusion. Additionally, worldwide, women represent over half — 56 percent — of the unbanked adult population.
These indicators underscore the need to bring innovative solutions to the financial needs of a significant portion of individuals, and even more so toward women and underserved groups across Europe like those on low incomes.
Not only is there a moral case for ensuring that people are well equipped for — and thrive in — the digital era, individuals and businesses that have the right access and skills to operate in Europe’s digital economy contribute a significant economic and productivity boost.
That’s why a policy and regulatory environment that supports and enables innovation that’s inclusive by design must match the Commission’s commitment to create a Europe fit for the digital age.
Digital and financial inclusion are connected
Just over half, 54 percent, of the EU population have basic digital skills, and European nations lagging behind on financial inclusion are also those struggling with improving digital inclusion. In Romania, for example, only 28 percent of the population have basic digital skills, while 30.9 percent remain unbanked, and neighboring Bulgaria faces the second highest financial exclusion rate at 16 percent and only 31 percent of the population have basic digital skills.
According to Eurostat, 43 percent of the EU population had insufficient levels of digital skills, and 17 percent had none, meaning that they do not use the internet or use it in a defective manner.
In the broader context of rapid digitization, these figures imply serious risks of digital exclusion, and in a world where most financial transactions are now being conducted digitally, digital exclusion for many also means financial exclusion. And so, digital and financial exclusion cannot be tackled in isolation.
Bolstering the digital and financial literacy, connectivity and skills of individuals and businesses should be a core focus for sustainable growth across Europe.
Industry spearheading innovation
Industry has an important role to play to achieve greater inclusion and is acting fast. Fintech providers are already creating new solutions that serve people for whom mainstream banking is not right. Prepaid cards act as a bridge for financially excluded and hard-to-reach individuals. They can also serve as a ramp to the formal economy, providing unbanked and underbanked individuals with quick and secure access to funds, enabling them to participate in the digital economy, whilst building their digital capabilities and confidence.
For our part, we are working tirelessly to bring 1 billion individuals into the digital economy by 2025, and we are working with fintech partners across Europe to address the needs of those financially excluded and long underserved.
We are also developing tailored products and services for underrepresented and underserved groups that account for faith, sexual orientation, gender, age, ethnicity and social impact, and other values-based frameworks that may impact people’s access to financial services.
Our Payments Help platform, Betalningshjälpen, created in collaboration with Swedish banks and SPF Seniorerna, helps more people participate in the digital economy. Primarily aimed at empowering elderly citizens to use digital payments, it shows users how to shop online, pay bills and send money, so they can feel safe and secure about managing their everyday life online.
Mastercard’s True Name feature lets cardholders with participating banks use their true first name on their card without requiring a legal name change, helping to ease a major pain point for many of the nonbinary and transgender community who have negative experiences at checkout. Last year, Amsterdam-based challenger bank bunq was the first issuer to make the feature available across Europe.
Action is needed now
Despite innovation helping to tackle exclusion, more still needs to be done — progress on inclusion must be a top priority this year. Industry innovation must be matched by a policy and regulatory ecosystem that puts inclusion at its heart.
We ask the Commission to recognize that digital and financial exclusion are inextricably linked and must be tackled in tandem. We also call on the EU to consider the creation of a (time-limited) European Coalition for Financial and Digital Inclusion. This coalition would help bring together relevant industry and consumer representatives and, as an outcome focused group, encourage the development and uptake of inclusive innovation that can support better digital financial inclusion outcomes.
Industry and policymakers alike need to focus on digital financial inclusion as a pathway to prosperity for individuals through improved access, usage, financial health and financial security.
At Mastercard, we have long supported access and usage of financial services that promote inclusion. We will continue playing our role in supporting individuals and businesses through the digitalization journey, and assisting policymakers navigate this complex environment.
 Eurostat, 2021
 Eurostat, 2021
 Eurostat, 2021
 Eurostat, 2019
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