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Financial inclusion or inclusive financing is the delivery of financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society, in contrast to financial exclusion where those services are not available or affordable. An estimated 2 billion working-age adults globally have no access to the types of formal financial services delivered by regulated financial institutions. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 24% of adults have a bank account even though Africa's formal financial sector has grown in recent years. It is argued that as banking services are in the nature of a public good, the availability of banking and payment services to the entire population without discrimination is a key objective of financial inclusion.
The term "financial inclusion" has gained importance since the early 2000s, a result of findings about financial exclusion and its direct correlation to poverty. The United Nations defines the goals of financial inclusion as follows:
- access at a reasonable cost for all households to a full range of financial services, including savings or deposit services, payment and transfer services, credit and insurance;
- sound and safe institutions governed by clear regulation and industry performance standards;
- financial and institutional sustainability, to ensure continuity and certainty of investment; and
- competition to ensure choice and affordability for clients.
Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on 29 December 2003, said: ”The stark reality is that most poor people in the world still lack access to sustainable financial services, whether it is savings, credit or insurance. The great challenge before us is to address the constraints that exclude people from full participation in the financial sector. Together, we can and must build inclusive financial sectors that help people improve their lives.” More recently, Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Executive Director Alfred Hannig highlighted on 24 April 2013 progress in financial inclusion during the IMF-World Bank 2013 Spring Meetings: "Financial inclusion is no longer a fringe subject. It is now recognized as an important part of the mainstream thinking on economic development based on country leadership."
In partnership with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, the UN aims to increase financial inclusion of the poor by developing appropriate financial products for them and increasing awareness on available financial services and strengthening financial literacy, particularly amongst women. The UN's financial inclusion product is financed by the United Nations Development Programme.
Financial inclusion in India
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In the Indian context, the term ‘financial inclusion’ was used for the first time in April 2005 in the Annual Policy Statement presented by Y.Venugopal Reddy,the then Governor, Reserve Bank of India. Later on, this concept gained ground and came to be widely used in India and abroad. While recognizing the concerns in regard to the banking practices that tend to exclude rather than attract vast sections of population, banks were urged to review their existing practices to align them with the objective of financial inclusion. The Report of the Internal Group to Examine Issues relating to Rural Credit and Microfinance (Khan Committee) in July 2005 drew strength from this announcement by Governor Y. Venugopal Reddy in the Annual Policy Statement for 2005-06 wherein he had expressed deep concern on the exclusion of vast sections of the population from the formal financial system. In the Khan Committee Report, the RBI exhorted the banks with a view to achieving greater financial inclusion to make available a basic "no-frills" banking account. The recommendations of the Khan Committee were incorporated into the mid-term review of the policy (2005–06). Financial inclusion again featured later in 2005 when it was used by K.C. Chakraborthy, the chairman of Indian Bank. Mangalam became the first village in India where all households were provided banking facilities. Norms were relaxed for people intending to open accounts with annual deposits of less than Rs. 50,000. General credit cards (GCCs) were issued to the poor and the disadvantaged with a view to help them access easy credit. In January 2006, the Reserve Bank permitted commercial banks to make use of the services of non-governmental organizations (NGOs/SHGs), micro-finance institutions, and other civil society organizations as intermediaries for providing financial and banking services. These intermediaries could be used as business facilitators or business correspondents by commercial banks. The bank asked the commercial banks in different regions to start a 100% financial inclusion campaign on a pilot basis. As a result of the campaign, states or union territories like Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala announced 100% financial inclusion in all their districts. Reserve Bank of India’s vision for 2020 is to open nearly 600 million new customers' accounts and service them through a variety of channels by leveraging on IT. However, illiteracy and the low income savings and lack of bank branches in rural areas continue to be a roadblock to financial inclusion in many states and there is inadequate legal and financial structure.
The government of India recently announced “Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna,” a national financial inclusion mission which aims to provide bank accounts to at least 75 million people by January 26, 2015. To achieve this milestone, it’s important for both service providers and policy makers to have readily available information outlining gaps in access and interactive tools that help better understand the context at the district level. MIX designed the FINclusion Lab India FI workbook to support these actors as they craft strategies to achieve these goals.
In India, RBI has initiated several measures to achieve greater financial inclusion, such as facilitating no-frills accounts and GCCs for small deposits and credit. Some of these steps are:
Opening of no-frills accounts: Basic banking no-frills account is with nil or very low minimum balance as well as charges that make such accounts accessible to vast sections of the population. Banks have been advised to provide small overdrafts in such accounts.
Relaxation on know-your-customer (KYC) norms: KYC requirements for opening bank accounts were relaxed for small accounts in August 2005, thereby simplifying procedures by stipulating that introduction by an account holder who has been subjected to the full KYC drill would suffice for opening such accounts. The banks were also permitted to take any evidence as to the identity and address of the customer to their satisfaction. It has now been further relaxed to include the letters issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India containing details of name, address and Aadhaar number.
Engaging business correspondents (BCs): In January 2006, RBI permitted banks to engage business facilitators (BFs) and BCs as intermediaries for providing financial and banking services. The BC model allows banks to provide doorstep delivery of services, especially cash in-cash out transactions, thus addressing the last-mile problem. The list of eligible individuals and entities that can be engaged as BCs is being widened from time to time. With effect from September 2010, for-profit companies have also been allowed to be engaged as BCs. India map of Financial Inclusion by MIX provides more insights on this. In the grass-root level, the Business correspondents (BCs), with the help of Village Panchayat (local governing body), has set up an ecosystem of Common Service Centres (CSC). CSC is a rural electronic hub with a computer connected to the internet that provides e-governance or business services to rural citizens.
Use of technology: Recognizing that technology has the potential to address the issues of outreach and credit delivery in rural and remote areas in a viable manner,banks have been advised to make effective use of information and communications technology (ICT), to provide doorstep banking services through the BC model where the accounts can be operated by even illiterate customers by using biometrics, thus ensuring the security of transactions and enhancing confidence in the banking system.
Adoption of EBT: Banks have been advised to implement EBT by leveraging ICT-based banking through BCs to transfer social benefits electronically to the bank account of the beneficiary and deliver government benefits to the doorstep of the beneficiary, thus reducing dependence on cash and lowering transaction costs.
GCC: With a view to helping the poor and the disadvantaged with access to easy credit, banks have been asked to consider introduction of a general purpose credit card facility up to `25,000 at their rural and semi-urban branches. The objective of the scheme is to provide hassle-free credit to banks’ customers based on the assessment of cash flow without insistence on security, purpose or end use of the credit. This is in the nature of revolving credit entitling the holder to withdraw up to the limit sanctioned.
Simplified branch authorization: To address the issue of uneven spread of bank branches, in December 2009, domestic scheduled commercial banks were permitted to freely open branches in tier III to tier VI centres with a population of less than 50,000 under general permission, subject to reporting. In the north-eastern states and Sikkim, domestic scheduled commercial banks can now open branches in rural,semi-urban and urban centres without the need to take permission from RBI in each case, subject to reporting.
Opening of branches in unbanked rural centres: To further step up the opening of branches in rural areas so as to improve banking penetration and financial inclusion rapidly, the need for the opening of more bricks and mortar branches, besides the use of BCs, was felt. Accordingly, banks have been mandated in the April monetary policy statement to allocate at least 25% of the total number of branches to be opened during a year to unbanked rural centres.
Financial Inclusion Index
On June 25, 2013, CRISIL, India's leading credit rating and research company launched an index to measure the status of financial inclusion in India. The index- Inclusix- along with a report, was released by the Finance Minister of India, P. Chidambaram at a widely covered program at New Delhi. CRISIL Inclusix is a one-of-its-kind tool to measure the extent of inclusion in India, right down to each of the 632 districts. CRISIL Inclusix is a relative index on a scale of 0 to 100, and combines three critical parameters of basic banking services — branch penetration, deposit penetration, and credit penetration —into one metric. The report highlights many hitherto unknown facets of inclusion in India. It contains the first regional, state-wise, and district-wise assessments of financial inclusion ever published, and the first analysis of trends in inclusion over a three-year timeframe. Some key conclusions from the study are:
- The all-India CRISIL Inclusix score of 40.1 is low, though there are clear signs of progress – this score has improved from 35.4 in 2009.
- Deposit penetration is the key driver of financial inclusion – the number of savings accounts (624 million), is almost four times the number of loan accounts (160 million).
- 618 out of 632 districts reported an improvement in their scores during 2009-2011.
- The top three states and Union Territories are Puducherry, Chandigarh, and Kerala; the top three districts are Pathanamthitta (Kerala), Karaikal (Puducherry), and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala).
Financial inclusion in India is often closely connected to the aggressive micro credit policies that were introduced without the appropriate regulations oversight or consumer education policies. The result was consumers becoming quickly over-indebted to the point of committing suicide, lending institutions saw repayment rates collapse after politicians in one of the country's largest states called on borrowers to stop paying back their loans, threatening the existence of the entire 4 billion a year Indian microcredit industry. This crisis has often been compared to the mortgage lending crisis in the US.
The challenge for those working in the financial inclusion field has been to separate micro-credit as only one aspect of the larger financial inclusion efforts and use the Indian crisis as an example of the importance of having the appropriate regulatory and educational policy framework in place.
Tracking Financial Inclusion through Budget Analysis
While financial inclusion is an important issue, it may also be interesting to assess whether such inclusion as earmarked in policies are actually reaching the common beneficiaries. Since the 1990s, there has been serious efforts both in the government agencies and in the civil society to monitor the fund flow process and to track the outcome of public expenditure through budget tracking. Organisations like International Budget Partnership (IBP) are undertaking global surveys in more than 100 countries to study the openness (transparency) in budget making process. There are various tools used by different civil society groups to track public expenditure. Such tools may include performance monitoring of public services, social audit and public accountability surveys. In India, the institutionalisation of Right to information (RTI) has been a supporting tool for activists and citizen groups for budget tracking and advocacy for social inclusion.
Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this scheme for comprehensive financial inclusion on his first Independence Day speech on 15 August 2014. The scheme was formally launched on 28 August 2014 with a target to provide 'universal access to banking facilities' starting with Basic Banking Accounts with overdraft facility of Rs.5000 after six months and RuPay Debit card with inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs. 1 lakh and RuPay Kisan Card & in next phase, micro insurance & pension etc. will also be added. In a run up to the formal launch of this scheme, the Prime Minister personally mailed to CEOs of all banks to gear up for the gigantic task of enrolling over 7.5 crore (75 million) households and to open their accounts. In this email he categorically declared that a bank account for each household was a "national priority".
On the inauguration day of the scheme, 1.5 Crore (15 million) bank accounts were opened.
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- The Alliance for Financial Inclusion
- Transact, National Forum for Financial Inclusion
- Financial Inclusion Taskforce, UK
- Research Unit for Financial Inclusion
- UNCDF report on Financial Inclusion
- Resources, articles and documents from Financial Inclusion Champions site, UK
- FDIC Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion (United States)
- mixmarket.org, information on microfinance institutions (MFIs) and their financial and social performance
- Financial Inclusion - An Overview (India)
- World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Database
- World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Data Portal
- National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development
- UN Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development