Cover photo: Ezeh began his business selling car batteries and expanded his store to include a wider range of products. He uses his phone to manage digital payments for his business.

Small businesses play a vital role in communities around the globe, not only by providing goods and services, but by creating jobs. In fact, half of the world’s jobs come from micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Small businesses alone account for half of the global GDP. For many of these businesses, accessing finance is a struggle. We’re constantly working to find and invest in financial service providers that empower the world’s MSMEs, especially in the poorest regions. As access to mobile phones and the internet grows, digital financial services have the power to bring much-needed support to the most vulnerable communities and ultimately open opportunities for new jobs.

Digital financial tools that are accessible via mobile phone have been a game-changer for financial inclusion. In sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of adults with bank accounts increased from 34 percent to 43 percent between 2014 and 2017, and the majority of these gains can be attributed to mobile money accounts.

GSMA estimates that, by 2025, over 70 percent of the world’s population will have mobile phones. This growth will be driven by developing countries with the most underbanked populations, creating vast potential to bolster MSMEs and ultimately boost job creation.

Helping microentrepreneurs embrace digital tools

Still, barriers stand in the way of some MSMEs’ ability to embrace technology. Young microentrepreneurs tend to be tech-savvy but older ones tend to be less confident transitioning to new, unfamiliar tools. We’re investing in financial service providers (FSPs) with innovative strategies to train microentrepreneurs to confidently use digital tools that will help their business survive and grow.

Helping microentrepreneurs is especially urgent as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on traditional, in-person businesses. MSMEs that have at least partially digitized their business and can accept digital payments have proven to be more resilient. Our FSP partners are on the frontline of the pandemic supporting the most underserved essential businesses — including mom-and-pop shops that sell food and medicine. , These institutions are accelerating their own digital transformations and helping their customers to embrace digitalization as well. They are rapidly designing new digital products and training clients to use digital tools so that these vital businesses can stay open and keep providing jobs in their community.

In Nigeria, our partner Accion Microfinance Bank has helped ensure that MSMEs can continue to sustain local economies and create jobs. Their digital products and services include a mobile app that allows customers to access financial services remotely, which has seen broader use after a recent marketing boost. Interbank transfers and mobile airtime purchases made through the app have increased far beyond pre-pandemic levels. Accion Microfinance Bank sends agents to support customers who can’t access digital channels or safely visit a branch, and hosted a series of well-attended free webinars to support their customers. They’re now working to expand their agent network even further to bring financial services to customers in hard-to-reach locations.

Leaning on fintech innovation to close credit gaps

As established financial institutions are driving financial inclusion by creating useful digital financial tools, fintech startups are also helping to close gaps in underserved communities through innovative products and services. In Mexico, there are over 5 million MSMEs, but commercial banks often refuse to serve them because they are small, informal, and not seen as profitable, or because their owners lack credit history. Informal lenders exist but often charge exorbitant interest fees. Our fintech partners in the region, however, have developed innovative digital lending services that can close the credit gap.

Konfio is an online lending platform that uses innovative credit algorithms and alternative data analysis to help MSMEs in Mexico obtain affordable working capital loans. Along with investing in them, Accion Venture Lab sent a team to help them define priority geographic areas and customer segments so that they could identify where to focus their marketing efforts and expand their product offering. By creating products that respond to customer needs, Konfio has grown from serving a few hundred businesses in 2014 to being the leading online lending platform for small businesses in Mexico and a global model for how inclusive fintech can be successful.

Tienda Pago is another fintech partner that currently operates in Peru and Mexico. They use a digital platform to provide digital supply chain finance services to underserved small businesses. They’re supporting mom-and-pop stores to help finance the upfront purchase of the goods they sell. Tienda Pago’s agents work with existing supply chains and provide one-on-one guidance through onboarding before their algorithm analyzes data collected by the agent to produce a credit score and loan amount. While the management of the loan payouts and the payments for consumer goods deliveries is through their digital app, the Tienda Pago staff is only a call or text away if needed.

When small businesses have access to high-quality and fair financial services, they are better able to survive the shocks of crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, keep the employees they’ve hired, and eventually create more jobs. Digital technology, along with proper training and customer support, has proven to be an indispensable facilitator when it comes to supporting underserved microentrepreneurs in the world’s poorest regions. As mobile phone and internet access spreads, we’ll continue working to open opportunities to underserved small businesses so that they can thrive and help their communities prosper.

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