When some of the world’s most creative thinkers come together, they can help solve big problems. So, I was glad to see that this year’s Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas included financial inclusion on the agenda. As innovators across all segments of the payments and financial services industry came together to explore the future of money, the focus on inclusion drove home the message that any future we build must include access to high quality and affordable financial services for all people.
When we look at solutions for expanding financial services, India, the world’s second most populous country, provides an informative case study. The panel “IndiaStack: How Tech is Driving Inclusion for 1.2 Billion People in India” explored how the government-led IndiaStack program is creating a digital infrastructure that enables paperless, cashless, and remote financial services. This is particularly useful for a country like India where over two-thirds of the population still lives in rural areas, according to the World Bank.
At the core of this platform is Aadhaar, a unique ID number based on biometrics. This ID number lets customers verify their identities and access services without additional documentation or travel. More than 1.1 billion Aadhaar numbers have already been issued, reaching 99% of the adult population in India.
Banks, tech companies, and startups — many of whom are in Venture Lab’s portfolio or pipeline — are building apps and services building off of IndiaStack and Aadhaar. We heard:
- Sally Taylor-Shoff of FICO share how the company is launching a new credit score based entirely on alternative data, proving creditworthiness for individuals who are otherwise credit-invisible
- Mobile wallet company Paytm’s Harinder Takhar discussed his company’s work to tap into Aadhaar Pay to enable cashless transactions at merchants
With the government and businesses working together to maximize the platform, IndiaStack shows real promise for bringing all Indians into the formal economy. Of particular note are the introduction of features that support digital banking. E-KYC or electronic Know Your Customer allows swift and paperless verification of address and identity, and e-Sign allows users to electronically sign documents in a legally acceptable manner. These features combined with rapid growth of affordable smartphones and cheap data in India have significantly broadened the reach of financial products. We continue to be incredibly excited about companies that are leveraging the full stack for financial inclusion
Foundations and NGOs also play an important part in advancing financial inclusion. On another panel, Arjuna Costa from Omidyar Network and Kosta Peric from the Gates Foundation discussed philanthropic efforts to drive global financial health. Venture Lab is directly supporting for-profit startups in our markets, but we believe that philanthropy can play a critical role in establishing the infrastructure and common norms necessary for the expansion of financial services in underserved markets. To make sure that impact is sustainable, Costa emphasized the importance of focusing on the unique and complicated needs of individuals. Our approach is aligned with Costa’s comment — we focus on businesses that are focused on real customer pain points, not built around traditional conceptions of financial products.
Individual needs also took center stage during the session on leveraging tech for social good, hosted by Mastercard Chief Product Officer — and Accion board member — Michael Miebach. Calling technology “one of the democratizers of the 21st century,” Miebach emphasized that the kind of technology that can make a difference has to be developed with a deep understanding of customer needs. Researching and fully grasping the needs and desires of the communities they serve helps businesses provide better products and services that customers will adopt and continue to actually use long-term.
Michael Miebach ended his session by driving home the message that financial inclusion is only possible if we all work together. That’s why Mastercard is working with partners across industries and segments to close the gap for the financially excluded.
I was glad to hear the key messages of public/private collaboration and a focus on customer needs echoed throughout Money 20/20. From market leaders to startups, governments to NGOs, everyone recognizes the challenges and opportunities of making sure our global financial future is more inclusive, and we’re committed to making financial inclusion a reality.