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Rethinking Financial Inclusion – How Innovation is Opening Doors

By : Marija Zivanovic-Smith

October 21, 2016 08:00 AM

The pace of change and disruptive innovation happening every day around us is exhilarating.

 

We are not only rethinking and reimagining how people shop, bank, dine, and travel, we have an incredible potential to address a very real societal problem: the growing number of unbanked and underbanked individuals.

 

I was excited to discuss this topic at a recent industry panel on financial inclusion held in Washington, DC. Alongside some very smart people from PayPal, NetSpend and CAN Capital, we discussed how this era of innovation, in concert with ambitious government policies, can create meaningful opportunities to bring banking services to underserved communities.

 

What's the challenge for financial inclusion?
The problem of financial inclusion is global, and it is greater than many people realize. Solutions like online payments, mobile banking and prepaid cards have made important strides in promoting financial inclusion, but there is still a long way to go.

 

A few facts and figures underscore the extent of the challenge:

 

 

These sobering numbers make it clear that there is still a great deal of work to do.

 

Financial inclusion is about much more than just having a bank account. At its root level, it is a key element of social and economic inclusion. It is about helping people participate in today's connected economy.

 

How technology opens doors
NCR has always had a strong focus on financial inclusion and innovation, starting with the cash register over a century ago. Today, we are building powerful omni-channel platforms for banks, retailers, travel providers, restaurants and more. Our solutions handle more than 650 million transactions every day in 180 countries around the world, and our technologies power eight of the top 10 mobile banking apps in the United States. And, we are very proud that we are helping to bring some of this innovation to open doors around the world and help banks, governments and other parties address this critical issue.

 

Just a few ways that technology and innovation are creating new opportunities for financial inclusion include:

 

Video Tellers: Imagine an ATM where you can talk live with a bank teller 24 hours a day. This technology allows banks to bring a wide range of always-on services at a fraction of the cost of a fully-staffed branch.

 

Banks can now operate branches in low-income and rural neighborhoods where it wasn't economical or sustainable in the past. And, it means that someone who is holding down two or three jobs can now talk to a live teller at 2:00 in the morning just as easily as 2:00 in the afternoon. This is critically important as the trends towards urbanization is leaving rural communities without basic financial services.

 

Just think of what that means for rural areas in India, or low-income urban neighborhoods in the US or Brazil.  In some parts of the world, people have to walk miles to reach a bank, so imagine the possibilities that can be created by bringing services to them in an affordable way.

 

Accessibility for People with Disabilities: New technology innovations now make it easier for people with vision and hearing impairments, and all types of disabilities, to access convenient financial services.

 

NCR has a long history of creating accessible ATMs. In fact, we were the first to deploy the world’s first talking ATM for the blind. We have also worked with the State Bank of India to bring more than 2,500 voice-guided ATMs to Indian cities. Today, we're building accessibility features for ATMs that match the highly regarded accessibility features on smartphones and tablets so people with disabilities can bank at an ATM just like they bank online.

 

Speeding Access to Cash: One of the major hurdles that the unbanked face around the world is that workers need access to cash quickly to pay their bills. While “faster payments’ focuses on accelerating digital payments, many individuals still value and require the use of cash and faster access to funds. Many people simply cannot afford to wait several days for a deposit to clear. In Brazil, we worked with a major banking system to pioneer a solution that makes cash available almost immediately upon deposit.

 

Micro-Business: Financial inclusion isn't just about individuals. It also means giving small businesses the tools they need to compete, and this is something that doesn't get enough attention. The cloud is opening new doors for SMBs. SMBs can now take orders, manage inventory, accept payments and forecast demand on a mobile device at a price they can afford. This is a powerful competitive advantage and a great equalizer – you can have the same reach and access to big data and analytics as a small business that a billion-dollar corporation has.

 

Omni-channel as the driver for inclusion
If countries are to better support financial inclusion through technology, there are several steps they must take.

 

First, they must have a clear national strategy, such as the goal set by India to ensure every household in the country has a bank account by 2018.

 

Second, public-private partnerships are essential to ensure that new technologies reach underserved populations that need them.

 

Third, more support is needed to extend the rollout of fast, reliable broadband technology, as this will underpin almost all of the technologies that are essential to financial inclusion. Without it, other technology solutions will not succeed.

 

Perhaps most importantly, countries must take an omni-channel approach to financial inclusion. While tools such as digital banking are immensely powerful, not everyone will have access to every solution, or will want digital channels. Likewise, physical channels themselves are not always the answer.

 

To open more doors to financial inclusion, we must not get locked into existing technologies. Innovation is moving too fast for that. Government rules must be flexible and technology-neutral to allow the best technologies that drive financial inclusion to flourish.

 

Marija Zivanovic-Smith

Vice President of Corporate Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs

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Marija Zivanovic-Smith is vice president of corporate marketing, communications & public affairs and the chief of staff to NCR Chairman and CEO Bill Nuti. She is responsible for the company’s corporate brand, public affairs, corporate communications and government relations. As champion of NCR’s brand identity, she also oversees NCR’s network of 300+ brand ambassadors worldwide. Ms. Zivanovic-Smith is a trustee of the NCR Foundation and serves on the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) Board of Directors. Ms. Zivanovic-Smith also served as a board member for five years on the Women's Council on Energy and the Environment.