In a time when technology has transformed people’s lives in so many ways, financial services is one area where the potential of the internet era remains largely unrealized. We’ve been hearing for decades about the demise of cash and the dawn of the digital economy.
So far, though, the traditional financial order is still standing tall. The way most people move and manage their money hasn’t changed much since credit cards appeared on the scene 50 years ago. Working-class Americans spend more than $170 billion a year on fees and interest to use their own hard-earned money. In much of the world, simple transactions like paying a bill or receiving an overseas remittance can be time-consuming—even dangerous.
But it isn’t all bad news. The latest numbers from the World Bank show that we are moving ever closer to the goal of universal financial inclusion by 2020—which includes a basic bank account and a safe and convenient way to send and receive money.
But this should be just the start. Even with the rapid increase in bank accounts around the world, the truth is that most people are underserved by the financial industry. We still live in a world where too many people lack sufficient savings to cover an unexpected expense. In the U.S. nearly half of all families don’t have enough money to pay for a $400 emergency; 40% of U.K. citizens have less than £100 saved.
As we head into 2018, we have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to expand our focus from traditional notions of financial inclusion to the broader goal of universal financial health. This means instead of just measuring how many people have a payment account, we must consider all of the financial services that people need to take control over their financial lives—everything from financial-planning tools for managing budgets and expenses to access to affordable credit to start businesses and invest in college; insurance to help deal with unexpected expenses; retirement accounts for long-term savings; and more.