Mary Banda in Zambia runs a small restaurant in one of Lusaka’s oldest markets. Before she learned that financial services could make the way she did business easier, her profits were low. But today, her profits have increased, both because she banks her money and because she uses mobile money transfer services.

Using financial services has simplified managing her business and increased profits. And business proceeds now pay her children’s school fees. Women, Banda said, must not fear banks. “It is very important to save money because the informal sector where we operate has no social security.”

Financial inclusion may sound like an esoteric concept, but its meaning is more than real for the 1.2 billion people who have gotten access to a financial account since 2011, including more than half a billion people in the last three years. With access to a financial account, people no longer need to rely on and transact solely in cash, or use their mattresses as savings cabinets. Financial access connects people into the formal financial system, making day-to-day living easier and allowing them to build assets, mitigate shocks related to emergencies, illness, or injury, and make productive investments.

Take Mohirahon B in Tajikistan as an example. She has started her own sewing business, after participating in a financial literacy training where she learned to handle and budget money. Or Sameh Seddik in Egypt who has expanded his business in Luxor, which now employs 40 seamstresses, all women, thanks to a micro-loan, aimed at expanding financial inclusion in Egypt. Meanwhile, in Mexico, extending access to finance in rural areas is helping farmers and rural businesses thrive. Without financial access, these micro-entrepreneurs would be telling a different story.

World Bank Group and Financial Inclusion

Financial inclusion has emerged as a critical development challenge and is a hot topic among policymakers, development practitioners and the private sector. In fact, the foundation of financial inclusion is woven into seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2011 the World Bank Group launched Global Findex, a database which tracks financial inclusion efforts around the world. Its third edition was just released in April 2018.

At the same time, as part of its efforts to improve the financial sector stability, develop a thriving private sector and create jobs, the World Bank Group realized that too many people didn’t have access to a financial account, which would help them participate in the economy.

The 2011 Findex data showed that 2.5 billion adults were ‘unbanked’ and the 2011 IFC MSME Finance Gap database showed that over 200 million micro to medium enterprises in developing economies lacked access to affordable financial services and credit.

That’s why in 2013, the World Bank Group announced a global vision for financial access and launched Universal Financial Access by 2020 (UFA2020) to enable adults worldwide to gain access to a transaction account. Since then, more than 30 partners across the financial sector have signed on to help reach this goal.