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Basic Finance Lacking in Developing Countries, says World Bank

The World Bank says between 50 and 80 percent of adults in many developing countries have poor access to financial services. It says this could result in a slowdown in development. The World Bank released a new report today called: “Finance for All? Policies and Pitfalls in Expanding Access.”

Thorsten Beck is the lead author of the report. In Washington, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“It’s all over the developing world, although we see some cross country variation. We see that in Latin America only 50 to 60 percent of the population has access to a form of financial services. Whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only one in five households have access to basic banking services that we take for granted here in the US, such as checking accounts, or debit or credit cards,” he says.

The report says micro financing has helped the situation somewhat, but it often only focuses on credit. Beck says, “Payment services, such as receiving remittances from families in London or in New York, are as important or perhaps even more important for poor people than credit services.”

There are several barriers to having basic financial services in developing countries. For example, Beck says, “There’s one basic, geographic or physical access to a bank branch, which is especially difficult in many countries that have a high share of rural population, that have very low population density or have a very deficient road infrastructure. So, just getting to the nearest bank outlet is often a challenge.”

He adds, “Documentation requirements, such as having to show a driver’s license, an ID card or even a passport is again a barrier for many people who work in the informal sector and do not have any of these documents.”

Beck also says that bank fees that may seem low in the United States would be considered very high in developing countries. He says there’s no simple solution to these problems. “It takes many actions, short term, medium term, long term.” These include more credit bureaus, functioning courts to deal with finance matters, and a willingness by banks to bring services to the rural populations, such as on the “back of the pickup truck.”