The two leading financial trends of our time are the integration of digital technology and the advance of financial inclusion. The latter involves both provision of access to those who have no account (the “unbanked”) and increased usage of financial services by those with a tenuous link to the formal system (the “underbanked”). A combination of swift technological change and government promotion is speeding the rise of inclusion.
Six years ago, the World Bank estimated that roughly 2.5 billion adults (15 or older) had no bank deposit, no formal credit, and no means of payment other than cash or barter. Stunningly, in its Global Findex Database 2017 published last month, the Bank now estimates that the number of unbanked adults has plummeted to 1.7 billion. Over the past six years, more than 1.2 billion adults have gained at least basic financial access through a financial institution or their mobile phone.
In addition to a range of technological progress, India’s government-led financial inclusion program has been the second key factor in the recent advance of inclusion. By our estimate, the gains in India account for more than one-half of the 515 million persons who acquired access globally between 2014 and 2017!
In the remainder of this post, we briefly describe the benefits of financial inclusion, and highlight key trends regarding access since 2011 as well as prospects for achieving the World Bank’s goal of universal financial access. We conclude with a short discussion of Africa, where the largest gains still lie ahead. Reflecting long-term demographic prospects, we emphasize that the advance of financial inclusion in Africa will matter for the global economy, not just for Africa. Read More
The manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) began more than a decade ago. Employees of leading global firms submitted false reports to the British Banking Association (BBA), first to influence the value of LIBOR-linked derivatives, and later (during the financial crisis) to conceal the deterioration of their employers’ creditworthiness. U.S. and European regulators reported many of the details in 2012 when they fined Barclays, the first of a dozen financial firms that collectively paid fines exceeding $9 billion (see here). In addition to settling claims of aggrieved clients, these firms face enduring reputational damage: in some cases, management was forced out; in others, individuals received jail terms for their wrongdoing.
You might think that in light of this costly scandal, and the resulting challenges in maintaining LIBOR, market participants and regulators would have quickly replaced LIBOR with a sustainable short-term interest rate benchmark that had little risk of manipulation. You’d be wrong: the current administrator (ICE Benchmark Administration), which replaced the BBA in 2014, estimates that this guide (now called ICE LIBOR) continues to serve as the reference interest rate for “an estimated $350 trillion of outstanding contracts in maturities ranging from overnight to more than 30 years [our emphasis].” In short, LIBOR is still the world’s leading benchmark for short-term interest rates.
Against this background, U.K. Financial Conduct Authority CEO Andrew Bailey, recently called for a transition away from LIBOR before 2022 (see here). In this post, we briefly explain LIBOR’s role, why it remains an undesirable and unsustainable interest rate benchmark, and why it will be so difficult to replace (even gradually over several years) without risking disruption. Read More