COVID-19 Drives a Global Increase in Digital Payment Usage

By The World Bank Group

Cover Image Attribute: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Cover Image Attribute: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

The COVID-19 epidemic has stimulated financial inclusion, resulting in a substantial rise in digital payments with the spread of formal financial services worldwide. According to the Global Findex 2021 database, this development offered new economic opportunities, reduced the gender gap in account ownership, and strengthened household resilience to manage financial shocks better.

Additionally, the epidemic has increased the use of digital payments. Over forty percent of adults in low- and middle-income nations (excluding China) who made in-store or online payments using a card, phone, or the internet did so for the first time since the pandemic. Over one-third of adults in all low- and middle-income nations paid their power bills straight from a bank account. After the pandemic's start, more than 80 million adults in India made their first digital merchant payment, while over 100 million adults in China did the same.

Two-thirds of persons worldwide currently make or receive digital payments, with the proportion in developing nations increasing from 35% in 2014 to 57% in 2021. In addition, 71% of people in developing economies have an account at a bank, other financial institution, or with a mobile money provider - up from 63% in 2017 and 42% in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a tremendous increase in financial inclusion due to mobile money accounts.

“The digital revolution has catalyzed increases in the access and use of financial services across the world, transforming ways in which people make and receive payments, borrow, and save,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass“Creating an enabling policy environment, promoting the digitalization of payments, and further broadening access to formal accounts and financial services among women and the poor are some policy priorities to mitigate the reversals in development from the ongoing overlapping crises.”

The gender difference in account ownership has shrunk for the first time since the Global Findex database was established in 2011, allowing women greater privacy, security, and control over their finances. Since the last study in 2017, the gap has shrunk from 7 to 4 percentage points globally and from 9 to 6 percentage points in low- and middle-income countries.

Approximately 36% of people in developing economies currently get a wage or government payment, a payment for the sale of agricultural products, or a domestic remittance payment. The research reveals that receiving payment into an account rather than cash can encourage people to use the formal financial system; 83 percent of persons who received digital payments also made digital payments using their accounts. Nearly two-thirds used their account for cash management, while over forty percent used it for savings, contributing to the financial ecosystem's expansion.

Despite the advances, many adults worldwide still lack access to a stable source of emergency funds. About half of persons in low- and middle-income economies claimed they could acquire more funds during an emergency with little or no trouble. They frequently rely on unreliable sources such as family and friends.

“The world has a crucial opportunity to build a more inclusive and resilient economy and provide a gateway to prosperity for billions of people,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the supporters of the Global Findex database. “By investing in digital public infrastructure and technologies for payment and ID systems and updating regulations to foster innovation and protect consumers, governments can build on the progress reported in the Findex and expand access to financial services for all who need them.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the lack of an identity document remains a significant barrier preventing 30 percent of adults without a mobile money account from opening one, offering an opportunity to invest in accessible and trustworthy identification systems. Over eighty million adults without bank accounts continue to receive government payments in cash; digitizing a portion of these payments could be less expensive and less corruptive. Increasing account ownership and utilization will necessitate consumer confidence in financial service providers, comfort with the use of financial goods, product customization, and a robust consumer protection framework.

Every three years, the World Bank, in partnership with Gallup, Inc., produces the Global Findex database, which surveyed how individuals in 123 economies utilized financial services in 2021.


Global Findex 2021 Regional Overviews


East Asia and the Pacific (EAP)

Financial inclusion in East Asia and the Pacific is a two-part story involving China and other regional economies. In China, 89% of adults have an account, and 82% of adults have used it to pay digital merchants. In the remaining regions, 59% of adults have an account, and 23% of individuals have made digital merchant payments, of which 54% have done so for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, account ownership increased by double digits in Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand. Still, the gender difference in the area remained modest at three percentage points, but the gap between poor and wealthy adults was ten percentage points.

Europe and Central Asia (ECA)

In Europe and Central Asia, account ownership increased by 13 percentage points since 2017 to reach 78% of adults. Digital payment usage is robust, as about three-quarters of adults use an account to make or receive a digital payment. COVID-19 drove further usage for the 10% of adults who made a digital merchant payment for the first time during the pandemic. Digital technology could further increase account use for the 80 million banked adults. However, they continued to make merchant payments only in cash, including 20 million banked adults in Russia and 19 million in Türkiye, the region’s two largest economies.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

Latin America and the Caribbean saw an 18 percentage-point increase in account ownership since 2017, the largest of any developing world region, resulting in 73% of adults having an account. Digital payments play a crucial role, as 40% of adults paid a merchant digitally, including 14% of adults who did so for the first time during the pandemic. COVID-19 furthermore drove digital adoption for the 15% of adults who made their first utility bill payment directly from their account for the first time during the pandemic—more than twice the developing country average. However, opportunities for even greater use of digital payments remain given that 150 million banked adults made merchant payments only in cash, including more than 50 million banked adults in Brazil and 16 million banked adults in Colombia.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

The Middle East and North Africa region has made progress in reducing the gender gap in account ownership from 17 percentage points in 2017 to 13 percentage points—42% of women now have an account compared to 54% of men. However, opportunities abound to increase account ownership broadly by digitalizing payments currently made in cash, including payments for agricultural products and private sector wages (about 20 million adults with no account in the region received private-sector wages in cash, including 10 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt). Shifting people to formal savings modes is another opportunity, given that about 14 million adults with no account in the region—including 7 million women—saved using semiformal methods.

South Asia (SA)

In South Asia, 68% of adults have an account, a share that has not changed since 2017, though there is wide variation across the region. In India and Sri Lanka, for example, 78% and 89% of adults, respectively, have an account. Account usage has grown, however, driven by digital payments, as 34% of adults used their account to make or receive a payment, up from 28% in 2017. Digital payments present an opportunity to increase both account ownership and usage, given the continued dominance of cash—even among account owners—to make merchant payments.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money adoption continued to rise, such that 33% of adults now have a mobile money account—a share three times larger than the 10% global average. Although mobile money services were initially designed to allow people to send remittances to friends and family living elsewhere within the country, adoption and usage have spread beyond those origins, such that 3-out-of-4 mobile account owners in 2021 made or received at least one payment that was not person-to-person and 15% of adults used their mobile money account to save. Opportunities to increase account ownership in the region include digitalizing cash payments for the 65 million adults with no account receiving payments for agricultural products. Expanding mobile phone ownership, as lack of a phone is cited as a barrier to mobile money account adoption. In addition, adults in the region worry more about paying school fees than adults in other regions, suggesting opportunities for policy or products to enable education-oriented savings.

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IndraStra Global: COVID-19 Drives a Global Increase in Digital Payment Usage
COVID-19 Drives a Global Increase in Digital Payment Usage
By The World Bank Group
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