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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
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CGAP-DFID Report Finds Government Payments Could Help Kick-Start Financial Services for the Poor

WASHINGTON, February 3 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 170 million poor people worldwide receive regular payments from their governments, but the potential to use these payments to increase financial inclusion is largely untapped, according to "Banking the Poor via G2P Payments," a new report by CGAP, a microfinance group based at the World Bank, and the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID).

Pioneering programs in Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa are providing financial services, such as savings accounts and electronic money transfers, to poor recipients of government transfers. But the report finds that worldwide fewer than one-quarter of government-to-person (G2P) payments to the poor land in a financially inclusive account -- i.e., one that enables recipients to store funds, make or receive payments from other people in the financial system, and is accessible, in terms of cost and distance.

"Government-to-person payments for school tuition, food, even salaries reach over 170 million people in the developing world. Often these transfers are made in cash or with a debit card that can only be used to withdraw funds. By using payments on a card, cell phone or a no frills bank account, governments could empower people with access to financial services well beyond the receipt of a government payment," said CGAP CEO Elizabeth Littlefield.

In Brazil, for example, bank Caixa Economica is changing the way 12.4 million recipients of government social transfer payments receive their payments. The bank has been commissioned to replace electronic benefit cards that simply allow poor beneficiaries to collect their payments at a bank branch with a financially inclusive account that offers them a basic set of financial services through a Visa-branded debit card that can be used at more than 20,000 ATMs, stores that accept debit purchases, and merchants acting as agents of the bank for bill payments, deposits, and withdrawals. The bank has converted more than 2 million recipients to the new accounts, making a range of financial services available to them locally and far more conveniently.

"Today, tens of millions of poor people have to spend a considerable amount of time and money just traveling to a bank branch to collect a cash payment from the government. Making these payments electronically will not only make it much more convenient for people to access their money, but will also lower administration costs for governments and reduce the risk of fraud and corruption," said UK Minister for Trade and Development Gareth Thomas.

The report says that governments could make significant cost savings by switching from paying a grant in cash over the counter at a bank teller window to delivering the payment electronically into a financially inclusive account accessible via agents equipped with point-of-sale terminals. For a hypothetical social transfer program that pays monthly US$40 grants to 1 million recipients, for example, a government would save US$12.6 million over a period of five years by switching to an electronic payment channel.

Nearly half of all government payment programs launched in the past 10 years use an electronic payment mechanism, which could be the foundation for a financially inclusive account, says the report.

Although financial institutions are often skeptical about the business case for serving poor people, the report outlines how they can increase their chances of success in this market by using cost-effective delivery channels, achieving scale quickly, and developing quality products that serve the needs of poor people. As a result, branchless banking channels -- mobile phones or card-based solutions, often with merchants acting as cash-handling agents -- are likely to play a prominent role in delivering government payments to recipients in the future.

CGAP's Technology Program aims to improve the lives of millions of poor people. We do this by helping financial institutions and others to expand access to financial services through the innovative application of technology. The program is co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To read the program's mobile banking blog, visit http://technology.cgap.org.

About CGAP

CGAP is an independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world's poor. It is supported by over 30 development agencies and private foundations who share a common mission to alleviate poverty. Housed at the World Bank, CGAP provides market intelligence, promotes standards, develops innovative solutions and offers advisory services to governments, microfinance providers, donors, and investors. More at http://www.cgap.org.

About DFID

The Department for International Development is the UK Government's department that manages Britain's aid to poor countries and works to get rid of extreme poverty. You can find out more at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/.

About PR Newswire
Copyright © 2007 PR Newswire. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PRNewswire content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of PRNewswire. PRNewswire shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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