Banking the Unbanked is a $380B Opportunity
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Banking the Unbanked is a $380B Opportunity
Today’s infographic comes from Raconteur, and it looks at the opportunity of providing financial services to the population of unbanked people in emerging markets. View the full-size version of the graphic for better resolution.
For those of us living in North America or Europe, we generally take the near-universal access we have to financial services for granted.
Sure, there are many people that have questions or concerns about the way central banks and currencies operate, but even the most skeptical of these people likely keep some money in a bank or investment account. It’s convenient, easy, and it facilitates other economic transactions.
But, there are billions of people in the world that do not have such an opportunity. This “unbanked” population pays for rent and goods in cash, and they usually don’t have easy access to things like a bank account, insurance, investments, or pensions.
Where are the Unbanked?
The World Bank has data from 160 countries on this subject, and it’s clear that there are some pretty significant holes that can be filled – either by financial institutions, or fintech companies – that are willing to take the chance.
Most of the world’s unbanked population lives in highly rural, undeveloped areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. In countries in these regions, such as Turkmenistan (where only 1.8% have bank accounts) or Niger (3.5% have accounts), banking is largely unknown to the masses.
A Multi-Billion Dollar Opportunity
But is an unbanked country like Turkmenistan where the opportunity lies? Not really, because it only has five million people, close to 60% unemployment, and a particularly repressive regime. It’s a lot of risk to take on for an extremely low payoff.
However, emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean seem like a much safer potential bet for would-be providers. While smaller proportions of their populations lack access to basic financial services, their higher overall populations and income levels make them a more feasible choice.
In the Asia-Pacific, the World Bank sees increased banking penetration as a $79 billion opportunity for personal banking of individuals with under $8k in annual income. Likewise, it sees a $95 billion opportunity in micro and small business banking in the region.
For Latin America and the Caribbean, the opportunity is similar: $34 billion for personal banking (less than $8k income) and $81 billion for micro and small banking business.
De-Dollarization: Countries Seeking Alternatives to the U.S. Dollar
The U.S. dollar is the dominant currency in the global financial system, but some countries are following the trend of de-dollarization.
De-Dollarization: Countries Seeking Alternatives to U.S. Dollar
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The U.S. dollar has dominated global trade and capital flows over many decades.
However, many nations are looking for alternatives to the greenback to reduce their dependence on the United States.
This graphic catalogs the rise of the U.S. dollar as the dominant international reserve currency, and the recent efforts by various nations to de-dollarize and reduce their dependence on the U.S. financial system.
The Dollar Dominance
The United States became, almost overnight, the leading financial power after World War I. The country entered the war only in 1917 and emerged far stronger than its European counterparts.
As a result, the dollar began to displace the pound sterling as the international reserve currency and the U.S. also became a significant recipient of wartime gold inflows.
The dollar then gained a greater role in 1944, when 44 countries signed the Bretton Woods Agreement, creating a collective international currency exchange regime pegged to the U.S. dollar which was, in turn, pegged to the price of gold.
By the late 1960s, European and Japanese exports became more competitive with U.S. exports. There was a large supply of dollars around the world, making it difficult to back dollars with gold. President Nixon ceased the direct convertibility of U.S. dollars to gold in 1971. This ended both the gold standard and the limit on the amount of currency that could be printed.
Although it has remained the international reserve currency, the U.S. dollar has increasingly lost its purchasing power since then.
Russia and China’s Steps Towards De-Dollarization
Concerned about America’s dominance over the global financial system and the country’s ability to ‘weaponize’ it, other nations have been testing alternatives to reduce the dollar’s hegemony.
As the United States and other Western nations imposed economic sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow and the Chinese government have been teaming up to reduce reliance on the dollar and to establish cooperation between their financial systems.
Since the invasion in 2022, the ruble-yuan trade has increased eighty-fold. Russia and Iran are also working together to launch a cryptocurrency backed by gold, according to Russian news agency Vedmosti.
In addition, central banks (especially Russia’s and China’s) have bought gold at the fastest pace since 1967 as countries move to diversify their reserves away from the dollar.
How Other Countries are Reducing Dollar Dependence
De-dollarization it’s a theme in other parts of the world:
- In recent months, Brazil and Argentina have discussed the creation of a common currency for the two largest economies in South America.
- In a conference in Singapore in January, multiple former Southeast Asian officials spoke about de-dollarization efforts underway.
- The UAE and India are in talks to use rupees to trade non-oil commodities in a shift away from the dollar, according to Reuters.
- For the first time in 48 years, Saudi Arabia said that the oil-rich nation is open to trading in currencies besides the U.S. dollar.
Despite these movements, few expect to see the end of the dollar’s global sovereign status anytime soon. Currently, central banks still hold about 60% of their foreign exchange reserves in dollars.
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