Covid-19 is a setback to goal of universal financial inclusion

SINGAPORE – The coronavirus pandemic has set the world further back from achieving universal financial inclusion, said Mr Bill Gates at the Singapore Fintech Festival on Tuesday (Dec 8).

The billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder said the pandemic was a huge setback to health systems, mortality rates, education, financial and economic stability worldwide.

“Once we get the vaccines out on a broad basis, I’m optimistic that we will resume the growth that we had before. So I’m not trying to be negative. But yes, we are not going to be as far along say by 2030 as we would have been without the pandemic,” said Mr Gates who heads with his wife the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable organisation.

Financial inclusion is defined by the World Bank as access to financial services critical for both poverty reduction and opportunities for economic growth.

Mr Gates said today more than 1.7 billion people live outside the formal financial sector and the gap between the developed and under-developed countries is huge in terms of access to even basic services such as bank accounts.

While 94 per cent of adults have a bank account in higher income countries, the percentage drops to 35 per cent in lower income nations, he said.

Mr Gates said that 70 per cent of his foundation’s resources are committed to healthcare and related scientific research.

But given the strong linkages between access to high quality and affordable financial services and poverty alleviation, the foundation has increased its focus on ways to deliver these services to the poor – profitably and at scale – by using payment platforms.

His foundation also works with partner organisations to assist regulators, such as central banks, who are exploring policy options for enabling the development of inclusive financial services.

On healthcare, Mr Gates said his foundation is working with pharmaceutical companies and in developing countries with the goal to deliver as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible through this year.

“Our goal is to get these vaccines out as much as possible within 2021, so that even in the developing countries the pandemic is over by sometime in 2022,” he said.

“We need to make sure we do this (vaccination) in an equitable way so that it is not how rich you are that determines whether you get access to this vaccine. There is where our foundation comes in,” he added.

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