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Is access to financial services a human right or not?

By Opportunity International

Opportunity International’s April DuBois opened her presentation today at the 7th International Human Rights Forum in Lucerne, Switzerland, with this question. She and Opportunity’s Daryl Skoog  partnered with Fabian Huwyler of Credit Suisse to present a special workshop on “Electronic Wallets – Reaching More of the World’s Poor with Financial Access.” And back in the States, at the same exact time, Opportunity International was issuing a press release about a Credit Suisse grant that will help expand our electronic wallet strategy to deploy cutting-edge microfinance technologies throughout the developing world.

April asked workshop attendees to close their eyes for a moment, and then imagine their life without any electronic transactions – no credit cards, no ATM cards or machines, no electronic payments or fund transfers of any kind.  

She continued, “For some of you, it’s hard to remember what that was like now, isn’t it?  Others of you have never had a life without electronic transactions.  What would that be like?  It would take a lot more time out of your day…taking time off of work, standing in line at the bank, carrying cash around with you everywhere.  That seems bad, but what if it were worse than that…what if you had to travel more than two or three hours to get to the nearest bank and you could not afford transportation?  What if there were thieves that regularly attacked people on the roads on the way to the bank?  What if you found a way to get to a bank and then found that you were not permitted to enter because of your race, class or the way you were dressed?  What if after all this, you finally got into the bank and then learned that you would need an identification card to open up an account?  Your heart then sinks as you realize you have lost at least a day’s wages and have traveled all that way for nothing.  You have no way to prove your identity or your age, you do not have a formal address, you can’t read or write and you do not have the minimum amount of money required to open a savings account, let alone take out a loan

“What if this was your reality?  Seems pretty hopeless, huh?  With all of these obstacles, would you ever use a bank?  Would you ever trust an institution that makes life as difficult as this? This is real life for most people in the developing world. If they can finally manage to accumulate assets somehow (in a coffee can, under a bed, in a roof, etc), one family illness, natural disaster, theft or fire can wipe away everything they have worked for.”

April, Daryl and Fabian went on to talk about how Opportunity’s electronic wallet strategy enables us to bring affordable and safe financial services – including small business loans, training, savings and insurance – to people in the developing world who have never had access before.  Visit Opportunity.org/CreditSuisse to learn more about Opportunity’s cutting-edge banking technologies and the Credit Suisse partnership.
As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus said, “Poverty denies people any semblance of control over their destiny, it is the ultimate denial of human rights. The accepted human rights are food, shelter, health and education, and the basic responsibility of a society is to make sure that an environment exists so that people can have these things. The big financial institutions currently ignore almost two-thirds of the world’s population. So I say the right to credit should have the topmost priority on the list of human rights.”

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