The recent report, “People’s Money: Harnessing Digitalization to Finance a Sustainable Future,” highlights the importance of digital finance in helping to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and explores how digitalization can be used to support vulnerable people, reduce inequalities, and sustain livelihoods. It notes that a key to transformative impact, especially now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, is empowering people in their financing activities, especially as savers, borrowers, and economically active individuals.
At Opportunity International, we have been focused on digital finance for the past decade—and we, like the UNDP researchers, see vast potential in using digital tools to empower people and make progress against virtually all of the SDGs. Since the coronavirus crisis emerged, our partner Financial Service Providers (FSPs) have reported that while nearly all traditional in-person activities have been disrupted, the digital channel has held up the best, allowing our partners to continue to serve clients.
While many digital programs are focused on the introduction of new technologies, at Opportunity International, we are focused on clients’ adoption of digital tools and services, and on the key factors that might have led to their previous digital exclusion. Our past decade’s experience has taught us that several factors are critical to success on the digital journey:
- Although the technology (new devices, new technologies, and practices) are essential, a focus on the client is the key.
- Many of the clients we serve face barriers, such as a lack of basic literacy, that limit their access to digital tools. These hurdles need to be considered, and can be addressed through training and support.
- By giving personal attention to those who are nervous to try new technologies, we can help them build confidence and familiarize themselves with digital tools.
- Cultural and gender barriers need to be considered in digitalization approaches.
The combination of these accumulated experiences has led to our High Touch, High Tech approach. These dual priorities reinforce the need to acquaint users with the technology, address gender barriers, and have a focus on voice-based approaches. In addition, we work to integrate our digital learnings with Opportunity International’s innovative programs in Education Finance and Agriculture Finance, deepening our offerings in both areas.
The pandemic has disrupted nearly everything for our clients, but it has also presented unique opportunities for our work. We believe that the current sense of urgency underscored by the global pandemic can be harnessed to accelerate the journey to a client-focused digital future.