Imagine having no bank account, no mobile wallet, no pre-paid card. What jobs might be open to you if you could only be paid in cash? What sort of landlord would let you pay your rent in cash and, by extension, what sort of property would you live in? Perhaps you might find an entry-level position with a car-washing gang and, as part of your compensation package, they might introduce you to the local slum landlord who will offer you a room. Forget social mobility – you’d be hard pressed to fully participate in society at all.
Now imagine you were born in one of the great rural expanses of the sub-continent or Africa. Maybe your family has a small plot of land to farm, but you need to buy seed or a small number of livestock. The rains didn’t come last year so, without access to micro-finance, it looks like starvation is on the cards for you this year. Or, if you’re lucky, international aid, which is of course welcome, but doesn’t enable you to work your way out of the situation next time.
You can see why, for years now, there have been calls to recognise access to financial services as a human right. Financial inclusion, as it is known in the NGOs, among the policy makers and within the financial services industry, is a big topic. PayPal, to pick a firm at random, says its mission is to “democratise financial services to ensure everyone… has access to… products and services to take control of their financial lives” and that it believes that “access to affordable and convenient financial services should be a right for all” (emphasis mine). Fine words and, perhaps, a recognition by PayPal that it has a duty to use its power to include – and exclude – people responsibly.