Ideas & Updates

Media Briefing - Making cash history

© ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Frederic Courbet

Making cash history: How digital payments can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

What’s the story?

On 25-27 September, world leaders will ratchet up their ambition to end poverty by launching the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a special UN summit in New York.

The scope and spirit of the SDGs is bringing an intense focus on actionable, practical measures that can help countries achieve them. One such measure is moving from cash to digital payments, opening up big new opportunities for governments, businesses and individuals to build better lives.

2billion 2 billion people, mostly women, don’t have access to basic financial services

Yet 2 billion people, mostly women, don’t have access to basic financial services, such as savings, insurance and credit. Cash-based economies can be much more expensive, time-consuming and inconvenient for people and governments. Digital financial services – including mobile wallets and bank-linked cards – have many positive ripple effects, such as enabling people to save money for their family’s health and education needs or invest in their businesses— all of which are vital to achieving the SDGs.


H.E. Mr. Ollanta Humala Tasso, President of the Republic of Peru:

_“Our policy on social inclusion seeks to reduce inequalities. To this end, we are promoting financial inclusion, bringing access to financial services for all our citizens to have saving accounts and receive and make payments using digital channels, such as cards, rather than cash.”

H.E. Mr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania:

_“Tanzania’s Financial Inclusion Framework aims to address the fundamental broad barriers that limit financial inclusion by establishing a broad and robust infrastructure to support growth of appropriate financial services and use of technologically driven delivery channels.”

Republic of Indonesia:

“Our national strategy for financial inclusion recognizes that every citizen has the right to gain access to reliable and affordable formal financial services. Special attention should be given to low income, productive poor people, migrant workers and people in rural areas.”

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations:

“As nations from around the world come together to adopt the new global sustainable development agenda, the UN Secretariat is committed to moving from cash to digital payments within the UN system. We have seen how digital payments can contribute to greater financial inclusion, allowing greater efficiency, enhancing transparency and freeing up public resources for priority investments.”

Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme:

“At UNDP we see the potential of digital technology to open up access to financial services and drive down costs, ensuring that money reaches intended recipients in a timely, transparent, and accountable manner. This technology provides a big opportunity to promote financial inclusion and to drive inclusive and sustainable growth.”

H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA):

“As the world begins to address the new Sustainable Development Goals, it is vital to recognize that digital financial inclusion is an exceptionally powerful tool to drive progress onpoverty eradication, job creation, gender equality, food security, and other goals. Taking advantage of these innovative technologies, governments around the globe are moving wages and social welfare payments from cash to digital means, in the process expanding financial inclusion, encouraging transparency and efficiency, and strengthening the development impact of payments. This is the kind of leadership that paves the way for lasting progress.”

Quick facts

  • Technology will play a critical role in advancing financial inclusion for the 2 billion unbanked individuals worldwide, most of whom are women.
    2.5 billion smart phone subscribers today
  • The tools to enable digital payments are spreading rapidly: Today, there are currently 2.5 billion smart phone subscribers—a number that is predicted to grow to more than 6 billion by 2020. The number of internet users increased 8 percent in 2014 with most of the growth happening in emerging markets. How Digital Payments Link to the Sustainable Development Goals Financial inclusion is referred to in seven of the seventeen sustainable development goals, and digital payments is an integral part of a number of these. Below we have highlighted four of the most relevant.

SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Although poverty rates have dropped, there are still 1.2 billion people living on $1.25 a day and more than 800 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty if confronted with unexpected setbacks. When linked to an account, digital payments create a more efficient and accessible way for people on very low incomes to access funds and financial services such as social security payments, food aid, credit, and remittances and to save money for unexpected financial challenges that could reverse their progress out of poverty.

SDG 2: End hunger, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

80% of rural households rely on farming for their incomes

In many parts of the developing world, more than 80 percent of rural households rely on farming for their incomes. Digital payments, when linked to an account, can be one important tool for people in rural areas to meet their basic expenses and invest in their farms and livestock, which in turn, helps increase their food production and consumption. These improvements can lead to better health and employability.

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Increasing women’s economic participation has the potential to raise national incomes by as much as one-third in developing economies. Yet women are twice as likely as men to be excluded from formal financial services. Digital financial services can help women gain control of their finances, participate in the labor force and improve the performance of her business. Digital financial tools can give a woman the ability to safely store funds and save the time she would have spent traveling long distances to receive or transfer cash.

SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth
Integrating digital payments into the economies of emerging and developing nations addresses crucial issues of broad economic growth and individual financial empowerment. Small and medium-sized businesses contribute to 33 percent of the GDP in emerging markets and provide a large share of formal employment. However, over half of small and medium businesses can’t access the financial services they need. Employment is one of the fastest pathways out of poverty, but it can be jeopardized when businesses are locked out of the financial services they need to grow and create more jobs. Boosting access to digital payments opens new markets, supporting more innovation, infrastructure and products designed to succeed in the marketplace.

Real Examples

Moving from cash to digital payments can improve people’s lives and lead to inclusive growth in a country. It’s already happening among governments, companies, and international organizations around the world.

  • In Malawi, farmers - many of whom were women - who were offered digital direct deposits for cash crops invested 13 percent more in their farm inputs than those who received their crop sale proceeds in cash. Participating farmers saw a 21 percent increase in the value of their crop outputs and an 11 percent increase in household consumption after the harvest.
    $15.5 million saved by The Colombian Coffee Growers Association by implementing digital payments
  • In Niger, recipients of mobile transfers reduced the travel time to a cash-out point by 40 minutes compared to relying on manual cash distribution. This did not include the additional three hour wait time involved in a typical manual cash transfer. Based on average agricultural wages, the time savings attributable to the digital transfer channel for each payment translated into an amount large enough to feed a family of five for a day. The Colombian Coffee Growers Association implemented digital payments for their coffee growers, creating a more efficient, transparent system that saved $15.5 million over seven years.
  • When Indian government officials made social security pension payments through digital smart cards instead of manual cash payouts at the village level, there was a 47 percent reduction in bribe demands, and the incidence of ghost recipients fell by 1.1 percentage points.

For media interviews or more information, please contact:
Angela Corbalan: / (+1) 917 224 9109