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© United Nations Foundation

Uruguay makes great strides toward the universalization of access to financial services

April 29, 2016

The government joins the United Nations-based alliance of governments, companies and international organizations that works to accelerate the move toward digitization of payments

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Montevideo / New York – Uruguay has taken a further step toward its goal to provide access to financial services to all as part of its financial inclusion program, with its announcement that it has joined the Better Than Cash Alliance. The Alliance is a global partnership of governments, companies, and international organizations that works to accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments in order to drive inclusive growth and reduce poverty.

“The government of Uruguay has been accelerating the digitization of payments as a way to expand financial inclusion, which is a key strategic priority for us,” said Martín Vallcorba, Financial Inclusion Program Manager. “We introduced tax incentives for people and businesses making the switch to digital payments, which are more secure, modern, and efficient than cash. Our membership in the Better Than Cash Alliance will help us further in the achievement of bringing many more people into the financial system. We strive to work with our partners to share knowledge and best practices in the field of digital payments.”

Effective incentives, the key to success

Uruguay’s 2014 financial inclusion law introduced incentives to encourage the shift from cash to digital payments, such as the temporary reduction of value-added tax (VAT) for purchases made with debit cards, electronic money instruments or other, similar means of electronic payment. The government also unveiled a set of tax incentives, with the aim of expanding the country’s network of Point of Sales (POS).

These incentives proved to be highly effective: Debit card transactions reached record levels in recent months (December 2015 and January 2016) and were seven to eight times higher than in the months prior to the introduction of tax incentives (such as the VAT rebate). Meanwhile, the number of POS terminals increased threefold, from 13,157 in December 2011 to 45,488 in December 2015.

Since October 2015, as part of the Law on Financial Inclusion, all workers, retirees, and beneficiaries of social benefits, as well as small businesses, are entitled to free access to an account at a financial intermediary or an electronic money instrument, as well as access to additional free basic services. This will assist the shift toward universal access to electronic payments, savings, and credit instruments.

In addition, starting on May 1, 2017 all salaries, pension payments, and social benefits in Uruguay must be paid electronically.

“Uruguay is recognized as a global leader in building an inclusive digital economy. Its commitment to digitizing payments to drive digital financial inclusion is a critical part of that strategy and it is already reaping benefits for the economy. In going one step further and stating that financial inclusion is a universal right, Uruguay continues its visionary leadership,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the Better Than Cash Alliance.

“We are delighted to welcome Uruguay to the Better Than Cash Alliance and look forward to its active participation. Uruguay joins the Inter-American Development Bank and other governments in the region that are realizing the potential of digital payments, including Peru and Colombia,” she added.

In 2015, Uruguay was the recipient of the United Nations Global Award for sustainable digital development, in recognition of its work to digitize the country. Its ‘Digital Uruguay’ initiative is a countrywide, multi-stakeholder drive that includes representatives of government, academia, the private sector, and civil society organizations. Together, they are working to introduce digitization into policymaking in a variety of areas, including education and culture, development, health, and the environment.

About the Better Than Cash Alliance

The Better Than Cash Alliance is a partnership of governments, companies, and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to digital payments in order to drive inclusive growth and help people lift themselves out of poverty. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, MasterCard, Omidyar Network, USAID, and Visa Inc. are funders and the U.N. Capital Development Fund serves as the secretariat.

Media Contacts:

Government of Uruguay: comunicacion@mef.gub.uy, +5982-1712-2210

Better Than Cash Alliance: Angela Corbalan, angela.corbalan@uncdf.org, + 1 (917)-224-9109