The financial technology industry, or “fintech,” has experienced rapid growth within recent years. Between 2015 and 2019, global fintech adoption among consumers rose from 16% to 64%.1 Adoption of fintech services has continued to rise and further accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.2
An emerging field of research highlights the important role that fintech can play in promoting financial inclusion—the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services. The 2017 Global Findex Database noted that 1.7 billion adults worldwide are unbanked, meaning they lack an account with a financial institution or mobile money provider; nearly all unbanked adults live in the developing world.3
Access to financial services is a key enabler for financial inclusion and, on a broader scale, reducing worldwide poverty. Financial accounts encourage personal savings and investment, provide insurance against risks and shocks, and promote economic mobility.4 Thus, the importance of bringing financial services to the unbanked has captured the attention of many researchers.
Online platforms have an important role to play in financial inclusion. Numerous studies have demonstrated that fintech services, such as mobile money, digital payment solutions, and digital lending platforms, have the potential to enable account ownership among the unbanked.5 Further research has shown that countrywide fintech adoption can decrease income inequality by up to 23%.6 Overall, research points to the fact that fintech can have a positive impact on financial inclusion, yet the magnitude of its effects are dependent on relevant infrastructure and policies.7
Recently, governments and global organizations have begun to recognize the need for harnessing the power of fintech to promote financial inclusion. For example, the Group of Twenty (“G20”) High-Level Principles for Digital Financial Inclusion emphasize the importance of utilizing fintech to achieve financial inclusion and reduce global income inequality.8 Additionally, the United Nations (“U.N.”) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for innovation and development of fintech to spur economic growth among emerging and developing countries.9
This research commentary surveys key research related to fintech and its implications for global financial inclusion. Specifically, it provides an overview of studies regarding digital lending, digital payment, and mobile money platforms and how these services can bridge the financial gap for traditionally unbanked and underserved communities. In terms of the legal role through public and private law, it also identifies common concerns and challenges associated with the adoption of fintech, as well as relevant policies to mitigate these concerns and foster financial inclusion.