The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released the results of the eighth annual Financial Access Survey (FAS). The FAS collects annual data on indicators tracking financial access—an important pillar of financial inclusion. It provides insights on the availability and use of financial products such as consumer and firm deposit accounts, loans, and insurance policies across the globe. The information is based on administrative data collected from both traditional (e.g., commercial banks or other deposit-taking institutions) and digital (e.g., mobile money) financial service providers.
FAS data show progress in two indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals: the number of bank branches and automated teller machines (ATMs), with most of the growth concentrated in Asia. However, some other regions still lag in these financial access dimensions. This is particularly the case in Sub-Saharan Africa, where there are on average five times fewer bank branches and ATMs per adult than in the rest of the world. FAS data also show that innovations in financial access, such as mobile money services, keep making inroads. In Afghanistan, for instance, there are now more than six times as many mobile money agents as ATMs, facilitating direct deposit of payroll for civil servants through their mobile phones.
As the importance of financial inclusion becomes increasingly evident, demand for more granular financial access data has also increased. A growing interest in ensuring equitable access to financial services for all has created a need for gender-disaggregated financial access statistics. In response, the FAS collaborated with national authorities to assess their capacity to extract these statistics directly from administrative sources.
As financial inclusion is very dynamic, the current FAS round illustrates well the importance of investing in collecting more granular financial access data. For example, the newly available data suggest a financial access gender gap. On average, women hold 40 percent of deposit accounts and receive a similar proportion of outstanding loans. However, country-specific data also reveal progress made in narrowing this gap. For instance, Malaysia saw its share of female borrowers increase from 37 percent in 2004 to 44 percent in 2016. The historical perspective of this new information opens the door to policy-relevant research questions, such as the causality between loans tailored to women entrepreneurs and the share of female borrowers.