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Financial inclusion is defined as the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services.[1] It refers to a process by which individuals and businesses can access appropriate, affordable, and timely financial products and services. These include banking, loan, equity, and insurance products.[2][3] Financial inclusion efforts typically target those who are unbanked and underbanked, and directs sustainable financial services to them.[2] Financial inclusion is understood to go beyond merely opening a bank account. It is possible for banked individuals to be excluded from financial services.[4] Having more inclusive financial systems has been linked to stronger and more sustainable economic growth and development and thus achieving financial inclusion has become a priority for many countries across the globe.[5]

In 2018 it was estimated that about 1.7 billion adults lacked a bank account.[6] Among those who are unbanked a significant number were women and poor people in rural areas and often those who are excluded from financial institutions face discrimination and belong to vulnerable or marginalized populations.

While it is recognized that not all individuals need or want financial services, the goal of financial inclusion is to remove all barriers, both supply side and demand side. Supply side barriers stem from financial institutions themselves. They often indicate poor financial infrastructure, and include lack of nearby financial institutions, high costs to opening accounts, or documentation requirements. Demand side barriers refer to aspects of the individual seeking financial services and include poor financial literacy, lack of financial capability, or cultural or religious beliefs that impact their financial decisions.[7]

There is some skepticism from some experts about the effectiveness of financial inclusion initiatives.[8] Research on microfinance initiatives indicates that wide availability of credit for micro-entrepreneurs can produce informal inter-mediation, an unintended form of entrepreneurship.[9]

History

The term "financial inclusion" has gained importance since the early 2000s, a result of identifying financial exclusion and it is a direct correlation to poverty according to the World Bank.[10] The United Nations defines the goals[11] of financial inclusion as follows: