February 25, 2018, 3:56 am
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Fintech helps where it matters most

BY Rahul Shinghal

PEOPLE value their money as it is a quantifiable investment of their time and energies. When it comes to help in navigating the complex economy and financial systems, people should be aided fairly and equally regardless of how much they earn, save, or spend. 

But to the two billion adults who lack access to basic financial services globally , it remains an everyday fact of life that the simplest transaction, whether it’s receiving a pay check, paying bills or sending money to a loved one, can be distressingly inconvenient and disproportionately expensive. We see this same situation closer to home, in Southeast Asia too, even though it is considered the world’s seventh-largest economy when viewed as a single entity. 

Today, the financial sector is primed for the same technological transformation that has revolutionised many other industries. The digitisation of money, the rapid proliferation of Internet access and mobile phones have created the perfect conditions to make it easier and cheaper to save, spend, give, and borrow. There is immense potential for the growth of its financial services to benefit everyone in this digital economy, including the 438 million unbanked in the region,  to own their financial futures thus driving economic growth. The question is whether the industry is actually aiding everyday people in the ways they need.

I have been personally involved in work that champions financial inclusion for the past 18 years, most of it in Southeast Asia. In a region burgeoning with small merchants, entrepreneurs, microenterprises, and freelancers, it goes beyond the traditional thinking of the ‘banked’ versus the ‘unbanked’. Elaborate banking options are not what they need. More than a savings account and a way for transactions, full financial citizenship for them means an enabler for their livelihoods or for them to scale up and be connected to the global economy, powered by FinTech.

One of my favourite examples to share is of a freelance virtual assistance in the Philippines named Nica. Nica was juggling work and raising her daughter on her own a couple of years ago. Her job at the factory means long hours away from her daughter, where she would have to leave for work before her daughter is up and only be back home when her daughter is asleep. Her need to be there for her daughter prompted her to invest in a computer, where she trained herself to be a capable virtual assistant accepting jobs from all over the world and getting paid by PayPal. Now, Nica makes four times more than her previous job, and she is able to spend more time with her daughter. Financial services must continue to be relevant to the Nicas in society.

No one company can do this on its own. While technology already exists to create fair, accessible and affordable financial systems, a coordinated and joint effort is needed between the public and private sectors. We can help to expediently facilitate the access to the tools and resources users need to thrive and contribute to a more vibrant economy in the culturally and economically diverse markets in Southeast Asia. As we work together to use technology in meeting the people’s needs and helping them lead a better life, the benefits and progress we can achieve for the region will be enormous. (The author Rahul Shinghal is General Manager, PayPal Southeast Asia)
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