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A New Global Economy Must Rely on Financial Inclusion

World leaders gathering this week for the G-20 summit, the 64th United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative conference are faced with major economic challenges. As they grapple with these issues, there is one fundamental principle that must not be forgotten: We cannot build a viable global economy on an unstable base.[IMGCAP(1)]In real terms, the global economy is asymmetric because roughly half of the world is excluded from fully taking part in it. Half the world’s population doesn’t have access to the rudimentary financial services that most of us take for granted – things like a bank account or basic financial tools such as life insurance or a reasonable short-term loan. Some 3 billion people are cut off from the formal financial sector, effectively separated from the greater economic ecosystem.This phenomenon is more prevalent in areas of the developing world, but it is by no means restricted to those places. In the United States, 28 million people are “unbanked.— While our own situation is troubling enough, it pales in comparison to India, where 410 million people are unbanked, and sub-Saharan Africa, where a staggering 80 percent of the population is excluded from accessing basic financial services.One of the simplest yet least appreciated ways of addressing the global economic crisis is to get the world’s money out from under mattresses and into banks, where it won’t sit idly, can’t be stolen, go up in smoke or be used to fuel the black market. Instead, that money can earn interest, buy goods, circulate freely, create value, and lift lots and lots of boats. In recent years, many organizations, such as the U.N., CGI and the World Bank have stepped up efforts to link the unbanked to financial services and systems that can help them make economic progress. We believe that Visa and others need to step up to support their efforts.Our company takes financial inclusion seriously. It’s vital that people have access to financial services in order for them to prosper. This is our version of what Bill Gates termed “creative capitalism,— which will drive market-based social change. Before you dismiss this as impossible, consider that digital technology, particularly with mobile phones, can accelerate financial inclusion by enabling electronic money transfers and remittances, microlending and secure ways to save in even the most remote parts of the world.Some dismiss the 40 percent of the world who live on less than $2 a day as unsophisticated and uninterested in financial services, but the recently released book, “Portfolios of the Poor,— paints a much different picture. The world’s poor are some of the most innovative and vigilant money managers around. They have to be. In the face of scant resources, limited services and uneven consumption, the poor rely on a complex and ingenious web of family, community, sophisticated savings clubs and microfinancing, when available.It is not enough to simply expand financial inclusion. We see financial literacy as the core platform on which financial inclusion is built.We are working to be a part of that solution. In 2008 at the Clinton Global Initiative midyear meeting, Visa committed to reaching 10 million people globally with financial literacy education by 2013. Today, we are doubling that commitment and will now aim to help educate 20 million people with the fundamentals of money management. One innovative way we will reach this goal is with “Financial Football— — an engaging, free personal finance video game Visa created and is launching this week. From years of working with educators around the world, we know that we must find entertaining and relevant ways for people to learn about the importance of financial responsibility. Harnessing the power of the FIFA World Cup and the world’s most popular sport, this game — which will be known as “Financial Soccer— in the United States — is being rolled out in more than a dozen different countries and languages.Now it is time for others within the private sector to fully join us in this effort to scale up and create innovative solutions that draw more financially disenfranchised people into the economic mainstream. This just might be the most fundamental way to create a stable base, finally enabling us to pull out of our economic nadir and drive a lasting global recovery.Joseph W. Saunders is chairman and CEO of Visa Inc.

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