India is at the vanguard of the digital revolution and its financial inclusion journey can be an example for other developing countries to look at, senior UN officials and economists have said. Speaking on Thursday at the ‘India Roundtable on Financial Inclusion’, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj said the country takes financial inclusion seriously and it has led to social and economic empowerment of the people.
“We believe India’s financial inclusion journey can be an example for other developing countries to look at,” she said.
The discussion, organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, aimed at bringing to centre stage the role of financial inclusion in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Delivering the keynote address at the session attended by senior UN officials, ambassadors, diplomats and analysts, Columbia University Professor and former Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Arvind Panagariya said India played a “pioneering role” in developing the idea of financial inclusion itself.
“Financial inclusion, economic inclusion, and growth – they all go hand in hand, and they, in turn, also influence things like health and SDGs. These are all very interrelated, interconnected elements, and there is much that India can offer today in terms of its own experience to the other developing countries,” Panagariya, who has formerly been India’s G20 Sherpa, said.
In her remarks, Kamboj said the world is halfway through its journey towards the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. “Unfortunately, the report card so far is not good. The SDG Progress Report shows that just 12 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track. Progress on 50 per cent is weak and insufficient,” she said.
In this context, financial inclusion assumes greater significance, Kamboj said, adding that it is critical to inclusive growth and overall economic development.
“If we are to achieve SDG goals and 2030 agenda, financial inclusion is inevitable. At its core, financial inclusion is a fundamental element in targeting SDGs. Financial inclusion is essential for people to meet their basic needs and an imperative to advance socio-economic development,” she said.
Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Usha Rao-Monari said she is very encouraged by the “India story”.
“When you turn to India, it is with pride that I’d like to say that India is at the vanguard of a digital revolution. Simply to say that India accounts for almost 40 per cent of all real-time digital payments in the world. And that’s based on the India Stack, it’s based on systems that have been put together over the past decade or so.” Rao-Monari quoted India’s G20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who had said that a “robust and citizen-centric digital public infrastructure plays a major role in achieving multiple national goals, which include financial inclusion, social security, health insurance, digital transactions and easy access to credit while providing the building blocks for a productive, resilient and equitable society.”
Rao-Monari added that at UNDP and United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the two parts of the UN system that are deeply involved in digital public infrastructure and financial inclusion, “this philosophy, these remarks resonate very strongly.” Asserting that financial inclusion is taken seriously in India, Kamboj outlined the various policies undertaken by the Modi government that has made millions of people part of the formal financial system.
She noted that in 2009, only 17 per cent of adults in India had bank accounts, 15 per cent used digital payments, one in 25 had a unique ID document and about 37 per cent had mobile phones.
“These numbers have seen a meteoric rise — today, tele density has reached up to 93 per cent, over a billion people have a digital ID document, more than 80 per cent have bank accounts, and as of 2022, over 600 crore digital payment transactions are completed per month,” Kamboj said.
Kamboj added that the Jan Dhan account, Aadhar digital ID, mobile banking, and direct benefit transfers have brought the marginalized sections of society into the formal financial system, “revolutionizing the path of transparent and accountable governance by empowering the people.” As of November 2022, multiple large central schemes have paid nearly $95 billion (roughly Rs. 7,76,300 crore) through over 10 billion successful transactions.
Panagariya said that in India, “financial inclusion today is not just financial inclusion, but it is now turning to digital financial inclusion.” He added that India Stack, the public digital payment system created by the country, is a “remarkable piece of infrastructure” that is efficient and cost-effective.
Panagariya also stressed that the manner in which digital payments have expanded in India is “breathtaking”.
He emphasized the three elements in a development strategy that go together — financial inclusion, economic inclusion and growth.
“Ultimately growth has to be at the centre of it all,” he said.
At the session, Rao-Monari moderated a panel discussion that included Permanent Representative of Indonesia Ambassador Arrmanatha Nasir, UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Technology Amandeep Singh Gill, and Chair of Force for Good and CEO Greater Pacific Capital Ketan Patel.
The discussion emphasized leveraging digital public infrastructure to amplify efforts, bridge gaps, and scale up the reach of financial inclusion tools.
Gill said financial inclusion is about “human rights, human dignity, and human empowerment.”
He added that “what is very interesting about the India story, the India Stack” and similar examples from other parts of the world, such as eastern Africa’s experience with M-PESA and UPI in India, is the common aspect that, unlike the FinTech approach to deploying technology for finance “these are bottom-up approaches.”
Gill said that the JAM trinity of Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile is a “combinatorial approach. To drive quick uptake, you are bringing together different pieces in a creative way, and you are working across not just tech but two other very important parts of the tech equation – people and processes.”
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