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Millions now have bank accounts thanks to the Internet, says World Bank
According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa has 98 million registered mobile money accounts as of last year more than twice the number of Facebook accounts in the region. - photo by Lane Anderson
Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones, millions of people now have access to bank accounts from merchants in Tanzania to dairy farmers in India.

Hundreds of millions around the globe are joining the financial system online. According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa has 98 million registered mobile money accounts as of last year more than twice the number of Facebook accounts in the region.

A new report from the Guardian, Gallup and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation interviewed 150,000 people around the globe about banking. The Global Findex found that the number of people around the globe that have an account grew by 700 million since 2011, and 62 percent of the adult population has an account.

For the first time, people in developing and rural areas can deposit, manage and save their money without stuffing it under the mattress. A bank account makes it much easier to save safely, pay bills and run a business. "Financial inclusion" is considered one of the keys to pulling people out of poverty.

Three years ago, 2.5 billion adults were unbanked, according to the report. Today that number has made a dramatic 20 percent drop to 2 billion.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim set a goal for universal financial access by 2020, saying that "the payoff will be millions of people lifted out of poverty."

But the report said that the privileges of banking have spread more quickly to men than women. This can be seen most dramatically in South Asia, where 55 percent of men have access to an account 18 percent more than women.

"Equipped with access to formal savings and credit, women participate more in the economy," said Sri Mulyani Indrawati, World Bank managing director and chief operating officer.

They can set aside funds for emergencies, for schooling or for starting a business. This is an important stepping stone out of poverty and towards more equality.

In Nigeria, 76 percent of women are unbanked. Women's World Banking and Visa created a program there called "BETA friends" that helped women set up mobile savings accounts that required no minimum deposit, no monthly fees and awarded weekly cash prizes to promote the program and sent weekly text messages reminding clients to save on schedule. The majority of women saved some of their income many up to 60 percent

But the report also found that just because people have an account doesn't mean that they use it. In India, for example, thanks to an ambitious program, ownership has doubled since 2011. But 43 percent have gone unused for a year, the report found.

One-fifth of all accounts in developing countries are idle.

Ben Mazzotta, a researcher at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, who studies mobile and cash-free transactions, said that financial literacy is part of the solution not just financial access.

Decoding text messages to check your balance and managing separate accounts and loans are new experiences for many clients, he said. "People are competent to learn they just haven't been given a chance to learn.

"People are pretty good at understanding the terms and conditions of $20 but if you're using a money transfer system, it's just not as simple as cash."

Still, developing countries are embracing banking at breakneck speed.

"In the U.S. and the U.K., financial institutions have taken hundreds of years to build up the processes that we have," he said. "Developing countries won't have to build from the ground up, technology lets them catch up in less time."
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