Globally, over 1.7 billion adults, which is 31% of the world’s adult population, do not have access to the formal financial sector. Kiva has operated for the past 13 years in this world, facilitating over $1.3 billion USD in microloans to unbanked and underbanked populations in over 90 countries worldwide. Our experiences on the ground have shown us firsthand the systemic challenges that prevent the unbanked from accessing the formal financial sector.
At its core, the systemic challenge is two-fold:
First, unbanked customers typically lack formal, verifiable identity. They typically transact with ‘informal’ forms of identification that are usable by their local village lender but are not usable to open a typical savings account.
Second, loans in this informal sector are typically not reported to a credit bureau or similar trusted register of financial activity. This means that informal borrowers get no ‘credit’ for their credit history. When they show up at a bank to request a home loan or open an account, the bank is unaware of their informal credit history and often treats them as a zero-history new customer.
Solutions to both of these problems need to exist in order to enable systemic financial inclusion. We need every person on the planet to have access to identity verification and robust credit reporting. Achieving this can help bridge the gap between the informal and formal financial sectors, and enable a globally-inclusive financial system where everyone has access to appropriate financial products and services to improve their standard of living.
This is why today, we are excited to announce the launch of Africa’s first blockchain and decentralized identity platform -- the National Digital Identity Platform (NDIP) -- developed in partnership with Kiva, the Government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). NDIP intends to use Kiva Protocol to provide all citizens of Sierra Leone with the ability to own and use their national civil identity -- digitally. With just a thumbprint and their national identification number, Sierra Leoneans will in the years going forward be able to open or access an account at any financial institution in the country -- from national-level banks to local MFIs.
This solution is designed to provide citizens with the ability to access the formal financial sector in Sierra Leone, a key part of the foundation for the country’s National Strategy for Financial Inclusion. Over time, this can also provide a pathway for all Sierra Leoneans to be included as digital products and services continue to develop. Access to verifiable identity can power nationwide inclusion not only in the financial sector, but also in other sectors as they digitize, including healthcare, education, and eGovernment services.
This human-centric design implemented by NDIP has powerful potential. It means that users by default can own and have access to a verifiable identity. NDIP’s plans envision providing all Sierra Leoneans with the agency to participate fully in an increasingly digital, increasingly global world. Services accessible to one Sierra Leonean can be accessible to all Sierra Leoneans, providing an inclusive-by-design ecosystem to increase economic and social mobility for all.
So, what comes next?
As NDIP continues to integrate with all financial service providers -- both formal and informal -- in Sierra Leone, Kiva will work with the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) to design an approach for robust, nationwide credit reporting. The Credit Reference Bureau (CRB), housed at BSL, anticipates using NDIP as a foundation to build reliable and complete credit reporting that spans the formal and informal financial sectors in Sierra Leone. CRB is expected to be integrated with all FSPs by the end of 2020 for nationwide credit reporting coverage.
This expansion of credit reporting to all can help enable a microfinance borrower to leverage their financial history from the informal sector to open a formal banking account -- and in the process, become more financially included. Over time, this can increase consumer access to ‘more, better, cheaper’ capital that is necessary to adequately serve their financial needs. Access to home and education loans, healthcare, and a variety of other fundamental services can then follow.
The work by the Government of Sierra Leone, the national ecosystem of financial service providers, UN partners, and Kiva to help enable NDIP is a foundational first step towards establishing Sierra Leone’s digital economy and ecosystem. We look forward to the continued development and integration of these systems which will help make the growing digital future inclusive of all Sierra Leoneans.