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More people around the world are gaining access to financial services — and that's good news for the fight to end poverty on a global scale. In order to save money, start small businesses, advance their educations and manage a bout of unemployment or unexpected expenses, people need to be able to participate in the financial system. New data from the World Bank's 2014 Global Findex report offers reason to be optimistic about the future of financial inclusion — and plenty of suggestions about how to navigate the challenges that lie ahead. Read on for seven big takeaways from the survey of 150,000 adults ages 15 and up in 143 countries.

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Global financial inclusion efforts are making big strides…
The number of unbanked adults worldwide fell to two billion, down 20% from the previous survey in 2011, according to the World Bank report. Sixty-two percent of all adults are now financial accountholders, up from 51% in 2011.

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…but documentation requirements continue to hinder access to financial services.
Eighteen percent of unbanked adults said that documentation requirements had prevented them from opening accounts. This is a particular problem for people who live in rural areas or lack formal employment, since they're more likely to come up empty-handed when asked for proof of residence or wage slips.

The report recommends that policymakers adjust anti-money laundering and terrorist-financing controls to prevent the inadvertent exclusion of law-abiding customers. Recommended changes include "licensing bank agents, introducing tiered documentation requirements, requiring banks to offer basic or low-fee accounts, and allowing the evolution of new technologies such as mobile money."

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Women and the poor remain disproportionately underserved.
The gender gap between female and male account-holders persists: 58% of women worldwide have access to the financial system, compared to 65% of men. The gender gap in developing countries remained stuck at an even greater disparity of nine percentage points. The poorest 40% of people in developing countries are also struggling to gain access to the financial system; more than half of people in this income group (54%) are without accounts.

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Once people gain access to bank accounts, they make good use of them.
Just because someone opens a bank account doesn't mean they'll automatically gain control over their finances. But the report found that more than 65% of account-holders in East Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa are using their accounts at least three times a month to send and receive payments, pay bills and sock away savings.

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Mobile money has put financial services within reach of traditionally underserved populations.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 12% of adults now have mobile money accounts, and 45% of people in that group rely solely on their smartphones for financial services. The report credits the growing popularity of mobile financial services with pushing the total number of account-holders in the region up by 10 percentage points from 2011, to 34%.

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Countries that want to improve access to financial services should take a cue from Brazil and Kenya.
Both of these countries have made great strides in financial inclusion by making account access easy, convenient and cheap. "They offer low-fee bank accounts, they try to minimize documentation requirements, they allow correspondent and agent banking, there is an effort to digitize government and wage payments, and mobile technology is available," said Asli Demiguc-Kunt, director of research at the World Bank, in an article on the institution's website.

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Countries can also boost financial access by paying wages and government transfers digitally rather than in cash.
More than 20% of all unbanked adults currently receive wages or government transfers in cash. The report estimates that making government and private-sector payments directly into individuals' bank accounts could help funnel hundreds of millions of additional people into the financial system.

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