Digital financial services
Using digital technology to access financial services (known as Fintech) is becoming an everyday occurrence for millions of us, and is set to be a growing trend in how we spend, send and save money. People can now pay bills, transfer money and access their bank statements easily using their computer or mobile phone. In higher income countries, this gives greater choice and convenience. In developing countries, the growth in digital financial services has given millions of consumers (who previously had little or no access to a bank account) access to financial services for the first time. But with technology developing so fast, it can be hard to keep up. We are concerned that consumer protection mechanisms within financial services are being outpaced by the development of mobile banking and associated technologies.
Accelerating Fair Digital Finance in Low and Middle Income Countries
The rapidly evolving nature of digital financial services sometimes leave the marketplace with inefficient regulations and policies, unsatisfactory consumer redress , and digital ecosystems that cannot keep pace. These challenges expose consumers to traditional and new risks. Innovative regulatory approaches and digital financial services grounded in consumer protection and empowerment can create a fair digital finance marketplace.
Consumer associations are central to creating a fair digital finance marketplace. Research conducted by Consumers International and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) highlights how critical consumers associations are in protecting consumers of financial services in Low- and Middle-Income Countries via a range of innovative strategies.
The Fair Digital Finance Accelerator
Consumers International and our membership of consumer associations in Low- and Middle- Income countries are delighted to launch the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator.
The Fair Digital Finance Accelerator will build a unique and vibrant community of consumer associations in Low- and Middle-Income countries and a platform for collaborative action, learning and collective influence on digital finance to shape the future for consumers.
The Accelerator will provide training, new insight, and build constructive bridges to regulators.
Our Fair Digital Finance Accelerator Community
At launch, the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator community has 40 members representing consumer associations across the world in Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. 97% of consumer associations in our community actively focus on the promotion of women consumers’ rights and most organisations focus on the promotion of children, older people, and hard to reach communities’ rights.
When asked, the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator community shared that:
- Only 45% believe digital financial service policies in their country are unsatisfactory
- The biggest challenges for consumers of digital finance are safety (i.e., risk of scams and frauds), availability of effective consumer dispute and resolution mechanisms, data protection and privacy, and protection of disadvantaged consumers.
- The biggest challenges digital finance regulators face in advancing consumer-centred regulation are poor/delayed redress and law enforcement systems, inadequate capacity to identify existing and new risks, and inadequate understanding of consumers’ rights.
- The biggest challenges digital finance providers face in advancing consumer-centred products and services are lack of or ineffective recourse and compensation mechanisms, fraud thefts and scams, and inadequate mechanisms for the safeguarding of consumers’ rights.
If you have any questions about the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator, please contact the team here.
Banking on the future
Financial technology, or FinTech, is reshaping the financial services sector as we know it.
From driving greater competition within the industry to widening access to core financial services for consumers without a basic bank account, FinTech has the potential to deliver many positive outcomes for consumers.
There are however, a number of risks and consumer detriments are emerging from FinTech, including issues around privacy, cybercrime and gaps in regulation.
Our latest report; Banking on the future: an exploration of FinTech and the consumer interest, explores how and why FinTech is transforming financial services markets, and takes an in-depth look at the challenges and opportunities for consumers.
mobile finance standard
As more people make transactions using their phone, tablet or computer it is important that we can be sure these payments are secure and our consumer rights are fully protected. Consumers International is working with the OECD, the UN and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) to introduce and enhance consumer protection for e-commerce and fintech (the use of digital technology to deliver financial services).
A new international standard for mobile financial services
In some cases the regulation of financial services is struggling to keep up with new developments and in some areas, the level of protection that consumers receive is decided by the provider.
Consumers International worked closely with a range of stakeholders as part of an ISO working group to develop a new international standard for mobile financial services (ISO 12812 Core banking – mobile financial services) to ensure the standard included the consumer protections that would be expected for traditional services, but updated for the challenges created by new technology.
We fought for limits on how much consumers would be liable for unauthorised or fraudulent use of their payment systems. We secured more transparency in remittances sent between countries and we gained important safeguards on logging transactions and receipts, with electronic logs being kept available.
One specific issue that had clearly not been considered until our intervention was the treatment of dormant assets, in particular in the event of the death of an account holder, a major issue where consumers do not have an individualised mobile phone contract as in much of Africa.
The new standard, published in 2016, promotes best practice, trust in services and the building of consumer confidence in mobile financial services.
The standard will be reviewed periodically. As mobile financial services become ever more present, especially in developing countries, we must maintain the pressure for improved protections.
highlights, successes and related materials
- Our Director General, Amanda Long, spoke on a key panel for UNCTAD's E-commerce Week (eng) in 2017, alongside Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Director General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Director General of UNCTAD.
- Our 2014 briefing paper on mobile payments (eng) set out the main consumer protection issues with paying money through our phones.
- We co-chair the UN’s ITU working group on consumer protection in digital financial services (eng). This is bringing together regulators, financial services providers, consumer advocates and other stakeholders to share knowledge, research good practices and make recommendations that will benefit consumers.
- To mark World Consumer Rights Day 2014, we delivered a new Consumer Agenda for Fair Mobile Services (eng) to the ITU – the UN body responsible for setting standards in the industry.