In recent years, financial services have undergone a digital revolution, which has reshaped the way we spend, save and manage our money. Digital financial services offer an exciting catalyst for financial inclusion, with increased accessibility, more efficient and cheaper transactions, easier personal financial management, as well as promising opportunities for sustainability.
But new technologies, and the potential emergence of a cashless society, present new risks for consumers. These include scams, fraud, phishing, and data malpractice - and low-income women and rural populations are particularly vulnerable. Moreover, many consumers are shut out from the benefits of digital financial services, with 2.9 billion people still offline.
We work with our Members, regulators, stakeholders and decision-makers at the highest level to ensure consumer protection keeps pace with transformations in financial services, in turn unlocking financial inclusion and protection for consumers across the world.
OUR VISION FOR FAIR FINANCE
In 2022, we brought together our global Membership of 200+ consumer groups in over 100 countries to set out the actions needed to build fair digital finance for all, developing a Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance.
Together, we drew a vision for a digital financial marketplace that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable for everyone.
Building financial inclusion and resilience is vital for thriving communities and economies. We want digital finance products and services that help us alleviate poverty, avoid debt, create jobs, grow health and wealth and help us plan for the future in a sustainable way. Digital finance services can help in many ways. But it will take effort.
To maximise the benefits and prevent consumers being harmed, consumer associations, government, industry and civil society organisations must work together to create a fair, safe and sustainable marketplace for all.
THE FAIR DIGITAL FINANCE ACCELERATOR
All consumers deserve access to a fair digital finance marketplace. But in a survey of our Members across low-and middle-income countries, 45% reported that digital finance service policies in their country are unsatisfactory, and a further 45% called for ‘extensive improvements’. Only 6% considered the digital financial services regulatory framework in their country to be ‘good’.
To turn our Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance into action, Consumers International founded the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator.
Bringing together consumer advocates from over 40 countries and counting, the Accelerator is a unique and proactive community of practice of consumer associations in low- and middle-income countries
The Accelerator strengthens digital finance regulation and solutions, builds engagement with governments and stakeholders, and empowers consumer advocates to champion a safe, fair, and sustainable digital finance marketplace. Through the programme, Consumers International offers Members access to training, grants to support innovation and insight generation, and a global network of financial service consumer advocates and experts.
The Fair Digital Finance Accelerator is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with support from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP).
ADDRESSING EMERGING RISKS IN DIGITAL FINANCE
We assess and take action on key areas of risk to consumers in digital finance
BUY NOW PAY LATER.
In 2022, we brought global attention to the rapid rise of Buy Now Pay Later products.
What is Buy Now Pay Later?
Buy Now Pay Later products extend credit, typically with interest, to consumers to pay for goods and services over time. The provider typically covers the cost of the goods or services, and asks its customer to pay back the amount in instalments.
Why are consumer advocates concerned?
While providers claim these services help people access products and services that they otherwise could not pay for in full, consumer advocates have a number of concerns:
- People becoming trapped into cycles of debt and financial difficulty. In many countries, Buy Now Pay Later products are designed to avoid the laws that regulate other forms of credit. For example, they are not required to conduct checks on consumers' ability to repay, and interest rates are significantly higher than other credit products.
- Buy Now Pay Later debts are getting bigger. While originally intended for small retail purchases, consumer advocates are concerned about the increased use of these products to pay for essentials, such as food or energy.
- Sustainability concerns. Consumer advocates are drawing attention to growing concerns over the environmental impacts of Buy Now Pay Later, which encourage over-consumption in areas such as fast fashion.
During World Consumer Rights Day 2022, Consumers International, alongside 11 of our Members in nine countries, called for action from governments to ensure that consumers are protected against the growing risks of Buy Now Pay Later. The call saw countries such as Australia making commitments to regulation. In 2023, we will explore how we can take this further - securing protection for consumer globally.
PROTECTING CONSUMERS OF MOBILE FINANCE
As more people than ever make transactions using a mobile device, there is a huge opportunity for expanding financial inclusion and economic empowerment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the recent expansion in account ownership can largely be attributed to the adoption of mobile money, with 33% of adults owning a mobile money account.
Mobile finance can reach groups who have traditionally been excluded from the financial system, and offer a solution to poor technological and physical infrastructure. However, in many countries the regulation of mobile financial services is struggling to keep up with new developments.
We work with international organisations such as the OECD and the UN to enhance consumer protection at the intersection of e-commerce and financial technology.
A new international standard for mobile financial services
We collaborated with a range of stakeholders as part of an ISO working group to develop a new international standard for mobile financial srecies, published in 2015.(ISO 12812 Core banking – mobile financial services).
It was essential that the standard acknowledged the challenges brought by new technologies, while ensuring that the level of consumer protection expected for traditional services were upheld.
We fought for limits on how much consumers are 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.
Our intervention also addressed the treatment of dormant assets, in particular in the event of the death of an account holder, a major issue in regions such as Africa where consumers do not have an individualised mobile phone contract.
Amplifying Consumer Experiences of Digital Finance
Consumers International provides the consumer voice to business, government and others:
- In March 2022, we launched the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator at our Fair Digital Finance Forum.
- In June 2022, we joined a plenary at the Responsible Finance Forum, ‘Emerging Paths to Responsible Innovation’, to showcase the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator as a key innovator on the path towards responsible finance.
- In October 2022, we brought the Accelerator to Financial Inclusion Week to talk about our role in protecting and empowering consumers through methods including redress mechanisms and data protection, and the need for consumers to be at the heart of regulation.
- In October 2022, we participated in the 30th Session of the G20-OECD Task Force on Financial Consumer Protection at a roundtable discussion on financial trends and their implications for consumers.
Keep an eye on our work via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as we share more about our participation at major events.
Watch our Fair Digital Finance Accelerator launch event, where we laid out the opportunity we see for a consumer-focussed regulatory environment in digital finance and discussed how we can bring this into reality through consumer advocacy.
Digital finance: The consumer experience, 2023
The consumer is at the heart of consumer protection, yet they are often not present in financial sector regulatory decision-making, and their experiences are often left out of reported metrics on consumer protection.
Our latest report, Digital finance: The consumer experience, 2023, gathers data and insight to measure the extent to which our vision for fair digital finance is being realised in low- and middle-income countries. It provides a metric for governments, businesses and consumers to track the progress of the digital finance sector in delivering fair, inclusive and consumer-centric services through year-on-year and cross-country comparison.
You can download the full report in English, French and Spanish.
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 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.
You can download a summary of the report in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. Click below to download the full report in English.
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.
Our 2014 briefing paper on mobile payments set out the main consumer protection issues with paying money through our phones.