About 50% of adults around the world, or 2.5 billion people, lack access to bank accounts. The majority are in developing countries and live on less than $2 a day. Forced to live on cash, they are open to theft of their meager savings, often have higher transaction costs, and lack access to credit to help lift their fortunes.
A simple account isn't a magic wand, but it can play a role in getting people to the next rung of the economic ladder. As a new report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation puts it, financial tools "give poor people greater ability to capture opportunities and move out of poverty at faster rates, while slowing the rate at which they are knocked back into poverty due to adverse shocks."
The Gates Foundation has made financial inclusion a priority, and has invested millions in better data to track the problem. Last year, it launched the Global Findex with the World Bank—a database about financial inclusion based on interviews with 150,000 people in 148 countries. Now, it has released a series of interactive maps that give a mile-by-mile picture of financial capabilities in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, with plans to add more countries, including Kenya and Bangladesh, soon.
The layered maps give banks and card companies a clear picture of the opportunities. The "layer list" on the left allows you to toggle information (branches, ATMs, mobile money outlets) on and off. You can view the current state of cellular coverage, and where location of population centers. Most importantly, you can run a "buffer analysis," showing services within a radius of any given location.
The purpose is to give a more fine-grained picture of financial services on the ground. Current measures, like how many ATMs a country has per 100,000 people, give an overall sense, but miss the smaller details that matter to communities living in poverty.