To deliver on its promises, digital financial services must hear the voice of consumers

With two-thirds of consumers worldwide now embracing digital finance solutions, from instant payments to mobile money, the potential for transformative change in global financial inclusion has never been greater. These advancements in connectivity are not merely technological innovations; they represent opportunities for families to prepare for financial shocks, for young people to invest in their futures, and for women to achieve greater financial independence. In the face of mounting global crises, innovation in digital financial services could offer a lifeline, empowering individuals and communities to build resilience against economic uncertainties.

But to deliver on those promises, there are challenges to be addressed. Consumers face obstacles on their path to financial inclusion and empowerment, particularly those on low-incomes and who experience vulnerabilities.

Next week, key players from across the connectivity ecosystem come together for GSMA MWC Barcelona, where innovations in financial technology will be on the agenda.

Ahead of that event, the GSMA took part in the launch of a new report by Consumers International which explores how to ensure these services  deliver healthier, more resilient financial lives for the most vulnerable consumers.

Progress amidst challenges

Consumers International’s research utilises data from the World Bank and GSMA’s 2023 Mobile Connectivity Index to sketch a detailed picture of the consumer experience of digital financial services in low- and middle-income countries.

As a year-on-year index, the 2024 iteration sees a positive rise in its overall score compared to the previous year, primarily driven by growth in consumer financial and digital literacy. But despite strides in infrastructure and consumer protection frameworks, the findings reveal a harsh reality, where positive strides often fail to translate into positive experience for all, particularly for vulnerable consumers.

It also sees worries rising around fraud and scams, with consumers increasingly targeted by threats like fake online shopping websites and phishing scams. Despite considerable investments in redress mechanisms, this remains a challenge; there is an opportunity to streamline these processes, especially with the emergence of service offerings facilitated by cross-sector business partnerships.

These insights underscore the urgency of addressing consumer concerns to create a more inclusive and resilient digital finance ecosystem. Financial service providers need to embrace consumer complaints as an opportunity to improve their offering and foster trust. What’s more, a culture shift is needed towards monitoring consumer outcomes beyond complaints, and empowering consumers as active participants in the digital finance ecosystem.

Hearing the voice of the consumer

This research forms part of Consumers International’s Fair Digital Finance Accelerator with the GSMA providing expert advice as part of their advisory panel. The Accelerator is part of a wider piece of work towards Consumers International’s vision for a world where consumers everywhere can embrace advances within the sector, through services which are inclusive, safe, data-protected and sustainable. 

The 65 consumer associations that make up the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator play a pivotal role in driving this shift. By empowering consumer advocacy organisations and fostering collaboration with stakeholders, initiatives like the Accelerator are instrumental in championing the consumer voice in fair digital finance. With a growing community and tangible impact on the horizon, it’s helping to usher in a new era of consumer-centric digital finance.

Together, amidst the buzz of innovation at GSMA MWC, we can use these insights to spark critical conversations with industry leaders and unlock the power of digital financial services for the benefit of people across the world.

Written in collaboration with Sonia Charak from Consumers International