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Global Findex: Survey Reports Key Milestones in Digital Payments

By Karen Lynch

A significant milestone was passed in 2017, with over half of the world’s adults saying that they have now used digital payments, according to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database. Released in April 2018, the Global Findex Database measures access to, and use of, basic financial services. The Findex data for 2017 shows progress driven largely by digital payments and a new generation of financial services accessed through mobile phones and the internet.1

Specifically, 52 percent of adults worldwide made or received at least one digital payment in 2017, an increase of 11 percentage points from the last Global Findex in 2014. In high-income economies, 91 percent did so; in developing economies, 44 percent.2


Marketplace Implications of Digital Payments Growth


Marketplace implications for e-commerce, including import-export trade, also emerge in the Global Findex, with the finding that 24 percent of adults worldwide used the internet to buy something online in 2017.3 A corresponding report on global e-commerce, by the Statista market data company, projected that retail e-commerce sales will grow from $2.3 trillion worldwide in 2017 to $4.88 trillion in 2021.4


“Online shopping is one of the most popular online activities worldwide but the usage varies by region,” Statista said. The company reported highest online shopping penetration (e-commerce sales as a percentage of total retail sales) in 2017 in the following countries: China (23.1 percent), the U.K. (19.1 percent), South Korea (16 percent), Denmark (12.6 percent), and the United States (9 percent). Brazil, India, and Mexico recorded penetration in the low-single-digits.5


The Forrester research firm more than doubled its estimate for cross-border shopping recently, saying sales will reach $627 billion, or 20 percent of global e-commerce, by 2022.6 Drivers of growth include retailers who see cross-border commerce as a way to enter new markets with little upfront investment, Forrester said. Another market researcher, eMarketer, noted that merchants in North America were least likely to have a cross-border strategy among their global peers.7


Digital Payments, by the Numbers


Digital payments are central to a larger picture painted by the Global Findex, in which access to financial services, more generally, can help people increase their earning potential, manage risk, accumulate savings, and increase spending on necessities. “A growing body of research reveals many potential development benefits from financial inclusion – especially from the use of digital financial services, including mobile money services, payment cards, and other financial technology (or fintech) applications.”8


The index covers a wide range of digital payments, including paying bills, sending remittances, and receiving wages, as well as making purchases – using mobile phones, debit cards, the internet, and other means. Within this mix, 51 percent of adults in high-income economies reported making at least one financial transaction in the past year using a mobile phone or the internet. That compares to 19 percent of adults in developing countries who used a mobile phone, the internet, or a mobile money account (which can also be accessed at agent locations).9


Returning to the Global Findex’s analysis of digital purchases, 59 percent of adults in high-income economies used the internet to buy something online in 2017. Among developing countries, China dominated, with 45 percent of adults buying online, followed by Malaysia, Belarus, Croatia, Iran, and Russia – all with around 30 percent. On average, though, only 7 percent of adults in developing economies excluding China reported buying online. Also, while Chinese online shoppers primarily used digital payments for their online purchases, many other consumers around the world commonly pay in cash on delivery for internet orders.10


Global Findex Recommendations


In its analysis of financial inclusion, the Global Findex points not only to progress but to persistent shortcomings. For example, while 69 percent of adults worldwide now have an account either at a financial institution or a mobile money provider – including 515 million adults who have opened one since the index was last published in 2014 – 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked. This is despite the fact that two-thirds of the unbanked have a mobile phone with which to access financial services. Among the most common reasons not to set up an account was simply not having enough money to bother with it; another reason was the cost of financial services.11


The Global Findex recommends various ways to reduce the number of unbanked adults, including digitizing services to reduce costs. “Of course, digital technology alone is not enough to increase financial inclusion,” the report said. “To ensure that people benefit from digital financial services requires a well-developed payments system, good physical infrastructure, appropriate regulations, and vigorous consumer protection safeguards.”12


Another recommendation is for governments and businesses to stop paying wages and making other transfers in cash, in the many cases where they still do so. For example, “Of the 60 million unbanked adults worldwide who receive government transfers in cash, two-thirds have a mobile phone,” the report said.13



As of 2017, over half of all adults have conducted digital transactions, a milestone reported in the World Bank’s April 2018 Global Findex. This and other findings about digital payments and financial services suggest benefits for social and economic development as well as the growth of marketplaces around the world, at a time when projections for domestic and international e-commerce are also on the rise.

Karen Lynch - The Author

The Author

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology and policy in New York, Paris and Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. Karen also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners.


1. The Global Findex Database, World Bank;
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. “Retail E-commerce Sales Worldwide from 2014 to 2021,” Statista;
5. “E-commerce Sales as Percentage of Total Retail Sales in Selected Countries in 2017,” Statista;
6. “Cross-border E-commerce Will Reach $627 Billion by 2022,” Forrester;
7. Cross-border E-commerce 2018: A Country-by-Country Comparison, eMarketer;
8. The Global Findex Database, World Bank;
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.

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