Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Why Half the World Doesn't Have Bank Accounts

Why Half the World Doesn't Have Bank Accounts
Photograph by Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

In the U.S., bank accounts are nearly ubiquitous, with almost 90 percent of adults having formal accounts. But in poor countries, only a quarter of people report having have accounts. All told, more than 2.5 billion adults around the world—about half—are unbanked, according to a new World Bank data project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and based on Gallup polling in 148 countries. The World Bank launched the Global Financial Inclusion initiative, which it calls Global Findex for short, with both a database and a white paper on the new stats.

A leading reason for the disparity between rich and poor countries is both dispiritedly intractable and painfully obvious: poverty itself. Two-thirds of people without accounts said they simply don’t have enough money to use a bank. The data, though, show some less daunting problems to tackle. People said financial institutions are too far away and too expensive to use. In some regions, including Latin America, people said the institutions required too much documentation. The white paper says fully 35 percent of the unbanked report barriers that are solvable through public policy.