Digital payments and fintech are cited as foundational to digitalising public disbursement programmes and expanding financial inclusion in the latest report from Visa.
The team at Visa Government Solutions (VGS) has recently published its latest report exploring the relationship between the benefits of digital and the effectiveness of government disbursements.
The report, titled ‘Next Generation Government Disbursement Programmes‘, studies how governments can use digital payments to distribute public funds to citizens in need efficiently and cost-effectively.
VGS describes public disbursement programmes as “a vital instrument in governments’ policy toolkit,” because they deliver vital financial support to people and companies in economically, and often socially, vulnerable positions.
Often such programmes revolve around reducing income inequality and providing financial access. This level of inclusion ultimately works to mitigate rates of relative poverty.
A very current, real-world example of such programmes in action would include the financial assistance governments delivered to the business and civilian demographic during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Small and medium-sized businesses benefitted greatly from this form of fiscal stimulation during the market turmoil of the time. Indeed, the distribution of supporting grants and loans during the height of the pandemic remains a proven testament to the effectiveness of these programmes.
Elsewhere, governments use disbursement programmes to make regular payments to citizens and businesses, including unemployment benefits and small business grants.
Taking this into account, the report recommends how this process could be developed digitally. The three primary areas identified in digitalising disbursements are:
- The report explores the use of digital identification in enabling financial inclusion. It cites use cases in Bangladesh, India and Ukraine where the use of such technology has generated economic prosperity within their own instances. It specifically discusses Ukraine’s use of ‘ePidtrimka’ in rewarding vaccinated citizens.
- Secondly, the report identifies the importance of mobile communications in distributing reliable information relating to these programmes. It recognises that, with around half the world’s population using smartphones, how this technology could increase engagement and information passages among even the hardest-to-reach areas.
- An analysis of the applicability of digital payments rounds off the report’s three main recommendations. Importantly, although legacy payment systems have remained popular among some jurisdictions for their familiarity and demonstrated scalability, the report recognises a key shift towards the use of innovative technology to host disbursement programmes. Notably, it explains how the industry’s latest payment methods translate within largely cash-based payment environments with predominantly unbanked populations.
‘When successfully combined, these three elements have the power to make disbursement programmes better targeted, more efficient, scalable, resilient and citizen-centric,’ the report reads.
The problem at hand
These recommendations are a direct response to the challenges raised by both governments and recipients in regard to the effectiveness of disbursement programmes. Likewise, it leverages the data on the Covid-19 pandemic as a spotlight on these issues.
Public sector responses appear to define eligibility criteria, know-your-customer (KYC) progresses and distribution methods as key areas for improvement. In this way, technology could help to limit the effects of fraud. Likewise, it could also extend the reach of programmes to eligible recipients.
Flipping the coin and beneficiaries listed their own vexes of the system in the report. This notably includes access to relevant and up-to-date information regarding disbursement schemes, as well as methods of access and onerous application processes.
Lessons to learn
The VGS’ recommendations intend to shape the next generation of disbursement programmes, where modern paytech is harnessed to deliver timely and accurate support in times of need.
“The covid pandemic reinforced what was already suspected. Well-targeted, efficient public disbursement schemes are a vital instrument in governments’ policy toolkit,” comments Greg Sheppard, global head of government disbursements at Visa.
“But they are not only valuable during times of crisis,” continues Sheppard. “Used well, they can help tackle poverty, financial exclusion and inequality.”
“Nevertheless, there are a number of challenges to delivering effective, cost-effective, scalable programmes that deliver taxpayer value,” he comments.
“Future schemes need to learn the lessons of the recent pandemic, and capitalise on digital and technological advancements. This is in order to create robust programmes that are able to support the social protection obligations to citizens and have a sharp focus on fostering business growth and resilience, both in times of crisis and beyond.”