Ant Financial CEO tells Davos that digital financial services are key to equal opportunity
Eric Jing, head of Ant, a company related with e-commerce giant Alibaba, was speaking on a panel alongside IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, World Bank Group CIO and VP for Information and Technology Solutions Stephanie von Friedeburg, and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
Digital technology is not only broadening access to financial services, but also helping to address inequality more broadly, he argued.
“When we use technology to promote financial inclusion, we always bear in mind that we are creating equal opportunities for women,” said Mr. Jing.
He pointed out that digital financial services are helping to open doors to previously closed-off opportunities, as evidenced by Dataobao, where female-led start-ups now account for over half of companies.
Ant Financial – where one-third of whose management team is female – is focused on serving the billions of underbanked people around the world, particularly in large developing countries such as China and India, where gaining access to financial services is a prerequisite to a woman having the autonomy to make financial or business decisions.
The accessibility and convenience of the services provided by Ant Financial and others have led to an explosion in mobile payment across China. According to market research firm Ipsos, 14% of Chinese no longer carry cash. This is spurring adoption of the technology by small businesses, who can reach customers across vast distances at minimal cost. Ant says as many as 30 million small and micro businesses use Alipay to collect payments. These digitalized transactions in turn help them build their credit score to gain further financial support.
China is already far ahead of most developed markets in digital finance, and the pace of innovation shows no signs of slowing. Jing referred to QR (quick response) code-based payments as one such “amazing innovation,” citing the security and low cost they offer small and micro businesses.
How far digital financial inclusion can develop in the coming years will depend on how open consumers, regulators and incumbents are to change, and will vary from market to market, Jing said.
“The challenge is that different countries may have different attitudes in terms of adoption of new technologies to drive financial inclusion.”