UNSGSA - UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development UNSGSA - UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development

Keynote Remarks at the Identification for Development (ID4D) Mission Billion Event at the Virtual World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m delighted to join you virtually in this very important conference. I’ve been a partner of ID4D for many years now, and I’ve seen the progress that they are making, so I would like to first of all acknowledge that.

This is very timely.  The COVID-19 pandemic has actually caused the deepest global recession that we’ve had in eight decades. 150 million people around the world could potentially be pushed back into extreme poverty by the end of 2021. This has been especially challenging for the most poor and marginalized people across the globe, certainly people who previously had limited or no access to financial services and resources prior to this pandemic.

As it has been said before, women definitely have been disproportionately affected. Women are twice as likely as men to lose their jobs. This is something to look into. But not only women, but also the whole informal sector have actually suffered significantly. They are not really covered by social insurance and of course are not registered for relevant government assistance programs. This underscores some of the challenges to ensuring that underserved segments have access to tools for resilience.

This pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of digital public goods. Digital ID and interoperable payments have played a key role to help countries weather the crisis and explore new opportunities. Over 200 nations have expanded social protection measures, many using foundational ID systems and digital payments to provide transfers directly into bank accounts or mobile wallets. 

For example, Chile used its national ID system to help rapidly pre-enroll millions of new beneficiaries for emergency support. They could even further request support online. These types of programs can create an important entry point to the formal financial system by establishing new account holders and giving them access to digital financial services that support recovery efforts.

Consequently, the crisis has created momentum in many countries to implement new ID systems, or boost coverage and strengthen the capabilities of existing ones. Sequencing and coordination are particularly important as the urgency of the pandemic might result in decisions not always being aligned across the government or with global best practices.

As countries look to make progress, they can start by recognizing that a whole-of-government approach helps ensure that all involved ministries and agencies share the same vision and commitment. Seeking technical assistance for systems design from partners like ID4D, as well as learning from the experiences of other countries – such as Peru, Estonia, and India – at a very early stage will be key. To assist in planning, there are established international standards and best practices that can be built upon. These can help ensure that ID systems are implemented responsibly, with inclusion, privacy, and people’s needs front-and-center.  

It is important to think about ID systems outside silos. ID systems can achieve the greatest impact when they are interoperable and closely linked with other digital public goods. Some of these are critical for access, such as connectivity and agent networks. Others make markets work better for customers, including fair competition and interoperable payment systems. And some protect the financial system and its users, such as data privacy, cyber security, and consumer protection. Let’s not forget digital and financial literacy.

ID systems, which are part of a stack of digital public goods, have helped individuals and businesses take advantage of the digital economy. This includes a vast array of use cases from e-KYC, online payments and other financial services, access to markets, and delivery of goods and services, to contracting, telemedicine and online education. By building in modern data sharing and consent frameworks into streamlined enrollment, authentication and authorization processes, countries do have the opportunity to reimagine the digital future of their economies and their people.

Now is a great time to invest in the digital infrastructure, and to pass reforms that allow countries and people to capitalize on digital technology that ensure the underserved are not left behind. This matters most for countries in Africa and Asia, where the majority of the 1 billion people without proof of official identity reside. And it is crucial to empower women and the poor in the digital economy, particularly as half of low-income women do not possess an ID.

My partners and I stand ready to provide technical support and share international best practices. This includes the G7 Partnership for Women Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa which places an explicit focus on identification as a key enabler. Finally, I would like to stress how important ID is at this time to help countries respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. I wish you all much success in your efforts – it is really important that we show leadership by example and by also communication and dialogue with other people so that we can help them out. Thank you so much.