CATALYTIC OPPORTUNITIES

The Task Force has identified five catalytic opportunities. They cover much of global finance, from the vast pools flowing through global financial and capital markets, to public finance that makes up a major part of the global economy, the aggregated potential of citizens’ savings and consumer spending, and the lifeblood financing for the employment and income-generating world of SMEs. These opportunities are systemically-important, but by no means exhaustive. They are intended to inspire further work in identifying additional opportunities.

Icon
Channel Domestic Savings into Development Financing

The aggregate global pool of domestic savings has grown over the last 20 years from US$7.5 trillion to US$23.3 trillion. Domestic savings in least developed countries alone has grown from US$13 to US$218 billion over the same period. Digitalization allows micro-savings from the informal sector to become part of the formal financial system and gives those already using the financial system more options. This raises the possibility of increasing the proportion of long-term development financing needs being met from domestic resources through accessible savings products linked to local sustainable investment. This has potential to reduce the cost of capital, international debt burdens, and vulnerability to foreign exchange movements.

Overview of this Catalytic Opportunity

Opportunities

Icon ImageChannel domestic savings into development financing.

Scale

Global savings pool has grown over two decades from US$7.5  trillion to 
US$23.3
  trillion.

SDGs

Icon ImageIcon ImageIcon ImageIcon Image

Citizens as..

Small savers and co-beneficiaries of sustainable infrastructure.

Use cases

Next steps

Policy makers should form national coalitions with infrastructure, finance and payment platform businesses to build ‘low-cost-high integrity’ digitalized financing solutions to enable micro-savers to finance local infrastructure.


The Bangladesh pathfinder initiative is developing a pilot of this model. The Bangladesh pathfinder initiative plans to use mobile payment platforms to aggregate small savings, drawing inspiration from early experimentation by the Central Bank of Kenya’s M-Akiba retail bond.

M-Akiba

Next Steps: Policy-makers and regulators should encourage market innovation in data-driven lending, equity and debt platforms, integrating broader sustainability criteria into financing criteria, and ensuring that algorithms are unbiased in their treatment of women, minority groups and/or other ethnic, religious and social groups and their enterprises.

Icon
Enhance Financing for Small and Medium-sized Businesses

SMEs are critical to inclusive economic development. They account for 70 percent of employment globally, and between a quarter of GDP in lower-middle income countries and over 50 percent of GDP in most OECD countries. Financing SMEs has to date remained an intractable challenge. The World Bank estimates a shortfall in SME financing in developing countries of US$5.2 trillion a year.

Overview of this Catalytic Opportunity

Opportunities

Icon ImageEnhance financing for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

Scale

Potential to meet the  
US$5.2
 trillion a year need to finance SME financing in developing countries.

SDGs

Icon ImageIcon ImageIcon ImageIcon Image

Citizens as..

Borrowers, entrepreneurs, employees.

Use cases

Next steps

Policy-makers and regulators should encourage market innovation to develop SME lending and investment platforms, which integrate sustainability criteria and client protections, and avoid discrimination against women-owned businesses.

Ecommerce and digital payment platforms generate data on SME financial transactions that can revolutionize lending both by existing banks and new entrants. With this data SMEs can be given automatic credit ratings, allowing for rapid lending without collateral. MYbank, for example, has used such data driven ratings to disburse over US$290 billion to 17 million SMEs in China as of June 2019, 80 percent of which were first-time borrowers. In Thailand SCB Abacus the advanced data analytics subsidiary of Siam Commercial Bank has started to use non-traditional data to provide loans to SMEs borrowers with limited credit history.

Regulatory changes are needed to enable savings and liquidity to be mobilized more effectively for lending. Currently mobile money floats sit in escrow accounts with banks and are only used for liquidity. This money can be more efficiently mobilized to build credit markets and enable savers to earn a return. This requires fuller licensing of ‘virtual banks’. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority granted eight virtual bank licenses in the first half of 2019. Singapore will be issuing up to five digital banking licenses to non-bank players. Malaysia released its virtual banking licensing framework in December 2019 and Thailand is studying the possibility of licenses for digital banks. For growing enterprises access to equity capital is also needed.

In the Zimbabwe pathfinder initiative  catalysed by the Task Force, Zimbabwe’s leading payments platform, EcoCash, has launched a world-first stock exchange that draws on payments data to provide robust due diligence and credit ratings for prospective listings

Next Steps: Policy-makers and regulators should encourage market innovation in data-driven lending, equity and debt platforms, integrating broader sustainability criteria into financing criteria, and ensuring that algorithms are unbiased in their treatment of women, minority groups and/or other ethnic, religious and social groups and their enterprises.

 

Icon
Create ‘Virtuous Trust Cycles’ in Public Financing

The IMF has estimated the value from digitalizing government payments in developing countries at US$220-$320 billion annually or 1.5 percent of revenues. Digitalization also improves efficiency of government transfers to citizens; in Brazil, switching from cash to electronic cards for distributing the Bolsa Familia social welfare payments led to a seven-fold reduction in administrative costs of from 14.7 percent to nearly 2.6 percent. The digitalization of social protection programmes can positively impact the way women participate in economies, and should be based on gender-responsive policy design and implementation.

Overview of this Catalytic Opportunity

Opportunities

Icon ImageDigitalize public financing and make public budgets and contracts transparent.

Scale

Governments in developing countries could gainUS$220-$320  billion annually from digitalizing payments.

SDGs

Icon ImageIcon ImageIcon ImageIcon Image

Citizens as..

Tax-payers, voters, public service users.

Use cases

Open Government Partnership (OGP)
Estonia e-government
Brazil Open Budget Transparency Portal

Next steps

Policy makers should make commitments and work with civil society and the private sector to increase transparency of public finances and use open government data to pursue SDG priorities.

Greater transparency in the use of funds though open budgets and open contracts increases citizens’ confidence. For example, tax revenues as a share of GDP increased by 13 percent in Georgia and by 6 percent in Rwanda, following significant reductions in corruption. The Least Developed Countries could leapfrog siloed legacy systems and implement whole-of-government, integrated, use-case based approaches promoted by ITU’s SDG Digital Investment Framework.

Digitalization can enhance public resource mobilization: digital tax collection can plug leaking holes, advanced analytics can flag corruption risks, digitalization can encourage businesses to formalize (and pay tax), and extra revenues can be raised through taxes from digital goods and services.

Yet there has been only modest progress made in creating such ‘virtuous trust cycles’, despite existing use cases, estimated benefits, and on-going efforts of operational programs by the World Bank, international civil society organizations, funders such as the Open Society Foundation and Luminate, and multi-country platforms such as the Open Government Partnership.  Change in this field is a ‘work-in-progress’, with significant investments needed in infrastructure, institutional change and the development of new capabilities.

Overcoming resistance to greater transparency is also part of the challenge. Citizens need to not to fear retaliation, to have their voice to be represented (e.g. civil society) and aggregated (i.e. coalitions) effectively, and authorities require capacity to address claims while mitigating the risk of simply reconfiguring corruption. Those at the forefront of initiatives to ‘open government’ are increasingly shifting away from a ‘data first’ approach to towards an approach which starts with particular problems or challenges and considers the prevailing power dynamics and how information can create coalitions for reform.

Next Steps: Policy makers should make commitments with roadmaps and milestones to accelerate practical transparency of public finances including publishing budgets, contracting and spending information as open data. They should work with civil society to focus open government initiatives on pursuing SDG priorities.

Icon
Embed SDG Data into Financial and Capital Markets

Billions of decisions made annually determine the allocation of over US$380 trillion of financial assets worldwide. The outstanding value of global equity and bond markets is US$185 trillion. Over the past decade informed citizens have driven demand for sustainable investments reaching over US$30 trillion in 2018, green bonds so far issued for over US$770 billion, and impact investing estimated at US$715 billion in 2019. ‘Gender lens’ investing is also a growing trend. One recent study found that retail investors account for a disproportionate share of impact assets under management, attesting to people’s preferences for making a positive difference with their resources. Another recent retail investor survey in the US revealed that 84 percent of investors want to align their investments with their values, and virtually all believe that sound ESG practices can lead to higher long-term returns.

Overview of this Catalytic Opportunity

Opportunities

Icon ImageEmbed SDGs into decisions across financial and capital markets.

Scale

The outstanding value of global equity and bond markets isUS$185
 trillion.

SDGs

Icon ImageIcon ImageIcon ImageIcon Image

Citizens as..

Savers, investors.

Use cases

Next steps

Regulators should set requirements for pension and insurance companies to consult policy holders on the use of funds and publish stress tests of all material SDG-related risks and impacts.

Emergence and popularity of sustainability and socially themed robo-advisors reflects citizen interest and preferences for meaningful investment options from both risk and impact perspectives, although in many markets stricter standards are needed to avoid ‘greenwashing’ and ‘pinkwashing’. With Bank of England estimating that up to US$20 trillion of assets could be wiped out if the climate emergency is not addressed effectively, climate and other environment-related data is the most important hotspot in this landscape, prompting Refinitiv to launch the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance. Enhanced disclosure is increasingly a core listing requirement, alongside the growing volume of ‘use of proceeds’ bonds.

The UN Global Compact has developed a framework for the issuance of SDG bonds, linking interest payments directly to achievement of SDG goals. By quantifying SDG impacts and integrating metrics and reporting into bond contracts they seek to connect investors demand for SDG themed bonds directly to business KPIs. Energy company ENEL issued the first such bond in 2019, which promises to pay an interest penalty if the company does not meet renewable energy and greenhouse gas conditions. While such SDG bonds raise funds for large corporations, a new generation of SDG bonds could be envisaged that leverage digital technologies to aggregate millions of smaller projects for capital market access.

Digitalized data, supported by increasingly complex machine-driven analytics should incorporate sustainability considerations. So-called ‘alternate data’ is becoming more important, particularly environmental data emanating from large biophysical data sets managed by public institutions. Standardisation is critical for large-scale applications across global financial and capital markets, making initiatives such as the European Commission’s Taxonomy for Sustainable Activities and the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure particularly important. Leveraging new data sources, progress on taxonomies, standards and analytical frameworks for assessing SDG-related risks and impacts will be key in offering transparent options and empowering citizens to direct how their resources, stored in pension, insurance and sovereign wealth funds, are invested. Citizens’ authority overuse of their funds is key to transforming financial and capital markets to take SDG considerations into account.

Applying such analytics to project financing is particularly challenging, especially as it relates to infrastructure investments needed to support economic development and the SDGs. Refinitiv, one of the Task Force’s key knowledge partners, is taking forward a pathfinder initiative The Digital Governance of Infrastructure’ initiative. 

 

Next Steps: Regulators should accelerate mandatory disclosure requirements to, and of, lenders and investors, and ensure that pension and insurance policy holders as intended beneficiaries are legally entitled to be consulted in the use of funds, and that financial institutions are required to publish balance sheet stress tests of all material SDG-related risks and impacts.

 

Icon
Encourage Sustainable Consumption

Citizens’ spending is part of financing for sustainable development. People’s spending on goods and services is conventionally excluded from analyses of finance. Yet such expenditure, amounting to US$47 trillion globally in 2018, is a keystone in determining what gets produced and consumed and where investments go.

Digitalization provides new payment pathways for consumer spending, some 1.9 billion mobile subscribers have used mobile to purchase goods and services in 2018. Ecommerce reached US$3.5 trillion in 2019 and expected to grow to US$5 trillion by 2021, with fastest predicted growth in developing countries. Digitalization is also a game-changer for many small businesses, which can use ecommerce platforms such as Alibaba, Jumia, Mercado Libre and Amazon to overcome challenges of small, local markets and limited outreach capabilities. Moreover, digitalization has opened the way for a rapid growth in so-called ‘pay-as-you-go’ approaches to providing energy and other infrastructure-intensive utilities and public services.

Overview of this Catalytic Opportunity

Opportunities

Icon Image

Shape consumption decisions through improved information and choice architecture.

Scale

Annual global consumption expenditure is  US$47  trillion.

SDGs

Icon ImageIcon ImageIcon ImageIcon Image

Citizens as..

Consumers, asset owners.

Use cases

Next steps

Policy makers should work with industry and provide incentives to encourage and facilitate sustainable choices by consumers and enable digital markets for sustainable assets.

Digitalization can play the role of influencing citizens’ consumption behaviour. Ant Group has experimented with this through its ‘Alipay Ant Forest’ platform that has attracted over 550 million Chinese users taking greater account of the carbon content of their consumption behaviour, now extended to a comparable experiment in the Philippines Building on this experience, Mastercard has announced a similar initiative, giving any Mastercard issuer the ability to let their cardholders monitor the carbon footprint of their purchases.

WEbank in China has created the “Measurable Ethics: Rating, Incentivization, Tracking & Supervision Framework” (MERITS) which aims to apply digital technologies to measure, record, and validate acts of positive social and environmental behaviour. It seeks to incentivise small but positive social and environmental behaviours. It sees MERITS being issued, earned, traded and redeemed for rewards in a system of social markets.

Next Steps: Policy makers should incentivise innovation and industry alliances that transparently facilitate and reward sustainable choices by consumers, create conditions for digital markets for fractionalized ownership and trading of sustainable assets.