It was a most unusual email: "Should we be worried about WEF De-banking? Could you please explain what it actually means." It's becoming a hot topic, so let's think about it today.
The World Economic Forum is a Geneva-based international organisation that works toward global cooperation on major economic and social issues. It's best known for its annual talkfest in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together business and political leaders to discuss global issues. One of the topics that has gained prominence is "de-banking" which refers to the evolving relationship between traditional banks and individuals, businesses, and governments in the digital age.
WEF believes that de-banking can foster financial inclusion by providing financial services to under-served and un-banked populations. Digital wallets and mobile banking apps, for instance, offer convenient and affordable means of conducting transactions and saving money for some who were previously excluded from the formal banking system.
The WEF celebrates the technological innovations driving de-banking. Fin-tech companies and blockchain technology have the potential to revolutionise the financial sector by increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing security. These innovations also stimulate competition, which can benefit consumers by providing them with more choices and better services.
It's become a huge issue in the US. Every morning, my inbox contains a horde of emails spouting a range of conspiracy theories. The thinking goes that the WEF is a clandestine operation run by the ultra-wealthy, whose goal is to control the world's financial systems. The solution presented is to put your money in commodities like gold, or else into cryptocurrencies, where the government won't be able to track it.
That's all rubbish, but the fact is that de-banking is happening in Australia as the digital transformation gathers speed. Cheques and cash are being phased out and bank branches are closing everywhere as banks try to push all transactions online. Bank branch phone numbers are now hard to find, and I don't think it's an accident that, when you do call, wait times are over 30 minutes. The phrase "we are experiencing an unusually high volume of calls" has become the norm, and if you are online you are likely to be offered an online chat, not with a person, but with a bot that's been programmed to answer most straightforward questions.
I'm not scared of de-banking - technological change is a fact of life. However, there are some major challenges. Governments and regulators everywhere have to find a balance between encouraging innovation while upholding financial stability. Failure to do this could cause major systematic issues.
Pushing everything online solves some problems, and groups like WEF and governments try to ensure it does not create new problems. There must always be alternatives for those with short or long term disabilities that make using smart phones and computers difficult.
Then of course there are sure to be emerging geopolitical issues as the world moves to cryptocurrencies that are held by more people. Central banks are likely to have less control over the economies of their countries, and governments may struggle to retain sovereignty over their monetary policies.
So yes, de-banking is a big issue, but I think it's more one to watch with interest, like artificial intelligence - these are rapidly becoming major forces in the world order. They will change many things, and change is the only really certain thing in the world.
- Noel Whittaker is the author of Retirement Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- This advice is general in nature and readers should seek their own professional advice before making any financial decisions.