Towards Financial Inclusion: Paving The Way With Metaverse Gaming
Our three-part series on financial literacy began with an overview and proceeded to discuss invisible learning in greater detail. In the context of the latter, we also focused on its relationship with the concept of the metaverse. The final aspect, which we mentioned but did not elaborate on previously, is the role of a metaverse in ensuring financial literacy for the global unbanked population. So let’s do that now.
The Global Unbanked Challenge
Before we delve deeper into the problems of the unbanked, it’s important to grasp the magnitude of their inaccessibility. According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion people across the globe didn’t have a bank account till 2017. China topped the list, with 225 million people without banking access. India came second, with 190 million. And despite pompous claims of global progress, the situation hasn’t improved much since then. For example, 70% of Vietnamese and Filipinos are unbanked. Other Southeast Asian nations fare similarly in this regard.
Now, blinded by financial privilege, one may ask—how does it matter if people are unbanked? They must surely have other, traditional means. Economic interactions predate the invention of banking. And so on. But for those who are more historically aware, the answer is blowing in the wind. Without institutional financial access, the unbanked have no means to secure savings. Even if they are somehow able to save, earning interest on savings or participating in derivatives markets is almost impossible. Moreover, they don't have access to loans and insurance, thus living highly precarious financial lives.
Because of their inability to access formal financial services, the unbanked population relies upon informal alternatives, which heightens their plight. For example, they pay 40-200% as an interest to moneylenders or microfinanciers for loans, as Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo demonstrate in their Noble-winning work. In contrast, Bank of America’s credit card has a 20% interest rate. The use of cash is predominant, as well, which is prone to theft and difficult to save. And on top of everything, they are the worst hit by inflation, especially in countries with socio-political and economic turmoil. So, access to institutional finance is a necessity for the poor, but that too has its problems.
Banking The Unbanked: A Sisyphian Endeavor?
Institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been trying to address the problems of the unbanked for quite some time. But no matter how hard they try to inculcate the poor into ‘formal financial networks’, the results remain elusive.
Despite our predisposition to criminalize the poor for their general aversion to banking, it’s crucial to understand their reasons. First, most of the unbanked people do not earn enough and feel they don’t need the services of a bank. Second, they reject banking because the costs are prohibitive—they end up paying more in service fees than their monthly savings. Third, banks are geographically inaccessible for many, requiring inconvenient and expensive journeys. Fourth, and above all, the unbanked usually lack identity documents or the financial literacy necessary for opening and maintaining bank accounts.
Unless there’s adequate financial literacy among the underprivileged, no amount of infrastructural development will be enough. The IMF and its likes may try as hard as they may, but ‘banking the unbanked’ won’t be possible at scale. Presently, these organizations are acting much like Sisyphus who labors to push a rock uphill, only to watch it roll down every time. So instead of repeating such top-down approaches, it’s time to find new ways of extending financial services to the unbanked.
Gaming The Unbanked: The Viable Alternative
The metaverse is an innovative way of reaching out to the global unbanked, especially through gaming. We had already talked about the immersive and interactive interface of metaverse games in our previous articles. What we did not elaborate upon was how financially inclusive these games are for unbanked people.
All that a user needs is a mobile phone and internet connectivity to get started with metaverse gaming. Of course, they need to dedicate time and hone their gaming skills to play better and earn more. But unlike with banking, poverty isn’t a hindrance or obstacle to earning from these metaverse games. So, how does gaming facilitate access to alternative financial resources?
For one, crypto-wallets are a great way of storing money securely. Moreover, emerging DeFi protocols have in-built features to enable a trustless analysis of wallet activity, playing hours, and gaming achievements. In turn, these metrics assist next-generation financial services. Determining credit scores is possible, for instance, thus extending loans and insurance facilities to the gamers. Individuals can also use their in-game NFTs as collaterals or staking assets to earn interest. Trading is also possible, besides access to decentralized derivatives. So as a whole, metaverse gaming allows people to avail themselves of banking-like services without the need for banks.
In 2021, the number of active internet users touched 4.66 billion globally, with 92.6% of them accessing it via mobile phones. The unbanked may refuse to visit banks, and with good reason. But they clearly aren’t averse to using the Internet. And why would they, when it allows them to access entertaining and empowering innovations like metaverse gaming? We are moving towards a future of financial literacy and inclusion; there’s nothing stopping us from realizing this vision.