The world has been dragged further back from the goal of universal financial inclusion by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at the Singapore Fintech Festival yesterday.
The billionaire philanthropist said in an online session that the pandemic had been a huge setback, hitting health systems and education and affecting financial and economic stability worldwide.
"Once we get the vaccines out on a broad basis, I'm optimistic that we will resume the growth that we had before. So I'm not trying to be negative. But yes, we are not going to be as far along, say by 2030, as we would have been without the pandemic," said Mr Gates, who heads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife.
It is the world's largest private charitable organisation.
Financial inclusion is defined by the World Bank as access to digital financial services critical for both poverty reduction and opportunities for economic growth.
Mr Gates said today, more than 1.7 billion people live outside the formal financial sector and the gap between the developed and under-developed countries is huge in terms of access to even basic services such as bank accounts.
While 94 per cent of adults have a bank account in higher-income countries, only 35 per cent in lower-income nations do so, he said.
Mr Gates said that 70 per cent of his foundation's resources are committed to healthcare and related scientific research.
But given the strong linkages between access to high quality and affordable financial services and poverty alleviation, the foundation has increased its focus on ways to deliver these services to the poor - profitably and at scale - by using digital payment platforms.
His foundation also works with partner organisations to assist regulators, such as central banks, that are exploring policy options for enabling the development of inclusive digital financial services.
On healthcare, Mr Gates said his foundation is working with pharmaceutical companies and governments in developing countries with the goal to deliver as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible through next year.
"Our goal is to get these vaccines out as much as possible within 2021, so that even in the developing countries the pandemic is over by some time in 2022," he said.
"We need to make sure we do this (vaccination) in an equitable way so that it is not how rich you are that determines whether you get access to this vaccine. That's where our foundation comes in," he added.