LeoGlossary: Unbanked

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Unbanked means that a person or household does not have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union. They may use alternative financial services, such as prepaid cards, money orders, or check cashing services, to manage their money.

There are a number of reasons why people may be unbanked, including:

  • Lack of trust in banks. Some people have had negative experiences with banks in the past, or they may not trust banks with their money.
  • High fees. Some banks charge high fees for checking and savings accounts, which can make banking unaffordable for low-income households.
  • Lack of access to bank branches. Some people live in rural areas or underserved communities where there are few or no bank branches.
  • Lack of identification. Some people may not have the necessary identification to open a bank account.

Being unbanked can have a number of negative consequences, such as:

  • Higher costs for financial services. Unbanked people often have to pay higher fees for alternative financial services, such as check cashing and money orders.
  • Difficulty saving money. It can be more difficult to save money without a bank account.
  • Limited access to credit. Unbanked people may have difficulty getting loans and credit cards, which can limit their financial opportunities.
  • Greater risk of fraud. Unbanked people are more vulnerable to financial scams and fraud.

Governments and other organizations are working to address) the issue of unbanking. For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a number of programs to help low-income and underserved communities access banking services.

Note: The term underbanked is used to describe people who have a bank account but rely on nonbank financial services for certain banking needs, such as getting loans or a credit card.

Countries and the Unbanked

There are a number of reasons why some countries have a large population of unbanked.

  • Low levels of Income and education

One of the main reasons for unbanking is low levels of income and education. People living in poverty may not have the money to open a bank account or to maintain a minimum balance. They may also not have the necessary documentation to open an account, such as a government-issued ID. People with low levels of education may not be familiar with the banking system or may not trust banks.

Lack of access to banking services

Another reason for unbanking is lack of access to banking services. This is especially common in rural areas and in developing countries. People who live in remote areas may have to travel long distances to reach a bank branch. And even if there is a bank branch nearby, it may not be affordable to use its services.

  • High fees

Bank fees can also be a barrier to banking, especially for low-income people. Some banks charge monthly fees for checking and savings accounts, as well as fees for ATM withdrawals and other transactions. These fees can add up, making it difficult for people to afford to use banking services.

  • Cultural factors

Cultural factors can also play a role in unbanking. In some cultures, there is a tradition of saving and borrowing money outside of the formal banking system. People may prefer to use informal financial services, such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs), because they are more familiar with them or because they trust them more than banks.

  • Government policies

Government policies can also contribute to unbanking. For example, some governments may have regulations that make it difficult for banks to open branches in certain areas. Or, governments may have high taxes on financial transactions, which can make banking more expensive.

The consequences of unbanking can be significant. Unbanked people have difficulty accessing financial services, such as loans and credit cards. This can make it difficult for them to start businesses, invest in their education, and build wealth. Unbanked people are also more vulnerable to financial scams and fraud.

There are a number of things that can be done to address the problem of unbanking. Governments can work to create a more inclusive financial system by reducing bank fees, expanding access to bank branches, and promoting financial education. Financial institutions can also develop products and services that are more affordable and accessible to low-income people. And individuals can learn more about the banking system and how to use it to their advantage.

Cryptocurrency and the Unbanked

Cryptocurrency proposes to solve the unbanked problem by providing a decentralized and permissionless financial system. This means that anyone with an Internet connection can access cryptocurrency, regardless of their location or financial status.

Here are some of the ways that cryptocurrency can help the unbanked:

  • Low fees. Cryptocurrency transactions typically have lower fees than traditional banking transactions. This is because cryptocurrency transactions are processed and verified by a decentralized network of computers, rather than by a central authority.
  • Easy access. Cryptocurrency wallets can be created on smartphones and other devices, making it easy for people to access and manage their funds.
  • Global reach. Cryptocurrency can be used to send and receive money anywhere in the world, without the need for a bank account.
  • Financial inclusion. Cryptocurrency can help people who have difficulty opening bank accounts or getting loans from traditional banks.

For example, a person in a developing country could use cryptocurrency to send money to their family or friends without having to go through a bank. Or, a person who has been denied a loan by a traditional bank could use cryptocurrency to get a loan from a decentralized lending platform.

Cryptocurrency is still a relatively new technology, and there are some challenges that need to be addressed before it can be widely adopted by the unbanked. For example, cryptocurrency can be volatile, and it can be difficult to use for people who are not familiar with technology. However, the potential of cryptocurrency to solve the unbanked problem is significant.

Here are some specific examples of how cryptocurrency is being used to bank the unbanked:

  • El Salvador has made Bitcoin legal tender. This means that Salvadorans can use Bitcoin to pay for goods and services, and they can also use it to store their savings.
    -The Stellar Development Foundation is working with partners in Africa to provide people with access to mobile wallets and other cryptocurrency services. This is helping people in Africa to send and receive money more easily and affordably.
  • The company GiveDirectly is using cryptocurrency to provide cash assistance to people in developing countries. This is helping people to meet their basic needs and to invest in their future.

Overall, cryptocurrency has the potential to play a significant role in solving the unbanked problem. By providing a decentralized and permissionless financial system, cryptocurrency can help people who have difficulty accessing traditional banking services.

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is one other area where the unbanked might find a solution. The development of infrastructure is still underway. In the future, people might be able to find a wide range of financial services provided by decentralized applications.


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