a woman fills up a jug of water at a water station in Bangladesh Photo by Sohel Parvez Haque, 2017 CGAP Photo Contest

How Digital Finance Boosts Access to Basic Services

Many of the biggest challenges in global development intersect in some way with the financial lives of low-income people: where they get their money, how they manage it, and whether it unlocks basic, lifechanging services that help them build sustainable livelihoods. Achieving universal access to clean water, for instance, entails figuring out a reliable way for millions of poor people to pay their utility bills or cover the cost of getting water piped into their homes. Can digital finance improve upon existing solutions and provide a better customer experience to make water, energy or other services that are essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) more widely available? These are some of the financial inclusion questions that CGAP is exploring.

Our research shows there are promising ways for digital finance to address these development challenges. For instance, pay-as-you-go business models make it possible for low-income customers to pay small amounts digitally for essential services and to finance assets like home solar systems or water utility connections. Digital payments ensure a reliable revenue stream for businesses while making it easier for customers to access a range of other digital financial services that build from their payments record. CGAP is examining financing mechanisms and business models to support innovative solutions for delivering energy, water and education.

How Financial Inclusion Contributes to the SDGs

Reading Deck

This slide deck describes how digital financial services can contribute to international development across several sectors like energy, water, education and health.

While the SDGs do not explicitly target financial inclusion, greater access to financial services is a key enabler for many of them. By reviewing the research on the link between financial inclusion and development, this working paper shows where and how financial services can help achieve the SDGs.

Key Resources


A growing number of water providers are experimenting with digital payments to reduce operational expenses and streamline service delivery. This paper extracts lessons learned from 25 water providers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Despite their relatively recent emergence, PAYGo companies are rapidly approaching maturity. These businesses have the chance to reduce the energy poverty gap, drive financial inclusion, and improve the quality of life for millions of people.

This paper uses research and interviews with customers to understand the value they derive from PAYGo solar, why they decided to purchase it, how they were able to afford and pay for it, and whether they considered the product a “good deal” in the end.

This Brief on digital finance in the water sector looks at how people currently access water service, and finds that it varies from urban to peri-urban to rural areas.

Innovations in digital finance can play a role in the Sustainable Development Goals' aim to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”