Scrutinizing Financial Inclusion: A Critical Review of Its Definitions

39 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2020

Date Written: July 2, 2020


Financial inclusion (FI) has become a key policy for poverty reduction in developing countries. However, there is no consensus on what FI comprises, who should be included and who will deliver this inclusion. The different interpretations of the concept may lead to implementations that do not correspond to the original intent. Moreover, by making certain assumptions implicit, FI may be a policy that merely replicates microfinance initiatives. In order to illustrate the inconsistencies in the existing literature, this article displays a literature review of 67 studies about the definition of FI. Built on the systematic review approach, studies are selected based on inclusion and exclusion criteria, as well as an explicit search strategy, thus providing a reliable and replicable outcome. After identifying the studies, we present a critical discussion about the underlying theoretical and empirical implications of the definitions of FI. This assessment enables a better understanding of FI and its framing. To conclude, a novel definition is suggested to ensure transparency and comparability of FI research.

Keywords: Financial inclusion, systematic review, definition

JEL Classification: D10, G50, O11

Suggested Citation

Balliester Reis, Thereza, Scrutinizing Financial Inclusion: A Critical Review of Its Definitions (July 2, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Thereza Balliester Reis (Contact Author)

University of Leeds - Faculty of Business ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

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