Access to Finance and the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Building Digital Payments Ecosystems

53 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2023

See all articles by Douglas W. Arner

Douglas W. Arner

The University of Hong Kong; The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law

Sijuade Animashaun

The University of Hong Kong

Kuzi Charamba

University of Hong Kong

Yixiao Cai

University of Münster; Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

Date Written: September 2023


We are now at that halfway point in terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the 2030 target getting ever closer. This article examines how digital payments innovations and innovative payment initiatives including digital payments infrastructure and regulation can play a pivotal role in fostering micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) access to finance and how access to finance in turn supports broader sustainable development as reflected in the UN SDGs as we move closer to 2030 and beyond. Achieving these envisaged benefits will require thoughtful consideration and management of various systemic technological risks and impacts across jurisdictions and governance levels.

Digital payment platforms serve as data providers on MSME financial profiles capable of revolutionizing lending, low-cost agent-assisted transactions, and other efficient financial products and services by conventional banks, micro-finance institutions (MFIs), and non-bank financial institutions. Importantly, the data provided by these platforms enable the factoring of cashflows (a form of alternative credit data) within the MSMEs as usable collateral (complementing inadequate real properties) to enable access to finance within traditional lending institutions and elsewhere. Further, the increasing digital presence of MSMEs, enabled by progressive consumer confidence in e-commerce platforms, create new markets for MSMEs (particularly small retail shops, such as “mom-and-pop” stores providing last mile services to unbanked and underserved segments in remote areas) without requiring a huge amount of sunk costs.

Governments must take immediate and progressive steps to encourage collaboration between public and private actors in a way that drives sustainable development without jeopardizing national and international regulatory objectives. This requires improvements in regulatory approaches and policy strategies to digital payments and alignment of set goals to include MSMEs that are critical to sustainable job creation and last mile financial services. The fact that the operation of digital payments systems and new entrants lie outside of current regulatory perimeters raises the risk of widening gaps in the distribution of wealth and culminating in potential financial exclusion. This is partly due to the inadequate access by vulnerable groups to the digital infrastructure needed to access alternative payments and broader digital financial services. Immediate and coordinated efforts to promote safety and efficiency of payment systems which also support financial inclusion and sustainable development are therefore required by policymakers collaborating with key stakeholders. Pertinent regulatory challenges include consumer protection, the disintermediation of traditional finance, concentration effects, contagion and reputation risks, market integrity, data protection, and financial stability.

This may be encouraged through focused government initiatives to promote (through infrastructure development and regulation) uniform (or interlinked) national payment systems that are interoperable among the different payment service providers and platforms. Alternatively, an equally innovative step may include the consideration and development of government-backed digital payment instruments, such as central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), to complement the growing digitalization in emerging digital economies with the integration of MSMEs as providers of user interfaces to benefit a larger population of the affected group.

Keywords: financial inclusion; sustainable finance; UN SDGs; Sustainable Development Goals; digital finance; electronic payments; digital ID; central bank digital currencies; CBDCs

Suggested Citation

Arner, Douglas W. and Animashaun, Sijuade and Charamba, Kuzi and Cai, Yixiao, Access to Finance and the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Building Digital Payments Ecosystems (September 2023). American University Business Law Review, Forthcoming, University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 23/56, Available at SSRN: or

Douglas W. Arner (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Kuzi Charamba

University of Hong Kong ( email )

Faculty of Law, Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Yixiao Cai

University of Münster ( email )

Schlossplatz 2
Muenster, D-48149

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management ( email )

Adickesallee 32-34
Frankfurt am Main, 60322

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