Access to Financial Services: A Review of the Issues and Public Policy Objectives

38 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2005

See all articles by Stijn Claessens

Stijn Claessens

Bank for International Settlements (BIS)

Date Written: May 2005


This paper reviews the evidence on the importance of finance for economic well-being, provides data on the degree of usage of basic financial services by households and firms across a sample of countries, assesses the desirability of more universal access, and overviews the macro-economic, legal and regulatory obstacles to access using general evidence and case studies. Although access to finance can be very beneficial, the data show that universal usage is far from prevalent in many countries, especially developing countries. At the same time, universal access has generally not been a public policy objective and is surely not easily achievable in most countries. Countries can, however, undertake many actions to facilitate access to financial services, including through strengthening their institutional infrastructures, liberalizing and opening up their markets and facilitating greater competition, and encouraging innovative use of know-how and technology. Government attempts and interventions to directly broaden the provision of access to finance, however, are fraught with risks and costs, among others, the risk of missing the targeted groups. The paper concludes with possible global actions aimed at improving data on access and usage and areas of further analysis to help identify the constraints to broadening access.

Suggested Citation

Claessens, Stijn, Access to Financial Services: A Review of the Issues and Public Policy Objectives (May 2005). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3589. Available at SSRN:

Stijn Claessens (Contact Author)

Bank for International Settlements (BIS) ( email )

Centralbahnplatz 2
CH-4002 Basel

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