The digital era is here to stay but many still lack the skills needed to get ahead in the Internet economy.
A 2017 CIGI-Ipsos survey on Internet security and trust found that a significant percentage of Internet users do not trust the Internet enough to conduct financial transactions online. Even among those willing to embrace digital commerce, many face another barrier: digital literacy.
Rhea Yaw Ching, executive director of the US-based Covela Foundation, points out that the problem is more acute in Latin America and in particular the Caribbean, where an increasing number of citizens and businesses are now coming online.
“There is a direct correlation between digital literacy and financial inclusion,” said Yaw Ching, a former telecommunications sector executive.
“Sixty-five per cent of the Caribbean population is unbanked, meaning that they are predominantly cash-based. And a further 20 per cent are underbanked, meaning that they under-utilise the financial services that do exist,” she added.
What makes the Caribbean’s challenge worse is the persistent gap between the formal financial sector and the hundreds of thousands of small or micro-organisations operating in the informal economy with little access to services such as automated payments, credit cards, online banking, mobile apps or even ATMs.
“The informal economy is a key driver of the economics of most Caribbean nations. Unfortunately, the informal economy is still largely characterised by limited access to ICT services, limited access to formal financial services, and, critically, limited digital skills,” Yaw Ching said.
She added that the Caribbean still has a long way to go before it can realise the benefits brought about by the digital era.
“The key to unlocking true innovation lies in equipping citizens with the digital skills most relevant to the region and developing the financial systems and services to allow them to fully capitalize Caribbean ideas and innovations.”