Global Matters

Why driving digital equity is critical to build a more inclusive world

Visa survey data from seven countries finds the digital divide is wide during COVID-19 but there is opportunity to improve

People sitting in a row looking at their smartphones.

Technology is vital in the fight against COVID-19: everything from e-commerce to virtual meetings to contactless transactions and even robot deliveries can help slow the spread of the virus by reducing the number of physical interactions we have with each other.

But huge swaths of the global population still can’t access technologies that improve their lives — a reality known as the “digital divide.” Nearly half the world still lacks internet access, despite the fact that 90 percent live within range of mobile-cellular networks.

Advancing “digital equity,” or the ability for all to benefit from online tools and innovative technologies, can help millions in developed and under-developed regions take full advantage of the digital economy as the world struggles to rebound from the pandemic. For Visa, opening up access to opportunities and platforms accelerates safe, convenient commerce anywhere on the planet. It’s the very foundation of our mission to help individuals, businesses and economies thrive.

Digital equity: a global concern with local implications

According to a recent survey by Morning Consult commissioned by Visa, the majority of respondents agree that digital equity is very important to support an inclusive economic recovery. Visa recently commissioned this survey to understand how people are accessing and using digital platforms in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, South Africa, India and Australia. Here’s a look at some key themes from the study, including an infographic highlighting additional insights (view full infographic).

  • Internet access is needed for workers in developing markets. In more developed markets the internet often plays a larger role in social communications and entertainment, whereas work is secondary. In contrast, respondents in India and Mexico are much more reliant on the internet for their work. South Africa, while still considered a developing country, aligns more closely with developed countries regarding the role the internet plays in their daily lives.

  • Pricing is top of mind. Respondents across countries suggest lowering prices as a course of action for large technology and digital payment companies. South Africans and Mexicans specifically request that these companies make internet connectivity more available. Americans are more likely to suggest companies make their services completely free during the pandemic. Approximately 40 percent of South African respondents report issues with data plan prices, exceeding that of all other surveyed countries.

  • Who’s experiencing connectivity issues? There's a big disparity between emerging markets and developed ones. Seventy percent of Indian, Mexican and South African respondents reported having issues with their technology. In the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada that number is approximately 40 percent. 



New capabilities can close the gap

Visa and our partners are working hard on convenient, accessible and secure payment technologies to help bridge the digital divide, giving merchants, clients and businesses the chance to compete in economies like never before. Tap to phone, for example, has the potential to convert billions of smart phones into point-of-sale devices. A seller can download an app to their NFC-enabled Android device and start processing Visa payments with little hassle. Visa is currently supporting launches of this technology in 15 markets.

Other new and innovative capabilities that can help in the effort to advance digital equity include:

  • Push-payment technology allows hourly workers to receive wages in real time when they need it most, speeding up the typical two-week pay cycle. According to PayActiv data, because of the COVID-19 crisis, 82% of hourly workers say that loss of income is their greatest concern. Visa and our Earned Wage Access technology providers accelerate payments to workers through Visa Direct, our real-time push payments platform.1 Workers can download an app from their EWA provider to access and transfer earned wages to their bank account or eligible debit card in real time, using Visa Direct.

  • Visa is working with partners to help ensure that  are made widely available and updated specifically to meet today’s challenges. For the transactions that still need to be made in person, we have doubled down on our contactless efforts around the world, including raising spending limits to enable a larger number of PIN-free purchases in 40 countries.

  • A pilot plan to allow the option to pay for purchases using installments at the point-of-sale has potential benefits for sellers to increase their average ticket sales and consumers to purchase big-ticket items.

  • Visa has launched free resources and access to partners for small businesses globally through our Small Business Hubs, including guidance on starting and growing businesses, budgeting and financial spreadsheets, marketing advice and much more. Putting our network to work, we’re providing consumers with a way to support local businesses with our Back to Business locator tool, which identifies businesses that have recently processed a Visa transaction and we believe may be open for business.

“Matter of life and death”

Visa’s vision for the future is grounded in our mission to connect the world to enable individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. We believe that inclusive and equitable economies uplift everyone – and we need to close the digital equity gap to allow everyone, everywhere to participate. We do this as a network of networks, providing the technology, security and standards that connect 3.3 billion people to more than 61 million places of use, across 200 territories and markets.

At a virtual meeting on June 11, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the digital divide a “matter of life and death” because it blocks access to health care information for those that need it and could reinforce “social and economic disadvantages” suffered by women, girls, the disabled and minorities. “Those without access will be left further behind,” he said. Visa is committed to use our capabilities and to collaborate with partners across the payments ecosystem to help close these gaps and create a more inclusive and equitable world.


1Actual fund availability varies by receiving financial institution, receiving account type, region, and whether transaction is domestic or cross-border.

Tag: Social Impact Tag: Women’s Empowerment Tag: Visa Foundation Tag: Financial Inclusion

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