Role of Tech Companies in Combatting Digital Poverty

October 28 2021

Wael Saghir

With all the benefits that technology has presented us with during the pandemic lockdowns around the world, we have had a glimpse into what the future may hold in terms of digital finance. And although financial technology has allowed many with easier access to banking details and fast, reliable and (mostly secure) methods of payment, a minority has been left behind.

For some, access to financial services were restricted as they had no access to the required hardware. Some lacked access to smart devices, the internet or both, while others lacked the skill, capacity or understanding of how to use these solutions. This includes groups such as disabled people; the elderly; the poor; people without access to a majority language; the young; people in rural areas without reliable or secure internet access; people without residence status in a country (i.e. who have trouble getting bank accounts, credit etc.), and many others.

In the not-too distant future we will see digital transactions become the predominant form of transaction (if not) the sole form of financial transaction. But in that future, how will those deprived of the skills or hardware live and interact in society? How will they go on living their daily lives without access to these digital financial solutions? It is critical, now, for us to examine a variety of solutions that would help us to bridge the digital divide.

Studies by YouGov show that around 70% of Brits exchange their phones within four years while 30% of tablet owners exchange their devices within four years (YouGov). Companies receiving these devices would either refurbish these devices and sell them or they will sell their parts if they were not in a usable condition. While no one is debating the rights of companies to profit, perhaps these companies could be required to donate a portion of such usable refurbished devices to those without access to technology. This would reduce digital waste on the one hand through extending the lifetime of the digital device, especially since in the first quarter of 2021 alone more than 119,000 metric ton of digital waste was recorded (Statista), and will simultaneously help to reduce the digital divide gap. Additionally, digital financial services providers could be required to extend the support of their platforms to those with older versions of operating systems, rather than pushing users to opt for buying newer hardware.

If you are interested in joining us in thinking through some of these issues, please get in touch with our Think Tank programme. We are open to media interviews, research collaborations, and joint publications, as well as partnering with like-minded organisations.


YouGov, 45% of Smartphones Owners Would Rather Upgrade than Repair <> Accessed 24 October 2021

Statista , Quarterly household WEEE collected in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1st quarter 2013 to 1st quarter 2021 <> Accessed 24 October 2021