FAIR DIGITAL FINANCE

As we celebrate the National Consumer Day today it is time to reiterate the commitment to sponsor the basic rights and privileges of consumers and to demand respect and protection of these rights. While the theme for 2021 was “Consumer- Know Your Rights,” the Consumer Rights Day theme 2022 has been rightly chosen as “Fair Digital Finance.” The ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ campaign is already running successfully to make the consumers across the nation aware about their rights. Efforts are being made to make the consumers realize that in principle consumer is   not dependent on goods or service providers but the position is undoubtedly the other way round. Consumer is the purpose of the producer and not an outsider to his business. It is a fact that consumer is a part of it and the producer or the seller is not doing him a favour by serving him. In fact it is the consumers who do favour to the producers and sellers by providing them the opportunity to thrive. This is the basic philosophy at the heart of all customer or consumer interactions. This year the main focus would be on creating awareness about the dire necessity to ensure a ‘fair digital balance’. It is pertinent to mention here that digital finance has the potential to transform the livelihoods of consumers if it is supported by effective consumer protection frameworks that exist alongside cash-based payment options. Building well designed digital financial services and infrastructure can offer safe and innovative ways to engage with financial services and improve financial health. It would not be out of context to mention here that by the year 2024, digital banking consumers are expected to exceed 3.6 billion. Digital technologies are reshaping payments,  lending, insurance, and wealth management becoming key enabler for consumers of financial services. However, in recent years and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are increasingly exposed to scams, frauds, phishing and data malpractices. Consumers who experience economic hardship are particularly vulnerable to these harms. Though globally, financial regulatory frameworks have been designed to deal with the presence of digital technologies, yet many still lack effective consumer protection mechanisms and appropriate supervision and enforcement capacity. Moreover, some providers of digital finance are ignoring the needs of consumers thus actively leaving them exposed to vulnerabilities. The use of technology and the possibility of a cashless society indeed create new risks and exacerbate existing ones already present within financial services. Digital inclusion is increasingly a precondition for financial inclusion. Global gaps in connectivity impede broad-based access to digital tools. Personal computers and mobile phones have replaced the bank branch but assume networks and devices are both available and affordable. Low digital and financial literacy is common and unequally spread across generations. These factors are creating and exacerbating digital divides. In order to address the most pressing issues faced by consumers in digital finance, many NGOs have also developed ‘Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance’ on their own and make the people aware about the same. Not only this, the Vision sets out questions for decision makers from a consumer rights perspective to build a digital financial marketplace that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private besides being sustainable for everyone. However, it is high time that in order to deal effectively with these risks as per this year’s theme the lawmakers, enforcement bodies, providers and civil society actors make joint endeavour to address all the related issues.