World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) was celebrated on Tuesday, March 15. The day is commemorated every year, as a means of raising global awareness about consumer rights and needs. It is an opportunity to demand that the rights of all consumers be respected and protected, and to protest against market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights.
Each March 15, the consumer movement unites to highlight a pressing issue facing consumers globally. This year, the membership of Consumers International – 200 consumer groups in 100 countries – selected “Fair Digital Finance” as the global theme.
The global consumer body noted that “by 2024, digital banking?consumers?are expected to exceed?3.6 billion. In the developing world, the proportion of account owners sending and receiving payments digitally has grown from?57 per cent in 2014 to 70 per cent in 2017. Digital finance brings new opportunities – but also new risks that can lead to unfair outcomes for consumers. Digital finance can increase the likelihood that the most vulnerable are left behind”.
Whilst consumers undoubtedly benefit from these technologies, there are questions about how to improve the quality of services, which online services and products consumers can trust and what happens to the data they share online.
According to Consumers International, digital technologies are reshaping payments,?lending, insurance, and wealth management,?becoming a 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,” it stated.
To address the most pressing issues faced by consumers in digital finance, Consumers International and its global membership have developed a Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance. 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, and sustainable for everyone. In “Building fair digital finance”, its Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance, the international body said: “Globally, financial regulatory frameworks have been designed to deal with the presence of digital technologies, however many still lack effective consumer protection mechanisms and appropriate supervision and enforcement capacity. Equally, some providers of digital finance are ignoring the needs of consumers and actively leaving them exposed to vulnerabilities. The use of technology and the possibility of a cashless society creates new risks and exacerbates existing ones already present within financial services.”
When consumers’ personal information is lost, or stolen, the effects can be serious. Data breaches are highest for consumers in Latin America. Globally, data breaches are surpassing the increase in data created. Consumers, therefore, need to be aware of their rights and what actions can be taken.
“Building financial inclusion and resilience is vital for thriving communities and economies. We want digital finance products and services that help us alleviate poverty, avoid debt, create jobs, grow health and wealth and help us plan for the future in a sustainable way. Digital finance services can help in many ways. But it will take effort.”
Local consumer protection bodies in Guyana, including the Guyana National Bureau of Standards and the Competition and Consumers Affairs Commission, should be lauded for their continued efforts to sensitise the public on their rights and for dissemination of pertinent information. These entities have also recognised that in this digital age consumers need to be protected more than ever, and have charged service providers to find secure and reliable ways of utilising data and to address the challenges by developing strategies that will lead to a trustworthy digital world for all consumers.
Consumers International stressed that to maximise the benefits and prevent consumers being harmed, consumer associations, Governments, industry, and civil society organisations must work together to create a fair, safe, and sustainable marketplace for all.