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Bringing more people into financial systems like banks could be key to bridging racial wealth disparities, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told Axios at an event Wednesday.

Why it matters: Scott said a number of people in his home state of South Carolina are "unbanked" — living without a relationship with, or access to, any financial institution.

  • "That means that they're using cash to transact their business," Scott said, adding that such people are "not able to avail themselves to the entire portfolio that might be available at their financial institution."

The South Carolina lawmaker said he had "lived that reality of being outside of the financial systems for probably half of my life" until he first sought a loan to start a business.

  • "For millions of Americans around our country who need more help and need more resources, need more access to loans and opportunities. It is imperative upon us in the positions that we hold to make it easier for those who are credit worthy to get the credit they need.
"You think about home ownership and the disparities between the races. One of the ways that we bridge that gap is not by extending loans to people who cannot afford it, but helping those who can be a part of the system and helping those who have been repaying their rent on time with their electric bill, on time, on their cell phone and time."
"That information should be scored by the credit agencies ... And when that happens, you have more people who have the beauty of experiencing the American dream. Building equity in their largest asset, their homes and closing the wealth gap. That raises a lot of the ills of society in and of itself."
— Sen. Tim Scott to Axios

What he's saying: "So we want to find ways to encourage that credit invisible or those who are unbanked to become a part of the system so that they and their kids get the benefit from the excellent opportunities that are afforded to people who have that relationship," Scott said.

  • "And we saw that frankly might during the pandemic that having a relationship with their financial institution, especially in small businesses, was really important to getting your PPP loan approved and then forgiven and in record time."

Go deeper

Updated Nov 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on financial inclusion

On Monday, November 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and executive editor Aja Whitaker-Moore discussed how the public and private sectors are expanding access to capital and services for those who’ve been excluded from the financial system, featuring Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Women’s World Banking president and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian.

Sen. Tim Scott explained how he came to understand the importance of financial literacy, what the U.S. government can do to promote financial inclusion, and the primary issues that underbanked populations face.

  • On the role of financial literacy in setting up for future success: “Financial literacy has so much to do with your future success and your present opportunities, and having not learned those lessons early in life, I wanted to make sure that a part of my focus is on making sure that Americans today, no matter what their income, they have access to financial literacy.”
  • On helping credit worthy individuals have access to more financial opportunities: “We think about those folks who today are credit worthy, but they are credit invisible, so we want to make sure that more of your information finds itself into the credit scoring agencies’ hands, so that if you’re credit worthy, you have access to more products within the portfolio because you’ve earned it.”

Mary Ellen Iskenderian illustrated which populations are most impacted by divides in economic opportunity, how to reach women and help them gain better access to financial resources, and the rise of digital technology in banking.

  • On how the pandemic impacted economic inclusion for women: “I think one of the really seminal, important takeaways...was just how women in every geography, every age, every economic segment have really been disproportionately affected by both the health aspect of the pandemic...but also in the economic part of the pandemic. We saw unemployment rates across the globe 2 percentage points higher everywhere for women than for men.”
  • On disparities in access to digital banking: “So much of financial inclusion, financial outreach, to underserved populations today is being done through cell phone technology. But still, we’ve got a 15% gender gap in ownership of smartphones in particular.”

Axios VP of Finance and Accounting Abby Clawson hosted a View from the Top segment with TransUnion president and CEO Chris Cartwright, who conveyed ways to help more Americans become full participants in the financial ecosystem.

  • “There are a variety of non-loan financial activities that we believe should be included in the modern credit reporting system in order to expand access to that system for the tens of millions of Americans who currently don’t have it.”

Thank you TransUnion for sponsoring this event.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.