The world is moving to digital payments because they are swifter, safer, and more transparent than cash. As we rush to reap the benefits of digital payments, responsibility of design, safeguards and implementation must not be overlooked. By digitizing payments responsibly, we can swiftly reach financial equality and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.


A lot has changed since the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance charted a fairer and quicker route to financial equality - in 2016. Technology advancements are remaking economies, societies and transforming the digital payments landscape. New financial services have proliferated.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world was altered, and digital transactions from governments to citizens nearly tripled.

To respond to the urgent need for digital payments and prepare for the next pandemic or natural disaster, the United Nations Principles Responsible Digital Payments focus on the following:

  • Prioritization of women as a key cornerstone for sustained development
  • New technologies are developed and delivered responsibly
  • A stronger user lens scrutinises all aspects of digital payments, and
  • Recommendations to deliver positive lasting change

These Principles define who needs to be responsible, what it means to be responsible and how to be responsible. They are not intended to provide a technical analysis of what each Principle, such as transparency, means in practice.

The UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments 1 were developed by the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, guided by its member governments, companies and international organizations. The Secretariat Team would like to thank their members for their bold leadership in responsible payment digitization practices and their insightful contributions to these Principles. This flagship resource responds to the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

Download the Principles


How can digital payments be fair for everyone, especially people on a low income or with less digital experience? The unbanked face higher barriers to adoption and might be hesitant about substituting digital payments for their cash. Providers must seek user feedback to ensure their voices are heard. Using and regulating new technologies should consider power imbalances, identify biases, and assess fairness. The goal is for digital payments to be “better than cash” for everyone.

How can users, especially low-income people, trust their money is safe and always available? They need transparency and control to view, access, and use their funds on demand. Real-time payments minimize loss and service interruptions. Policies to license providers and monitor compliance should follow international standards. If losses occur, clients should be compensated seamlessly through efficient customer support.

How can barriers that hinder women's adoption and usage of digital payments be eliminated? Regulations and products need to be re-imagined to ensure equality of access and use. They should reflect women's diverse realities. Their voices should be included in the decision-making and design stages. Data must be collected and analyzed by sex to build gender intentionality into the entire payment experience.

How can users be in control of how their information is collected? Data is often used to improve users' experience, but it might be shared with third parties without consent. Providers must prioritize privacy. They should communicate when, why, and how information is collected using local language, images, voice, or video. Users should have the option to deny sharing of their data.

How can digital payment products be easy to use for everyone? Sometimes developers design products for proficient users, neglecting the diversity of needs. Digital payment providers can rely on consumer data while also working with civil society representatives of underserved groups to understand individuals' behaviors, preferences, and capabilities. The goal is to design end-to-end digital payment experiences that benefit the user.

How can users understand the characteristics and costs of digital payment services? Financial products often come with complex contracts and terms of use. Simple wording should be used to describe features, privacy policies, fees, transaction limits, exchange rates, and actions if unauthorized transactions occur. Messages must be brief, in local languages, and visually appealing or voice-activated to ensure comprehension, especially for low-literacy users.

How can users make and receive payments to and from anyone? Closed systems prevent users from moving money freely and cheaply across providers. Open systems promote collaborative solutions that optimize speed, security, convenience, and affordability regardless of provider, channel, or device. Governments, companies, and development organizations can invest in shared and open infrastructure to reduce costs and increase access.

How can users get their money back quickly if something fails? As more people use digital financial services, complaints and disputes increase. Providers should establish customer support systems, such as 24-hour hotlines, that deliver timely and effective resolutions. When facing a problem, users need to understand what has to be done to fix it.

How can users understand who is responsible when issues arise? Many actors exist in a digital payments' ecosystem - from regulators to electricity utilities to platforms or fintech start-ups. Clients need to know that any of these actors will fulfill their role in a trusted, responsible manner if there are data breaches, lost payments, price hikes, or unethical practices.

Digital payments are safer, more affordable and more efficient than cash. Digital financial equity boosts women’s’ participation in the economy and accelerates attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The challenge for digital payments is to be better than cash in all aspects. If they fall short, a billion new users become a billion reversions to cash.


Treat users fairly


Colombia’s G2P cash transfer programme in response to COVID-19

Colombia’s government launched Ingreso Solidario to provide relief to households both impacted by COVID-19 and excluded from existing Government-to-People (G2P) payment schemes. By tailoring product and outreach to beneficiary needs, Colombia excelled at treating clients fairly. For example, financial service providers were urged to make apps available for both feature phones and smartphones to ensure access for low-income segments.

The initiative successfully transfers US$42 monthly to 3 million previously excluded households—60 percent of which were headed by women. Nearly two thirds of the recipients made digital transactions with the funds, and 42 percent deposited additional cash into their digital wallets.

Ensure funds are protected and accessible


A mobile payments gateway enabling instant, secure settlements

Cobro Digital (CoDi) mounts secure payment request functionality onto Mexico’s existing Faster Payments System (SPEI) via a user-friendly mobile front-end. This innovative solution has resulted in a mobile payment gateway that provides instant, secure settlements. It also gives users the option to add secure access using biometric and face scan technology.

The platform uses quick response (QR) and near-field communication (NFC) technologies to connect trusted users to each other and facilitates secure, instant and free transfers

Prioritize women


The Amader Kotha is a helpline for garment workers around digital wage payments

Supported by Gap Inc., Amader Kotha is a helpline for garment workers’ digital wage payments in Bangladesh.

Amader Kotha was established in 2014 as a national helpline to help garment workers (85 percent of whom are women) report and resolve wage, safety and other concerns. To date, it has served 1.5 million workers.

In 2020, the government mandated digital payments in response to the COVID-19 lockdown and chose to partner with this helpline to address issues of recourse and to expand the helpline’s functionality and scope. It prioritized women by collecting data on multiple gender-disaggregated metrics, including the percentage of women comfortable with digital payments and their preferred mode of recourse, as well as largely staffing the helpline with women officers to increase comfort among women callers.

Safeguard client data


A multi-stakeholder body guiding Ghana’s data protection journey

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) is responsible for regulating how organizations gather and process user data while articulating the business case for data stewardship. Any entity that handles personal data must register with the Commission in advance, clearly demonstrating legitimate grounds for use.

Today, the Commission has registered and monitors roughly 700 entities across Ghana, including businesses and government agencies.

The Commission plays a leading role in shaping policy in Africa and supports countries in the early stages of data stewardship, including Ethiopia, Gambia and Namibia.

Design for individuals


Long-term retirement savings scheme by the Government of Rwanda

In 2017, Rwanda established its long-term savings scheme, EjoHeza, to extend the protection of post-retirement pension benefits to all Rwandans, regardless of the nature of their livelihoods. The customer-centric programme enables non-salaried workers to contribute digitally to a national ID-linked pension account. It leveraged behavioural research to understand users’ needs and attitudes towards savings to inform product design and ensure simple onboarding processes for account opening. In a year and a half, more than half a million Rwandans (10 percent of all informal workers) opened digital accounts.

Be transparent, particularly on pricing


Integrated Management Information System for Universal Health Coverage

The Integrated Management Information System digitized and simplified enrolment and payment for the existing health insurance scheme to streamline payments between the agency, other health providers and employees. The system promotes transparency, as it enables beneficiaries to view and manage their insurance plans via a mobile app providing personalized information and account history. It also informs beneficiaries about data collection and allows users to control, modify and communicate with administrators about their data.

Within 10 months of digitization, the scheme onboarded 54,000 users and reduced enrolment costs per user from US$4.70 to US$2.40. Today, 2.8 million people are enrolled.

Provide user choice through interoperability


The gateway at the centre of India’s open and inclusive digital payments ecosystem

Envisioned by India’s government, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is the gateway to India’s open and inclusive digital payments ecosystem. It combines an information exchange protocol with a white label front-end. The interface enables seamless transfer of funds across payment service providers, with the aim of providing a fully interoperable experience in the future.

The design and supporting policies were conceived with the wider payments ecosystem, including consultations with leading banks and fintech.

Make recourse clear, quick and responsive


Hotline for humanitarian cash transfers and other programmes

Awaaz, a toll-free, countrywide hotline for refugees, internally displaced people and returnees, has applied good recourse practices to improve humanitarian transfers.

Its success is a result of its full-circle communication and practice of sharing user needs with humanitarian partners to improve programming.

Awaaz is open every day, with around 50 percent women operators to improve comfort for women given social norms, and more than 40 percent of users reported that communication channels with service providers were working well.

Champion value chain accountability

Collaborations with mobile network operators

In 2015, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) committed to providing 25 percent of material assistance in cash by 2020 and to using more digital payments. Four years later, it has successfully increased payment volumes by almost 15 percent.

This was achieved by forging strategic partnerships with mobile network operators to provide cash assistance. IRC has shared responsibility with partners through technical requirements covered in contracts. It has also included requirements such as the blocking of lost/stolen SIM cards and ensuring providers have data protection policies in place, and has played a key role in solving common issues.


Leaders from the United Nations add their voices in support of the UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments:
The UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments offer a powerful tool to drive digital payments emphasizing trust, transparency, and equity. This update is timely given fast moving technological developments which require greater attention on data protection and designing for user needs and capabilities. Applying these principles will help ensure digital payments can be used in a safe and user-friendly manner that supports improved development outcomes, particularly for vulnerable women who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands
UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development
Digital finance is on the march, and the COVID-19 pandemic has now accelerated the move from ‘physical’ to ‘virtual’ banking. As the world moves from cash to digital payments, all stakeholders must support responsible practices to help build a digital future that treats everyone fairly – especially women – while driving down poverty and spurring inclusive economic growth.”
Achim Steiner
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Digital payments, when provided responsibly, have the potential to promote decent work by enabling millions of female and male workers around the world to have better control over their wages and benefits.”
Guy Ryder
International Labour Organization (ILO)
Fulfilling the objective of bridging the last mile, responsible digital payments enhance the inclusion of vulnerable farmers, fishers and pastoralists living in remote areas.”
Qu Dongyu
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
I am pleased to voice my support for this publication in the firm belief that digital financial services can change millions of people’s lives for the better, but only if they meaningfully address our needs and prove deserving of our trust.”
Houlin Zhao
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
Humanitarian cash assistance is a lifeline for millions of refugees and other people who have been forced to flee their homes. It provides them not only with the help they need, but also the hope, and is done so in a dignified way. As the UN protection lead, we are fully committed to UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments which also upholds equal opportunities for women and men irrespective of religion and ethnicity, and ensures the safeguarding of data.”
Filippo Grandi
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Shifting from cash to digital payments is critical to building the foundation for future investments in the world’s poorest countries. There is only one way to go about this transition: ensuring payments are made responsibly and responsively to people’s needs.”
Preeti Sinha
Executive Secretary
United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF)
Safeguarding the data of people in need of food assistance is fundamental to their protection, as data breaches can have dire consequences. The UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments reiterate the importance of ensuring sound data protection and privacy safeguards and calls upon all humanitarian actors to deliver on these protective measures. This is part and parcel of our duty of care, and promotes greater trust between us and the people we serve.”
Valerie Guarnieri
Assistant Executive Director
World Food Programme (WFP)

1 The name does not mean all UN member states endorsed or committed to follow this set of principles, which are for guidance purposes only. This resource was developed by the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, responding to the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, and UN leaders added their voices in support of these responsible practices for payment digitization.