The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are making strides toward digital transformation, with sustained growth in the development of technological infrastructure and tools, although the region's progress to date does not reflect its true potential, according to a newly released study.
The Digital Evolution Index: Latin America & the Caribbean Edition (DEI LAC) - prepared by The Fletcher School of Tufts University in partnership with MasterCard - says moderate growth is evident but that digitalization has not been achieved at all levels.
The figures compiled in the DEI LAC show that the size of the region's e-commerce market will have grown from 126 million people in 2016 to 156 million people in 2019. E-sales, meanwhile, are expected to double from $40 billion to $80 billion over that same period.
Besides innovation, other key factors in the digital evolution process are: consumers (with a focus on customer retention capacity) suppliers (in order to boost infrastructure access and development) and institutions (needed for progress in terms of trust and efficiency).
The purpose of the study was to provide lawmakers and companies with an overview that contains valuable data and enables them to harness the region's tremendous economic potential through digital evolution, according to the dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School, Bhaskar Chakravorti.
He said at a press conference that economic irregularities and corruption are greater in countries where cash payments predominate than in those that are more digitally evolved, since digital payments - unlike physical currency - leave a trail.
Financial inclusion also will help reduce the inequality gap between countries, Chakravorti said.
Chile posted the highest score (58.7 points) in terms of overall digital evolution over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2017, followed by Puerto Rico (54.7), The Bahamas (53.3) and Uruguay (53).
With respect to digital momentum in recent years, Bolivia (4.1 percent) led the way and Ecuador (3.7 percent), Uruguay (3.4 percent) and Mexico (3.3 percent) ranked second through fourth.
The DEI LAC study used 99 general indicators to measure the digital level of the 24 countries; these included, for example, the number of people who own a smartphone or regional differences in 3G or higher coverage.
"We are living a time of great challenges and opportunities for the region in terms of digital transformation and innovation," the president of MasterCard's Latin America and Caribbean division, Carlo Enrico, said.
"In the industry, MasterCard plays a key role to promote collaboration, and works together with key players to create a consumer-friendly, transparent and secure transactions space in LAC, allowing the region to leapfrog into the digital future and thrive in e-commerce," he added.
Asian nations have a program aimed at achieving a fully digital marketplace by 2025, while nothing similar exists in Latin America, Chakravorti said.
In comparing Latin America and Asia, the four biggest Latin American economies (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia) have a higher urbanization rate, but the Asian countries have developed other alternative systems that promote e-commerce assimilation.
The DEI LAC study was presented on the opening day of the seventh edition of the LAC Innovation Forum, a two-day event that runs through Wednesday and is hosted by MasterCard at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.
Leaders and key players in the payments ecosystem are meeting at that event to discuss digital development, e-commerce security and applied innovation.