With many countries in lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the global economy slumping, digital payments are proving to be a critical lifeline for hundreds of millions of people. Over 133 countries have introduced or adapted social protection and jobs programs that rely on government-to-person (G2P) cash transfers. Remittances also continue to be essential. However, digital payments cannot reach people in need without functioning cash-in and cash-out (CICO) networks of bank branches, ATMs and agents. The most far-reaching of these among low-income customers — agent networks — are struggling and often are overlooked by policy makers. Based on CGAP and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners’ work to improve the global reach and quality of CICO networks over the past two years, here are a few questions that policy makers must answer to ensure agents reach as many people as possible with assistance during and after the crisis. Are CICO networks essential services during lockdowns? How can we ensure CICO networks remain viable despite loss of revenue during the crisis? Can we expand CICO networks to places where they are most needed?

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