"This paper reviews the evidence on the importance of finance for economic well-being, provides data on the degree of use of basic financial services by households and firms across a sample of countries, assesses the desirability of more universal access, and overviews the macroeconomic, legal, and regulatory obstacles to access using general evidence and case studies. Although access to finance can be very beneficial, the data show that universal use is far from prevalent in many countries, especially developing countries. At the same time, universal access has generally not been a public policy objective and is surely not easily achievable in most countries. Countries can, however, undertake many actions to facilitate access to financial services, including through strengthening their institutional infrastructures, liberalizing and opening up their markets and facilitating greater competition, and encouraging innovative use of know-how and technology. Government attempts and interventions to directly broaden the provision of access to finance, however, are fraught with risks and costs, among others, the risk of missing the targeted groups. The author concludes with possible global actions aimed at improving data on access and use, and areas for further analysis to help identify the constraints to broadening access. "--World Bank web site. ÀÈ.