I would like to first reflect on the current social, political, and economic situation. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has fortunately eased, there is a global environment of ‘poly-crises’ which shall continue to affect our operating environment in the coming years. The world economy is expected to remain stressed, with inflationary pressures and slow growth in most regions. Heightened geo-political tensions, food and energy crises, climate change and migration of people within and across countries will present risks and challenges for policymakers who are already challenged to increasingly manage conflicting macro-objectives. At the same time, we are witnessing the weakening of existing global alliances, with new and emerging geopolitical changes. With all this it is clear that old patterns like the conventional North/South or East/West groupings simply don’t work anymore. However, there is also the risk that we will be seeing more protectionism, segregation, isolationism, and ultimately more inequality, all of which have far reaching implications in undermining an inclusive society. The World can’t afford losing the gains of inclusion that we have all achieved together in the past years.
As a matter of fact, as we work towards finding impactful policy solutions to these challenges to ensure that no one is left behind, we are faced with two choices. One which looks at going at it alone and sees the global community as competitors and potential threats. And another, that embraces partnership, collaboration and looks outward to engage and share as part of a global community which stands for inclusiveness.
While Nigeria has made tremendous progress in increasing access and usage of quality financial services, with the various policy measures and initiatives that include frameworks on financial literacy, agent banking and mobile money operations among others, challenges such as gaps remain in financial access for vulnerable groups which include women, youth and those living in rural areas.
The world is undergoing a lot of changes, technology is ever evolving, and new financial service providers are coming to the fore. Financial services will continue to be shaped by technology, probably even more than in the past, and faster. While there are obvious benefits, risks of technology, are emerging, and with digitization moving forward the need to work towards frameworks that prevent, manage and mitigate cyber threats is imminent. The most recent reminder of emerging risks is the collapse of FTX that has been sending shockwaves across the crypto industry. There is an absolute necessity to keep the risks of technology in check.
Please allow me in this context to reiterate my call for action to the regulators, market actors and other stakeholders in the eco-system, to leverage digital technologies in a responsible and safe manner, as we reach out to vulnerable segments of the society such as the poor, women and forcibly displaced persons. The need for better market conduct and enhanced financial capability is never out of fashion especially in the advent of the glory of financial technology.
Partnerships and collaboration provide great opportunity for us as policy makers and regulators to better understand and embrace these changes as we strive for a more equitable and sustainable society.
We have observed the convergence around the challenges of digital technologies. This convergence means that the world is moving more closely together. Finding solutions requires global interaction. Risks of technology force us to exchange and learn from each other. In all this, central banks are also adjusting their mandates. Central banks are actually fulfilling their mandates in a flexible way. Recent relevant discussion at GPF concluded that mandates don’t have to necessarily change formally, but a lot can be done within the given mandates. In all this, collaboration would be key in this regard.
Since 2008, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion has been a champion of collaboration, partnerships and cooperation. Our success, and indeed our very existence, is a result of our member’s strong belief in the benefits and power of peer-to peer relationships across the global community.
AFI’s partnership model is built on trust, strategic alignment, mutual benefit and respect, with the aim to break down the barriers to financial inclusion. At the same time, our partnership model also recognizes that the type of crises members are facing, and will likely face in the period ahead, require synergetic efforts and strong global partnerships beyond the AFI membership. To meet this demand, two highly relevant partnership platforms have been set up to support our members, namely the Developed-Developing countries Dialogue Platform (3D) and Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) Platform.
Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) Platform
The PPD platform provides collaboration space between the public and private sector decision-makers to advance financial inclusion. The PPD builds public-private trust, raises awareness among AFI members of innovative products and services, and identifies key regulatory and market barriers and opportunities to scale up financial inclusion. At the regional level in Africa, and globally, the PPD has been instrumental in facilitating meaningful dialogue between AFI members and private sector partners on key financial inclusion issues, and thus ensure well-informed policy design that encourages innovation.
For example, at an AFI Technical Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) meeting on “Digital Currencies-opportunities and challenges for inclusive finance”, held in June 2022 in Arusha, Tanzania, policy makers from Africa and AFI private sector partners agreed that adoption of digital currencies needs to be contextual. This meanslooking at the challenges faced in each country, collaborating between the public and private sectors to come up with appropriate design of digital currency technologies and identifying suitable use cases for financial inclusion.
On the other hand, the 3D Platform allows for systematic exchange between developing and developed country policy makers on financial inclusion policy innovation. AFI members, developed country policymakers and partners are able to work together in a complementary and synergetic way towards shared financial inclusion policy priorities. For instance, AFI in conjunction with the Czech National Bank (CNB), facilitated a global 3D on Inclusive FinTech which brought together policy makers from developing and developed countries and ended with an outline of priority convergence topics, including payment innovations, payment system oversight, fintech ecosystems, cybersecurity, data protection and privacy, financial capability, and wellbeing, as well as digital banking innovations. It was noted during the dialogue that the advantage of emerging economies is that they can leapfrog the current business models or technologies that are slowly becoming obsolete and thus adopt cutting-edge innovations. This was a major insight that the developed country policy makers took from and this is the kind of dialogue we would like to encourage in the future.
In addition to the 3D and PPD platforms, AFI engages in a broad range of knowledge and intellectual global partnerships where we work with IMF and other institutions of the World Bank Group, including CGAP, academia, etc. Very recently we are also collaborating with the University of Luxembourg on developing an Inclusive Green Finance roadmap.
As I conclude, setting up global partnerships is a demanding operation that will require stakeholders who can really understand and are able to work with others from diverse backgrounds, with sometimes diverging ideas. Successful partnerships to advance financial inclusion should be anchored on a stable framework that allows for flexibility to adjust to the ever-changing environment. In addition, there should a clear communication strategy, among the partners – so that there is maximum transparency both within and outside of the partnership. The main task of partnerships should be to find ways in which institutions – with their different tasks, responsibilities, and approaches – can co-operate in alignment to achieve the strategic objective in this case 95 percent financial inclusion in Nigeria by 2024.
As partnerships set themselves common targets, they become answerable about reaching these targets. There will be a need to agree on a framework to monitor and evaluate the progress being made in achieving the set targets through the global partnerships. It is important to do this from the very beginning, when setting up these partnerships, so that questions regarding the outcome of the partnership and the resources involved can be answered and the value added of the partnership’s work be made visible.
A free flow of knowledge and productive ideas will bring us to a better future. Those who chose to hide behind walls and barriers may soon discover that they have been left far behind. Our moto in short would be “embrace, but not compete”.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Republic of Nigeria, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and all relevant stakeholders for their unwavering efforts to ensure that no one is left behind, through the launch of revised National Financial Inclusion Strategy 3.0, National Strategy leveraging agent networks for Women’s Financial Inclusion, National Fintech Strategy, Nigeria Financial Services Maps (NFSMaps).
By Dr. Alfred Hannig
AFI Executive Director.