Esteemed panelists were among those present at the two-day workshop. Photo courtesy of Banque Centrale de Mauritanie (BCM).

Mauritania workshop advances development of first NFIS

Banque Centrale de Mauritanie (BCM), in collaboration with AFI, held a workshop with key financial inclusion stakeholders in support of a national financial inclusion strategy (NFIS) that will help address an imbalance in financial services access, particularly among marginalized groups.

Close to 60 participants from the public, private and development sectors gathered on July 8-9, 2019 in Mauritania’s capital of Nouakchott to discuss the local challenges and drivers of financial inclusion as part of wider efforts to develop and implement the country’s first NFIS.

“Banque Centrale de Mauritanie is resolutely engaged in a process aimed at correcting economic inequalities and ensuring financial services accessible to all Mauritanians,” the central bank’s governor, Abdel Aziz Ould Dahi, said during his opening speech.

The two-day workshop is part of AFI’s in-country implementation efforts and reflects growing demand among member institutions for support in realizing high-impact financial inclusion policies and regulations. On the ground, this unique approach delivers technical and financial resource assistance to members that will, ultimately, yield financial inclusion strategies, policies, regulations and supervisory tools, or help establish mechanisms and structures that enhance financial inclusion at the country level.

According to FinDex, only 21 percent of adults in Mauritania had a bank account in 2017 –with a gender gap of 11 percentage points –, less than in neighboring Algeria (43 percent), Mali (35 percent) and Senegal (42 percent).

Seeking to address this disparity, among the NFIS priorities highlighted were how it could be used to meet the financial needs of vulnerable groups, such as women – particularly those living in remote areas –, youth, displaced and disabled persons.

“Marginalized populations must have access to services such as account, credit, insurance and savings corresponding to their needs,” Dahi said.

Other focal policy areas included the creation of a FinTech enabling regulatory environment, ensuring proper supervision of financial service providers and devising a financial education and consumer protection framework. Also raised was the need to revise and update banking laws and set-up an internal coordination mechanism within BCM for financial inclusion activities split between different departments.

Participants used the sessions to look at how technological innovations could boost accountability as well as the importance of flexibility to ensure that tailored services are adopted by the unbanked or underserved. Other topics discussed included the ongoing strategy for NFIS implementation, including the role of regulation, consumer protection and consumer empowerment.

At the opening of the workshop, the deputy head of AFI’s regional office in Africa, Efoe Koudadjey, drew participants’ attention to the importance of NFIS and key factors behind its successful development and implementation.

“A national financial inclusion strategy is a living document whose successful implementation necessitates real ownership at the highest level of the country,” he said. 

“Evidence has shown that factors such as a dedicated technical team and a coordination structure with a clear division of labor and a leadership that commands respect are critical for making impactful progress on the ground.”

Representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Banking Industry Association, Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, Microfinance Industry Association and other private sector actors attended the workshop.

Members of AFI’s African Financial Inclusion Policy Initiative (AfPI) also contributed by sharing their experiences and lessons learned during the formulation and implementation of NFIS. Banque de la République du Burundi’s Diane Bizimana and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Audrey Hove emphasized the importance of developing data and monitoring and evaluation frameworks for setting clear and achievable goals.

Meanwhile, officials from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) helped lead respective sessions on integrating forcibly displaced persons and outlining the major points of a roadmap for the NFIS.

In terms of budgeting, participants noted the importance of creating realistic financial plans for the formulation of the strategy and key activities during its implementation.

Mauritania previously launched a Financial Sector Development Strategy and Action Plan (2013-2017), which included broad targets on enabling “easy access to financial services” for all stakeholders, including small and medium enterprises, farmers, women and disadvantaged people. However, the NFIS will be the central bank’s first strategy dedicated to advancing financial inclusion.