AFI Executive Director Dr. Alfred Hannig talks to CNBC Africa on the sidelines of 2019 AFI GPF in Kigali, Rwanda.

Gender data is a key, AFI’s Dr. Hannig tells CNBC Africa

Central banks across Africa are helping reverse the relatively low rates of financial inclusion among women by collecting sex-disaggregated data, AFI Executive Director Dr. Alfred Hannig told CNBC Africa in a televised interview earlier this month.

Speaking to Arnold Kwizera on the network’s Power Lunch segment, Dr. Hannig explained that such data allows policymakers to home in on problem areas and the reasons behind them to create “well-informed and appropriate” solutions.

He added that significant progress had already been made across the network with many members either actively gathering gender-based data or developing national methodologies to do so. Among them are Bank of Ghana, Bank of Zambia, Banque de la République du Burundi, Central Bank of Egypt and National Bank of Rwanda (BNR).

“The collection of sex-disaggregated data is moving forward because we are increasingly getting the methodology right and this has a lot to do with the fact that our members themselves in the AFI network have embarked on projects to collect such data, with the support of the Alliance,” he said.

This data, Dr. Hannig pointed out, could have a wealth of implications for women and other disadvantaged groups, starting at the most basic level of having sufficient formal identification to meet the requirements of opening a bank account.

“In some countries, it is the case that even poor people don’t have a birth certificate at hand or a marriage certificate, not even an identity card, so how do we bring them into the system and this problem is widespread among women,” he said.

But gaining access to a bank account also presents new challenges, Dr. Hannig explained, with a lack of financial education and legal restrictions preventing some women from maximizing their potential use of formal financial services.

“Sometimes women, who may be not literate, are not in the position to use their [mobile] device in the right way to make a financial transaction,” he said, adding that members should explore ways to boost financial literacy. Mobile phones are often seen as a key catalyst of financial inclusion, helping reach millions of underserved and underbanked with access to a device.

By disrupting systems, Dr. Hannig noted that FinTech is help accelerating financial inclusion goals, particularly in the areas of gender, forcibly displaced persons, climate emergency mitigation and cross-border remittances.

Aiding in this process are regulators, with many in Sub-Saharan Africa shaking off their traditionally conservative image by embracing new technologies and developmental leaps.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, regulators are open to innovation,” he said. “We have seen that in places like Kenya and Tanzania, regulators - often together with the private sector - have learnt from product innovations and how they can have an impact on regulatory responses.”

Among the groundbreaking technologies being piloted in the region are regulatory sandboxes.

“Regulatory sandboxes can help to provide regulations that are not stifling development but are even encouraging the private sector to take this regulatory offering and also provide the services,” Dr. Hannig said.

But while encouraging members to harness the fast-paced digital revolution, Dr. Hannig also stressed that in order to make a long-term positive impact, financial inclusion policies must be carefully thought through.

“We should be pragmatic and practical … and take into account the challenges without rushing to solutions, which later could lead to crisis,” he said, noting the many complex issues facing the network’s diverse membership, including legal and cultural hurdles.

Referring to the “2020 objectives”, which had been set by some international organizations, private sector players and global stakeholders to achieve universal financial access by next year, Dr. Hannig said that “it was good to have optimistic promises to get momentum, but I think we also should not lose sight of the fact that financial inclusion, to do it properly, can also take a little bit of time”.

Helping guide AFI members are frameworks that encourage peer learning as well as a series of home-grown accords, most recently the Kigali Statement, that promote the making of realistic commitments under the Maya Declaration. Among them the pledge by some to halve the financial inclusion gender gap by 2021, which Dr. Hannig said could have a “dramatic positive impact on economic development and even poverty alleviation”.

“Members need time to learn from each other and get the regulation right to allow for safe and sound financial inclusion,” he said, emphasizing that “we should be pragmatic and practical … by also taking into account the challenges without rushing to solutions”.

The interview was held on the sidelines of the 2019 AFI Global Policy Forum (GPF), AFI’s annual flagship event that was this year co-hosted by BNR.

AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.