Volunteers deliver food to indigent families in rural villages in Sekhukhune in South Africa / iStock
2020-08-19

Experts group, member training launch annual Africa gathering

Practical solutions aimed at helping small businesses and women weather and recover from the COVID-19 crisis were top of the agenda in virtual meetings, co-hosted by Bank of Tanzania, with senior staff at African financial regulators on 17-18 August.

The game changing potential of digitalization in fostering greater financial inclusion among underserved and last mile groups was among the key threads explored at the meetings, which marked the first half of a four-day annual event that will culminate in the 8th African Financial Inclusion Policy Initiative (AfPI) Leaders’ Roundtable on 20 August.

Participants also explored pressing topics from agricultural finance to micro-credit solutions, private sector partnerships and support for COVID-19 policy responses. They were also given an in-depth look into key aspects of two policy frameworks being developed by AfPI’s Expert Group on Financial Inclusion Policy (EGFIP): “Strengthening Agent Network for Digital Financial Services in Africa” and “Enhancing micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) Financing Ecosystem in Africa”.

Taking a broader view was EGFIP Chair Hakima El Alami, director of payment systems and instruments oversight and financial inclusion department at Central Bank of Egypt, who urged her peers not to lose sight of how in the current climate financial inclusion policies were “even more necessary and relevant where MSMEs and vulnerable segments of the population are impacted”.

In response, Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest’s director of financial inclusion, Gisele Ndoye, underscored the importance of creating synergies with like-minded institutions, developing new toolkits to tackle emerging trends and challenges, and modifying and sensitizing existing regulations to meet the needs of targeted audiences.

AFI Deputy Executive Director Norbert Mumba, in opening the Alliance’s Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) platform training, delivered by global financial service provider Mastercard, reiterated the need for policy and regulatory interventions to be complemented by awareness campaigns. For women – both as a significant contributor to the small business sector and a group that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic –, this could help stave off a widening of existing gender gaps in financial access.

“There is a need to strengthen women’s digital financial literacy as micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) pivot and adopt technology solutions to sustain their businesses and remain competitive,” Mumba told the more than 60 participants from 22 countries across the Africa region.

He also encouraged regulators to be flexible, noting that digital transaction histories, phone bill data points and social media data points could provide alternative forms of credit history for women who do not normally have access to financial services. Helping women overcome barriers in financial access also makes economic sense, he added, explaining that a wider range of financial products and services could also help “drive women’s participation in the economy”.

In agreement, Bank of Ghana Assistant Director Ismail Adam encouraged his fellow regulators to put greater emphasis in collecting and harnessing sex-disaggregated data to develop women-targeted policies and solutions, adding that this remained a blind spot for many governments.

Bank of Zambia Assistant Director of Regulatory Policy, Licensing and Liquidations, also chair of AFI’s SME Working Group, Mankolo Beyani, meanwhile, highlighted the potential of credit guarantee schemes to provide safeguards for disadvantaged groups, such as women, by offering flexible terms and conditions on loans.

Supporting the value of stakeholder collaboration was Mastercard’s Jay Singer, senior vice president of micro credit, who outlined the global payment service provider’s need “to work with other entities, including financial institutions, suppliers in the supply chain and, critically, governments”.

Among several technical experts at Mastercard who delivered the PPD training on approaches to enhance financing to MSMEs was Christopher Harrall, vice president for public policy. While moderating the training, Harrall spoke about his company’s renewed commitment to financial inclusion, having recently pledged to bring 1 billion people into the digital economy by 2025, including 50 million small businesses and 25 million women entrepreneurs.

Sessions focused on concrete next steps on supporting the use of alternative delivery channels to enable obtaining working capital, with a focus on micro-credit solutions and with a gender perspective for effective financial inclusion in Africa.

His colleague, Director of Public Policy Charles Hare, brought the training to a close by reminding the attendees that “the power of technology, if leveraged, can really do a lot to drive financial inclusion across Africa. Regulators see this and are making strides to help SMEs grow”.

AFI’s PPD partners include leading global and regional private sector institutions that have a keen interest and proven capacity to advance financial inclusion in developing and emerging countries. Each AFI PPD Partner contributes unique knowledge, resources and expertise to support AFI programs and activities. In turn, they benefit from a variety of offerings that promote frank dialogue and knowledge sharing on financial inclusion with regulators and policymakers in the AFI network.

Launched in 2013, AfPI is the primary platform for AFI members in Africa to support and develop financial inclusion policies and regulatory frameworks, and to coordinate regional peer learning efforts. From AFI’s regional office in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, AfPI brings together high-level representatives from African financial policymaking and regulatory institutions to enhance the implementation of innovative financial inclusion policies across the continent.

This event is partially financed through AFI’s Multi-Donor Financial Inclusion Policy Implementation Facility, with participation of the French Development Agency (AFD), German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Ministry of Finance of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.