Banque de la République d’Haïti (BRH) is the new chair of AFI’s Financial Inclusion Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), a regional initiative launched in 2016 as a driving force for advancing financial inclusion in Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Jean Baden Dubois, governor of the central bank, spoke to AFI about lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can be used to further financial inclusion across the region.
AFI: Congratulations on becoming the chair of FILAC!
Dubois: Thank you for your trust! I look forward to working with all members to bring together more sustainable, smart policies in the LAC region.
I will fulfill the responsibilities as chair – such as providing awareness of and advocating FILAC and AFI to peers – while encouraging peer learning, since sharing ideas and experiences are key to advancing financial inclusion.
AFI: As chair of FILAC, what priority policy areas do you see as crucial for strengthening financial inclusion in the region over the next two years?
Dubois: It is estimated that about half of the population in Latin America (aged 15 and above) have no access to financial products. According to Global Findex, account ownership in the region climbed to 54 percent in 2017, compared with 51 percent in 2014 and 39 percent in 2011. While significant progress has been made in recent years, there is room for improvement.
A priority policy area that will enable improvements is digital financial inclusion. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has realized the urgency of turning to and relying on financial digital tools. A study conducted by Mastercard and Americas Market Intelligence, for example, found that about 40 million people entered the financial system through digital means between April and September 2020 in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia alone.
Digital channels will open the market to new players and encourage greater collaboration with financial technology firms, leading to more people in the region becoming financially included. At the end of the day, the integration method does not matter. What really matters is to include more people into the financial system – either through traditional or non-traditional ways.
AFI: How about challenges and solutions? What are the main ones facing financial inclusion in the LAC region?
Dubois: There are many barriers to ideal financial inclusion in the LAC region. As financial inclusion is very complex, creating a sustainable environment means that many areas must be considered in parallel.
First, improvements in access to formal identification will facilitate integration into the banking system and enable more people to own a bank account. Complimenting this, financial education and financial literacy will enable account owners to make better financial decisions. At the same time, strong regulations on consumer protection will make it more attractive for people to open and use financial services and products.
Many key elements of financial inclusion are intertwined. This is the reason why I always say that financial inclusion is a constant process, where we need both the public and privates involved to address the challenges.
AFI: What lessons can COVID-19 teach the financial sector about sustainability?
Dubois: From all crises, valuable lessons can be learned. COVID-19 revealed the need to work towards a more equal economy and sustainable financial system. This may seem difficult, but it is up to us to solve the equation and reconcile our social demands with the importance of maintaining biodiversity.
It is, therefore, important to have evaluation frameworks in place that consider more than just financial aspects – such as cost effectiveness – when investing in projects that aim to support Haiti’s economic resilience and recovery from COVID-19.
AFI: What will this mean for regulators?
While these project must be cost effective, they must not stifle other requirements, such as ethics and governance. Also, it is important to have financial regulations that can promote the financing of truly environmentally responsible and sustainable projects.
We are aware of the difficulties that exist in bringing these aspects together, but it is the only way to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), live peacefully and decrease the imbalance in our economies.
AFI: AFI’s work actively contributes towards SDG goal 5 on gender equality. As a leader, how do you see your role in supporting gender and women’s financial inclusion in your jurisdiction and across the LAC region?
Dubois: I strongly support activities that promote women’s financial inclusion.
In May, for example, Haiti’s Committee of Coordination of Financial Inclusion, in collaboration with BRH, launched a forum dedicated to rural women that led to the creation of a gender taskforce and the identification of gender focal points in each department within public ministries.
My role, as FILAC Chair, is to advocate policies that can close the financial inclusion gender gap of seven percent in the LAC region. We can do that by reinforcing women’s financial capabilities to end this disparity, as well as by making significant progress in women’s access and usage of financial services.