7 September 2018
Co-hosted by the Bank of Russia, the 2018 AFI Global Policy Forum (GPF) kicked off in Sochi today, a landmark occasion for the AFI network as it celebrates its tenth anniversary as an organization and its tenth annual GPF. The first GPF to be held in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Forum opened with a bread and salt ceremony, a traditional gesture of Russian hospitality that welcomed the opening ceremony speakers and crowd of nearly 600 AFI members and partners to the sunny shore of the Black Sea.
This year’s jubilee forum is organized around the theme “Innovation, Inclusion, Impact”, and participants heard from distinguished speakers who reflected on the impact of a decade of financial inclusion policies, the challenges still to be tackled, and the promise of innovative new technologies to scale up financial access and reach those in the “last mile”.
First Deputy Governor, Ms. Olga Skorobogatova from Bank of Russia welcomed participants to Russia and spoke of the role of accessible and affordable financial products and services in what is an essentially human project: to make it possible for people everywhere to feel protected, secure and able to meet their needs.
Mr. Igor Galas, Deputy Governor of the Krasnodar Region Administration, also extended a warm welcome to everyone who had traveled to Sochi. Participants were addressed by Mr. Yevgeny Bushmin, Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, followed by a keynote address from Mr. Maksim Akimov, Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation.
In his remarks, Mr. Akimov noted that lower cost financial services are now tailored to meet specific demands of the underserved. “Authorities can now lead the digital transformation of societies, along with the private sector,” he said, adding that in Russia, “digital transformation has been launched as part of the President’s program aimed at reaching all segments of this vast country.” However, new regulations are needed to meet the demands the digital transformation and Mr. Akimov emphasized the risks that new financial technologies bring.
Chair of the AFI Board and Governor of Bangladesh Bank, Mr. Fazle Kabir, and Dr. Alfred Hannig, Executive Director of AFI, both reflected on AFI’s 10-year journey and recognized the support from partners that has allowed it to evolve into a thriving global policy leadership alliance. AFI policies, they stressed, have had a tangible and significant impact on the lives of millions, as we have seen the number of unbanked adults drop from 2.5 billion ten years ago to 1.7 billion today.
“We have galvanized a rich base of practical knowledge on financial inclusion,” Governor Kabir said, and encouraged AFI members to build on the lessons of the last decade to reinvigorate this journey.
Dr. Hannig noted the irony of AFI originating amid a global financial crisis that some believed was the fault of too much inclusion. It is now clear, he said, that the developed world did not have all the answers and that “the incredible innovations coming out of the developing world have shown that there are rich resources of financial knowledge and lessons waiting to be shared.” However, he stressed that AFI’s vision to achieve and maintain sustainable financial inclusion will depend on improving the usage and quality of financial products and services, narrowing the gender gap, and enabling the poor to cope with financial losses from the impacts of climate change. If these issues are not resolved, Dr. Hannig warned, we could see a drop off in financial access and a return to poverty for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
“AFI strives for sustainable and high-quality financial inclusion. We are realistic that it takes time and considerable investment to achieve this goal,” Dr. Alfred Hannig further emphasized in his opening remarks. Read his opening speech.
The 2018 AFI GPF opening ceremony closed with the traditional ringing of the gong, and participants spent the remainder of the day in plenary and breakout sessions focused on the impact of financial inclusion policies in AFI’s first decade, innovative financial technologies (FinTech), inclusive insurance, financial education and Russia’s financial inclusion journey. Follow the livestreaming of plenary sessions via AFI’s Facebook and YouTube channels.