Fruits seller during COVID-19 lockdowns in Pattaya District Chonburi, Thailand / iStock

9 February 2021

AFI leaders & private sector share COVID recovery opportunities

Sustainability, gender inclusion and efficient use of digital technologies are key lessons and opportunities for a post-COVID-19 recovery and advancing inclusive finance and growth in 2021 and beyond, leaders from across AFI’s global network shared at this year’s inaugural public-private dialogue (PPD) roundtable, held virtually on 4 February.

Over 30 AFI leaders, including governors, superintendents and the heads of other financial regulatory institutions from 24 countries across different regions of AFI gathered for the closed webinar, alongside  senior officials from many of the network’s private sector partners.

Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari, a member of AFI’s board of directors, opened the two-hour-long webinar during which he highlighted that AFI member institutions have been on the forefront of mitigating the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis through innovative policies and regulations.

“In our integrated world, effects of the pandemic cannot be addressed in isolation and all communities, including the private sector, must contribute to ensure truly inclusive and sustainable economic recovery”, Governor Adhikari explained

“We must remain vigilant and find practical and effective ways to work together”, Governor Adhikari said underscoring that across the AF network, policy and regulatory innovation has helped curtail risks faced by the poor and the most vulnerable populations including women, youth, least skilled workers, forcibly displaced persons (FDPs) and those in the of the micro, small and the medium size sector.

Equally praising of members’ quick responses was AFI Executive Director Dr. Alfred Hannig, who lauded the innovative measures that are having a profound impact on the lives of the unbanked populations in emerging and developing market economies.

Among them were several AFI founding members, including Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which had taken steps to ease liquidity flows for small businesses and encourage the use of digital transactions. Bank of Thailand and Peru’s Superintendencia de Banca, Seguros y AFP were also praised for investing in interoperable digital payments platforms, particularly that tapped into the informal sector.

Noting that the crisis had exacerbated gender inequalities, Dr. Hannig commended Bank of Ghana for its use of biometric cards and mobile money interoperability platforms to encourage cash transfers to women and other vulnerable groups.

Recognizing that women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and in different ways, Dr. Hannig emphasized that effective recovery efforts must go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. He forecast that while the brunt of demand and supply disruptions will continue to hit hardest financial excluded groups, efforts to accelerate economic recovery require holistic, coordinated and practical actions by policymakers and private sector partners rather than “simplistic conclusion”.

This year marks an important milestone in women’s financial inclusion as AFI members work towards to meeting their Denarau Action Plan commitments and halve the financial inclusion gender gap in their jurisdictions.

Over 28.1 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded in AFI member jurisdictions as of 4 February, according to worldometers.info, with related adverse repercussions predicted to last longer in developing and emerging economies.

As nations inch towards recovery, Dr. Hannig noted that the experiences of last year have “given us sufficient substance to make strategic and thoughtful reflections and outline practical guidance for 2021 and beyond”.

“We need to choose the best options and opportunities that the crisis revealed and decide how to approach these opportunities together to ensure an inclusive and sustainable recovery,” he said, encouraging members to take advantage of AFI’s peer learning model.

Reinforcing the network’s long-term ambitions, Dr. Hannig said, was the urgent need to tackle climate change. While the negative fallout from the pandemic had been unprecedented and extremely costly, he said that it had resulted in only an eight percent drop in global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change crisis would be much worse, longstanding and painful than COVID-19 because there is no vaccine against it,” Dr. Hannig said.

He also emphasized the “significant role” of digital technology in the broader recovery and sustaining financial inclusion, as well as challenges it raises from the digital divide to limited tech investment among MSMEs.

The high-level event enhances AFI’s Statement on Post-COVID-19 Recovery, which commits members to leverage “public and private sector collaboration to facilitate effective implementation of policies that strengthen the recovery, build resilience and restore sustainable financial inclusion post-COVID-19 pandemic”.

It also offers the opportunity explore practical solutions to deepen cooperation between the public and private sector. Like their public sector counterparts, private sector stakeholders have faced pandemic-related challenges head on to keep local and national economies going despite historic movement restrictions.

“COVID-19 is a unique chance to build a ‘new economy’ that will be more inclusive, green, and resilient and further strengthen and leverage likeminded partnerships that can turn opportunities into efficient actions”, Dr. Hannig highlighted.

In bringing the crucial discussions to a close, Dr. Hannig summed up the key takeaways, most notably that members remain optimistic that the tools developed last year will remain useful in mitigating upcoming challenges and innovating our recovery.

At the heart of the conversations, he added, was the need to build resilience against future crises and risks, such as climate change, by investing in low-carbon economies and the well-being of the most vulnerable.

He also noted that the future of financial inclusion and a broader recovery will continue to be shaped by technology, with digital education at the core, with gender inclusive finance aiming at the tech savviness of women. Finally, effective collaboration between the public and private sectors should continue and deepen.

With the pandemic forcing people around the world to dissociate and alienate, Dr. Hannig called upon the participants to do the opposite and work closely together to overcome the crisis.  

“We should be physically instead of socially distant, while mentally and socially coherent and closer to each other than we were pre-pandemic”, Dr. Hannig said adding that practice cases from across the network can be shared and scaled to support all members in their recovery efforts.  

Over the course of the year, AFI will host a series of technical public-private dialogues at the global and regional levels, guided by the main outcomes of this leaders’ event.

AFI’s PPD platform is a unique opportunity for leaders to directly share practical insight and best practices among their peers. It also offers the chance to reflect on public and private interventions that can advance financial inclusion.

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


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