Seven working groups gathered to showcase their progress and achievements over the past year, as the results of AFI’s annual member needs assessment showed that satisfaction with the organization had continued to rise year-on-year.
The Global Working Groups Management Meeting was broadcast live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 8 September to 200 working group members who had logged in across the globe to learn about the latest updates and contribute to the direction of AFI’s technical backbone in the coming years.
This week marks what would have been the 2020 AFI Global Policy Forum, but efforts to minimize risks following the COVID-19 outbreak led to the flagship event being postponed until 2021. Meeting these challenges head on, working groups have maintained momentum via the digital stage and have held 23 technical webinars since April.
AFI Deputy Executive Director Norbert Mumba opened the event – the network’s first with physical presence of AFI staff since March –noting that members recognize AFI as a “center of technical excellence on financial inclusion policy and regulation”.
Working groups are a key contributor to AFI’s workstreams, regularly publishing knowledge products that bolster the network’s position as a policy leadership alliance. Roughly 96 percent of members are represented in at least one working group, which have published 97 knowledge products.
Praising members for their support and speed in developing AFI’s COVID-19 Policy Responses Dashboard, recently ranked as among the top five COVID-19 dashboards globally, Mumba described it as “instrumental in providing time-sensitive policy and regulatory guidance to AFI members”.
He also noted that while members had made substantial progress towards accelerating financial inclusion over the years, COVID-19 setbacks required a redoubling of efforts to ensure access for all, particularly for women.
“Gender sensitive national financial inclusion strategies, the collection and use of sex disaggregated data and gender inclusive financial education and digital literacy programs are all key drivers for greater inclusion,” he said.
In agreement, Bank Negara Malaysia’s Liza Noor, who also serves at the gender focal point for AFI’s Financial Inclusion Strategy Peer Learning Group (FISPLG) reminded members of their commitments to the halve the gender access gap by the end of 2021.
“For the rest of 2020 and 2021, we need to sharpen our focus … and ensure that all of our work in gender sensitive so that we can fulfil our pledge to close the gender gap,” she said.
FISPLG Co-Chair and Ministry of Finance Eswatini’s Nomcebo Hadebe reiterated calls for more targeted action, explaining that women are not only more financial excluded – particularly in developing and emerging countries – but also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
AFI’s newest working group, Inclusive Green Finance (IGFWG), announced three new members – Bank of Sierra Leone, Centrale Bank van Suriname and Bank of Thailand – bringing the total to 43 members from 40 countries.
“Post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery needs to be geared towards green, resilient and sustainable rebuilding of economies,” said Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Audrey Howe in her capacity as chair of IGFWG.
Working groups leaders provided individual updates, including on the status of subgroups, knowledge publications, peer reviews, webinars and responses to COVID-19.
Among them were Bank of Zambia’s Moses Musantu and Central Bank of the Russian Federation’s Nadezhda Prasolova, co-chairs of Consumer Empowerment and Market Conduct Working Group and Digital Financial Services Working Group, respectively, who noted a jump in digital financial service usage during COVID-19, as well as a need to enhance digital financial literacy to combat a subsequent rise in the number of related cases of fraud.
Bank of Zambia’s and chair of SME Finance Working Group Mankolo Beyani, echoed the importance of education but from the perspective of helping create an enabling environment for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Spotlighting new and emerging risks, Reserve Bank of Fiji’s and Chair Global Standards Proportionality Working Group Caroline Pickering reiterated that standard setters had called on countries to be flexible in their national standards, as the knock on effects of COVID-19 had the potential to impact national financial stability and integrity.
In order to develop effective COVID-19 policy responses, her colleague, Akata Taito, as co-chair of AFI’s Financial Inclusion Data Working Group emphasized the crucial role of data.
“Once more, we need to step up our game in terms of measuring the economic and financial impact of COVID-19,” she said.
AFI’s Ghiyazuddin Mohammed, Adadzewa Otoo and Dieter De Smet provided brief overviews of two policy models due to be ratified at the AFI annual general meeting on 9 September. Charles Marwa, head of AFI’s monitoring and evaluation team, then outlined key results from AFI’s 2020 member needs assessment, including a one percent year-on-year rise in overall satisfaction with AFI to 86 percent and a seven percent increase in members attributing AFI to the development and implementation of financial inclusion policies and regulations to 64 percent.
In ending his remarks, AFI’s Mumba urged participants to avoid the dangers of isolationism and of their shared responsibility to strengthen responses and aid recovery amid the current climate.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.
AFI Working groups are the key source of policy developments and trends in financial inclusion and serve as “communities of practice” on key financial inclusion issues. They are the primary mechanism for generating and incubating knowledge in the AFI network and provide a platform for knowledge exchange and peer learning to allow policymakers to share, deliberate and deepen knowledge and understanding on key financial inclusion issues.