Woman wearing mask and selling bangles during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Kathmandu, Nepal (Shutterstock)

22 November 2021

South Asian leaders urge sustainability at inaugural roundtable

South Asian heads of central banks gathered virtually on 17 November to strengthen regional cooperation and practical efforts that promote a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, the first-ever roundtable tailored exclusively for AFI member institutions from South Asia, was attended by top officials from Bangladesh Bank, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Maldives Monetary Authority, Nepal Rastra Bank and Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan.

Maha Prasad Adhikari, governor of Nepal Rastra Bank, kicked off the event by praising his fellow regulators on the remarkable progress achieved in recent years, as demonstrated in the development of national financial inclusion strategies (NFIS) by most central banks in the region. Regulators in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have either begun developing or are already implementing an NFIS or strategic plan involving financial inclusion in their jurisdictions.

NFIS are comprehensive public documents that systematically accelerate a country’s level of financial inclusion. They set measurable goals and establish how and when a country proposes to reach them.

Adhikari, a member of AFI’s board of directors, added that while millions continue to lack access to formal financial services in the region – notably women and micro, small and medium enterprises – efforts to find solutions offered “opportunities to promote green and sustainable financing”, referencing AFI’s inclusive green finance (IGF) workstream.

IGF promotes the development of effective policies, regulation and national strategies that support the transition to a sustainable and resilient economy. IGF components include green services and products within savings, credit, insurance, money transfers and digital delivery channels.

“A lot needs to be done … and AFI could act as a catalyst to further advance our work in the region on financial inclusion by sharing regional knowledge, experiences and translating global financial inclusion issues into practical implementation at the regional and national level,” he said.

“Source of inspiration”

South Asia is a cradle of innovation supported by regulators committed to deepening financial inclusion. The region has made significant strides in providing access to the unbanked and underbanked with financial inclusion levels rising to around 50 percent in 2017 from 30 percent in 2011.

Despite of the devastating impacts of the pandemic, AFI Executive Director Dr. Alfred Hannig emphasized that the regulators have championed financial inclusion-related policy areas, most recently, in digital financial services.

The leaders echoed this sentiment by highlighting their successes in advancing digital products and services designed – including mobile banking, real-time payments and QR codes – to facilitate economic activity amid pandemic-related restrictions.

Other shared similarities were seen in their financial inclusion priorities, not least towards finding practical solutions for new digital challenges, gender inclusive finance and the financing of micro, small and medium enterprises. They also actively backed enhancing efforts towards financial education and financial literacy.

Showing the accomplishments of the region’s “progressive regulators”, AFI’s Dr. Hannig highlighted several pioneering initiatives that were acting as a “source of inspiration” to members in the network and beyond. This included State Bank of Pakistan’s recently launched banking on equality policy, which aims to enhance women’s financial inclusion by introducing a gender lens within the financial sector and “bring a shift towards women-friendly business practices”.

The high-level gathering is part of a series of regional events designed to meet the unique needs of financial regulators in South Asia. Further enhancing cooperation, leaders explored the potential for tailored capacity building, knowledge products, technical support and other peer learning events that build practical policy solutions and enhance regional and global perspectives.

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