From June 26th to June 29th, AFI’s Africa and Pacific Islands Regional Initiatives will come together in Seychelles to discuss financial inclusion. AfPI Chair and Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles, Caroline Abel, shared her thoughts on financial sector leadership, Africa’s financial inclusion progress, and the value of events like the one she is co-hosting.
AFI: This will be the first time that two regional initiative meetings are held together. What’s the significance of this, and how might the two regions feed off each other’s financial inclusion experience?
Governor Abel: The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and what happens in one part of the world affects another – the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict being the most recent examples. In the same way, developments within the financial sector, such as the increased use of technology to provide and enable access to financial services and the corresponding need for enhanced financial education and ensuring financial inclusion, are being experienced by countries globally. While a country can identify with others in a specific region, there is much to be shared and learnt between countries from different parts of the globe.
“The effects of climate change – ranging from rising sea levels and degradation of economic resources to variable food production – is an issue affecting both regions, with the potential to negatively impact inclusivity.”
As part of our collective financial inclusion journey, AfPI provides a platform for collaboration in Africa, and PIRI brings together the Pacific Island states. Seychelles is fortunate to be part of both groupings. Undoubtedly, irrespective of where we are situated, whether part of AfPI or PIRI, many similarities exist between our respective countries, and we face similar challenges. The effects of climate change – ranging from rising sea levels and degradation of economic resources to variable food production – is a typical example of an issue affecting both regions that have the potential to negatively impact inclusivity. This calls for sustainable development policies and strategies that would allow affected countries to adapt and mitigate these impacts.
As a regulator, the Central Bank of Seychelles (CBS) has benefited from its engagement with PIRI countries as it endeavours to take the lead on developing appropriate policies, such as inclusive green finance, given that our specificities in terms of size, topography, population and often limited resources help us to better relate to the realities and unique challenges faced by small island states. On the AfPI side, being part of the grouping has helped CBS gauge the experience of member jurisdictions, particularly regarding policies that can be implemented to enhance digital financial inclusion.
“Tapping into the younger generation’s curious nature and confident use of technology is an equally key enabler of the envisioned digital transformation.”
Converging the two meetings provides a unique opportunity for the AFI network to offer a platform for members of the two groupings to have face-to-face interactions and share experiences in the pursuit of the successful implementation of financial inclusion policies. The CBS is honoured and humbled to have been chosen to host the first AfPI-PIRI regional meetings. This will undoubtedly pave the way for similar convergence of other regional groupings, as such forums that bring together diverse knowledge and experience have the potential to spur more growth and success in all of our undertakings.
AFI: Africa has made significant strides in financial inclusion, especially relating to digital financial services. What’s behind Africa’s success in this regard?
Governor Abel: The digital solutions that have flourished on the continent are in response to challenges related to providing and accessing traditional banking services. Innovation is key to successfully addressing the obstacles we face in our quest to offer convenient, affordable, efficient and safe access to financial services that respond to the needs of all groups of our population.
There are many examples of solutions that have been adopted to respond to the challenges identified and enhance financial inclusion. Kenya’s government established a Hustler Fund to allow citizens to borrow money through their mobile phones, making available affordable credit to segments of the population previously excluded and prone to predatory lenders and over-the-roof interest rates. Nigeria’s mobile-only bank – Kuda bank – makes available saving, investment and financial planning options. South African-based company Yoco offers a Fintech solution that facilitates payment transactions between small enterprises and their customers. I am confident that Africa is full of potential and will see the adoption of many more innovations as the financial sector continues to evolve.
“I am confident that Africa is full of potential and will see the adoption of many more innovations as the financial sector continues to evolve.”
Seychelles is equally invested in leveraging digitalisation to promote sustainable economic growth while ensuring a targeted approach that considers the needs and specificities of the different segments of the population. Much emphasis is placed on encouraging financial institutions to offer all-inclusive financial products and services that are convenient, affordable, reliable, efficient and safe. Given that innovative solutions can sometimes be viewed as challenging and complex, leading to consumers’ reluctance, a comprehensive financial education programme is also being implemented to empower the general public and increase their confidence in adopting digital financial solutions. Tapping into the younger generation’s curious nature and confident use of technology is an equally key enabler of the envisioned digital transformation. It is for this reason that CBS has partnered with the Ministry for Education to integrate financial education and entrepreneurship into the school curriculum, with a particular focus on digitalisation. Continuous investment in educating the youth and adequate technological infrastructure is paramount to ensure increased penetration of digital solutions in the community.
AFI: You chair AFI’s Africa Regional Initiative, while AFI’s Pacific Island Region is chaired by another woman, Atalina Enari, Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa. What does this tell us about progress in gender-diverse leadership in the financial sector as a whole?
Governor Abel: First and foremost, I believe this portrays AFI as a role model in promoting and supporting gender diversity and women leaders. Men and women should be given equal opportunities to develop, grow and achieve their full potential, including taking on leadership positions. This is even more crucial in today’s society, where men and women work side by side, including in previously male-dominated sectors. Creating opportunities for diversity in leadership, in particular, can contribute to fostering more holistic and responsive policies that ensure no one is left behind.
“Creating opportunities for diversity in leadership can contribute to fostering more holistic and responsive policies that ensure no one is left behind.”
In the context of AFI, whose aim is to promote the development of the financial sector, and to advance the financial inclusion agenda, gender-diverse leadership is even more relevant and crucial. Inclusive leadership can go a long way in highlighting multifaceted issues and fostering diversity that will lead to more informed and effective policies. Therefore, I would encourage all women, including those discharging different roles in the financial sector, to continue working hard and not be afraid to take up leadership roles. I believe that at institutional, country, regional and international levels, there is a need to continue advocating for gender-diverse leadership for the continuous development of the global economy.
AFI: What excites you most about bringing African and Pacific island perspectives together for this first-of-its-kind, high-level meeting?
Governor Abel: Our shared goal is to advance financial inclusion in our respective jurisdictions and regions. Hence, the resolve of each member country, irrespective of its size, to develop and drive the implementation of policies that will help achieve this very important objective cannot be overemphasized. The joint AfPI-PIRI meetings, which will converge a diversity of knowledge and experience to the Seychelles shores, provide an excellent opportunity to take stock of our respective journeys thus far and map out the coming years.
“Together, we have the potential to come up with solutions that can serve as success stories to inspire other countries and regions across the globe.”
I look forward to being part of the rich and passionate exchanges that will emerge from the various meetings and training sessions. These will spur the continuous development of the financial sector, and the ideas brought forward will assist our countries and regional groupings in tapping into ever-increasing opportunities and in addressing corresponding challenges. The joint meetings illustrate the importance of collaboration in formulating innovative and inclusive policies and developing joint initiatives that will benefit each segment of our population, including the more vulnerable groups, to help build resilience against any uncertainty that can threaten our economies in the future. Together, we have the potential to come up with solutions that can serve as success stories to inspire other countries and regions across the globe.
On the sidelines, I am also looking forward to the exchanges between professionals from similar institutions, which can assist in continuous peer-to-peer learning and engagement and longstanding collaborations on matters of mutual importance.