15 September 2023

AFI 2023 Global Policy Forum – Opening remarks by AFI Executive Director, Dr. Alfred Hannig

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The Global Policy Forum is a joyful occasion. Last year, when the gong was being carried away from Jordan to the Philippines, my feeling was that AFI was going home.

And today, in a very real sense, AFI has come home. In 2008, I met with Governor Nestor Espenilla and Pia Roman Tayag from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, to discuss the concept of AFI. I was surprised how enthusiastically they both bought into the concept. They simply said, “Count us in”.

BSP was AFI’s first official member in 2009, and Nestor Espenilla was one of our guiding lights; a pioneer and champion of financial inclusion, and an inspiration. His vision, passion and commitment were critical to helping AFI develop into this network. Nestor always hoped that one day, the Global Policy Forum would come to the Philippines. I know how proud and happy he would be to see us all here. We did it, Nestor.

In the early 2000s, in this country of 7,600 islands, traditional banking infrastructure left many Filipinos with limited access to financial services. Mobile payments emerged as a practical option for the unbanked to connect with financial infrastructure, and the Philippines became a global pioneer in digital payments services. Initiatives such as GCash and smart money transformed the accessibility of financial products for millions of Filipinos, making transactions convenient and affordable.

With Kenya and South Africa, the Philippines was one of the early front runners, and AFI felt it was vital to share this country’s experience and insight with our network: for instance, the test and learn approach, an early version of what we now call a regulatory sandbox. The Philippines became an important source of knowledge, but also a consumer of knowledge.

Our exchanges through the years with BSP have been invaluable for the whole AFI network. So many of the things that we have achieved, have been achieved together with BSP. AFI would not be where we are today without their support and engagement.

Back in 2009, when AFI was founded, the concept of financial inclusion was understood either narrowly, in terms of expanding access, or not at all. 15 years later, we have shown how financial inclusions touches on vital issues related to gender, climate change, youth entrepreneurship, data, technology, disabled people, forcibly displaced persons, and much more.

At the first Global Policy Forum in 2009, there were 86 attendees from 38 member institutions. Today, we have 85 members, and over 700 attendees. I am delighted that Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz is with us today. As Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, in 2016 Dr Zeti spearheaded the Malaysian proposal to host the headquarters of our organization, which was instrumental to AFI’s success.

Since 2009, we have seen considerable progress around digital transformation, which accelerated as a result of the pandemic. And on the whole, we have made great progress on financial inclusion. In 2009, 3.2 billion people were unbanked, whereas today the number stands at 1.4 billion.

But despite this progress, we could do more to enable equitable financial inclusion. On digital adoption, persistent differences remain between regions. Similarly, many countries are struggling to manage the risks associated with new technologies.

And while we have emerged out of the pandemic, we are now facing another unique set of risks. Geopolitical fragmentation threatens economic growth, trade, and international cooperation. There has been a collapse of trust in international organizations, who now struggle to reach consensus amidst political divisions.  We are confronted with risks related to climate change and biodiversity loss, and are witnessing the resurgence of price inflation.

It is therefore vital to maintain our focus and to ensure that financial inclusion stays high on the policy agenda. We must emphasize that financial inclusion is a complementary, not a competing, objective to monetary and financial stability. The theme of this year’s forum (Stability, Sustainability and Inclusivity for Shared Prosperity), reflects this, as well as how far financial inclusion has come since 2009 and its relevance to the challenges of today.

Yesterday, our members adopted the Manila Manifesto. Recognizing the increasingly important role which global standard-setting bodies play in financial inclusion, this out how AFI will engage with SSBs in the years ahead.

Our network is more focused than ever on ensuring high quality and sustainable financial inclusion. And it is really encouraging to see this goal being shared by advanced economy regulators who are sharing knowledge with our network. It is clear that maintaining a high level of financial inclusion is in everyone’s interest, not just the developing world.

AFI’s journey continues. We have four new members, from the Comoros, Zimbabwe, Central Africa and Senegal, and membership upgrades from Dominican Republic and Honduras. We have a new observer, the Government of Luxembourg.

In closing, I would like to thank the BSP Governor, Deputy Governor, and the entire BSP team. I would like to thank all the members, who have travelled so far to join these discussions. I would like to thank our public private dialogue partners, our funding partners, and all stakeholders and partners in the financial inclusion ecosystem.

By working together, collaborating across borders and thinking outside the box, the AFI network always finds solutions. As such, I am very optimistic about the contribution AFI can make to delivering on both stability and sustainable development, and to meeting not just the challenges of today, but those of tomorrow.

Finally, when we reflect that the AFI journey continues, let us rejoice that it continues from here in the Philippines, a country that has always been there for us, right from the beginning.

© Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2009-2024