Ariff Ali, Governor, Reserve Bank of Fiji and AFI Board Chair

4 March 2024

CEMCWG & IGFWG Meetings – Opening Remarks by Ariff Ali, Governor, Reserve Bank of Fiji and AFI Board Chair

NI SA BULA VINAKA, and very good morning to you all.  

It is a great honour and privilege for me, to warmly welcome you all to our shores to the 27th Consumer Empowerment and Market Conduct (CEMC) and the 10th Inclusive Green Finance (IGF) Working Group meetings.

I also want to extend a very special welcome to those visiting us for the first time, particularly those who had to take a long journey across the world to get to Fiji.

I know for a fact, having also travelled the world to some of your countries, the struggle with the time zone differences and the hot Fiji weather.  While the time zones and weather are beyond my control, we hope our warm Fijian hospitality, big bula smiles, authentic Fijian cuisines, warm oceans, white sandy beaches, and island music will compensate for your discomfort.  It is our aim that you go back to your homes with many wonderful memories of our island paradise.

As I look around the room, I am delighted to see you all in our fabulous “kalavata,” which means the same colour.  In Fiji, it is common for groups such as families, churches, and offices to wear a “kalavata” during special events.  The “kalavata’’ identifies the members as belonging together and makes them feel special.  We hope it will set the tone for a great week of discussions, by giving you a small taste of our culture, and create good memories of your time in Fiji.  

We have prepared a short video of our financial inclusion journey, including the importance of our AFI membership and our involvement with AFI.  Therefore, I will not go into detail but highlight a few key points underpinning our financial inclusion journey.

  • Like other central banks, financial inclusion, which was outside of core central banking roles in the past, has become central to our work through its contribution to the development and growth of the economy. Today, it is impossible to overlook the central bank’s critical role in enhancing financial inclusion to achieve our development mandates. 
  • It is not about sustainable economic growth but inclusive economic growth, which is the cornerstone of our financial inclusion strategy.
  • Financial inclusion is a complex and multifaceted goal that requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including governments, financial institutions, civil society organisations, and international bodies. Collaborative partnerships bring together diverse expertise, resources, and perspectives, enabling the development and implementation of more effective and sustainable financial inclusion initiatives. 
  • Monitoring and evaluation are essential: we must take stock and refine or change course if necessary, based on the needs of our people.
  • Recognising that financial inclusion plans and initiatives spearheaded by central banks cannot thrive in isolation is essential. We must harmonise our efforts with national development plans and international commitments to maximise impact. Doing so ensures that our resources, achievements, data, and success stories become shared national accomplishments.
  • Lastly, Warren Buffet’s famous quote, “(we) are sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,” is similar to our financial inclusion journey, where our initiatives are targeted at those who are currently left behind or cannot sit by the shade of the tree.

The AFI Working Groups are critical in promoting financial inclusion globally and in the Pacific region.  By bringing together policymakers, regulators, and other stakeholders, the working groups provide a platform for collaboration and knowledge-sharing.  It also helps to identify best practices and innovative solutions that can be replicated in other countries.

I am delighted that we are hosting two working group meetings whose thematic areas are areas for Fiji’s financial inclusive development.

Consumer Empowerment and Market Conduct share a symbiotic relationship, each influencing the other in significant ways.  That is, informed consumers demand ethical behaviour, which, in turn, reinforces consumer empowerment.  Together, they create a healthier, more equitable marketplace.

In today’s ever-evolving economic landscape, consumer empowerment is a crucial pillar in upholding equitable and transparent market practices.  Fiji, like your respective countries, acknowledges the significance of empowering consumers to make informed financial choices.  While we actively encourage financial service providers to embrace innovation and address market gaps, we also recognise the need to educate and empower consumers.  It is imperative that consumers are well informed, remain vigilant, ask pertinent questions, and thoughtfully consider their financial decisions before committing to financial services.

In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that last week, the Reserve Bank of Fiji Board approved a policy for the protection and fair treatment of financial consumers.  The policy is the first to be implemented in the region and will complement the policy on culture and market conduct approved by the RBF board late last year.

I firmly believe that when consumers have the right knowledge and skills, are confident to make informed choices and understand their rights, they can critically evaluate products and services, demand transparency, and drive market players to adopt ethical conduct.

On the topic of gender, it is significant that we are meeting today at the venue of the signing of the Denarau Action Plan in 2016, a commitment by AFI members to address the gender aspect of financial inclusion.

Women’s financial inclusion must not only be a checkbox for regulators but a desirable goal.  It must be a critical component for the success of any comprehensive financial inclusion strategy.

Despite global progress in advancing financial inclusion, women are disproportionately excluded from formal financial systems.  You only have to look at the 2014 Global Findex to see that the gender gap worldwide persists even as overall financial inclusion improves.  The same goes for many of our own countries.  For Fiji, the gender gap persists despite a narrowing in the ratio from 16% to 11.6%.  Therefore, much remains to be done to improve women’s financial inclusion.

In financial inclusion, we often measure progress in digits—a percentage increase in bank accounts, a rise in credit access, or a decrease in gender gaps.  But let us pause and recognize that women’s financial inclusion is more than just a numerical game.  

Imagine a world where every woman has a seat at the financial table—a voice in economic decisions, a stake in her family’s future.  It’s not just about opening bank accounts; it’s about ensuring that this seat is cushioned with respect, dignity, and agency.

Let us shift our gaze from spreadsheets to narratives.

In Fiji, our traditions are passed down through stories.  I want to stress the power of storytelling when it comes to financial inclusion.

  • I want to tell you a story about a woman named Sita. She is a farmer in rural Fiji, who uses a micro-loan to diversify her crops, send her children to school, and weathered cyclones with resilience.
  • I want to tell you another story about Mere, a stay-at-home mum living in the outskirts of the capital city of Suva. She started a small home business and has now purchased a taxi her husband drives. She has repaid her micro-loan and now plans to buy a boat for a fishing business.
  • The last story is about another woman named Maria. She is an artisan from the island of Kadavu, which a day’s trip by boat from the Fiji mainland. She runs a thriving handicraft business, which she started through accessed credit, and now mentors other women, passing on the torch of empowerment.

Let us champion financial inclusion with a gender lens, as gender matters.

It’s time to rewrite the narrative—one where numbers fade into the background and stories take centre stage.  Let us measure success not by data points but by the laughter of a child attending school, the pride of a woman launching her business, and the resilience of a community rising together.

With regard to Inclusive Green Finance, we find ourselves at the crossroads of two pressing global challenges: financial inclusion and climate change.  In this context, Fiji’s story is both moving and inspiring.

Fiji stands at the frontline of the war against climate change.  Year after year, we grapple with the adverse impact of stronger cyclones, rising sea levels, and the displacement of our communities.  Our vulnerability compels us to act — not just for our survival but as stewards of our planet.

In 2017, Fiji became the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement.  In the same year, Fiji became the first emerging market in the world to issue a green bond to help address climate change through financing the building of resilient infrastructures and promoting sustainable development.  Our commitment to climate action is unwavering.  

At the GPF in 2016 here in Denarau, we pledged under the Maya Declaration to advance green finance.  It was a promise to integrate environmental considerations into our financial systems.  To this end, the Bank is working with the IFC to foster green finance in Fiji by developing a green finance taxonomy and capacity building for regulators and relevant stakeholders.  Relatedly, Fiji issued a sovereign blue bond last year to finance the conservation and protection of Fiji’s marine environment, which is vital to the survival of our tourism industry.

Inclusive green finance is not an abstract concept for us; it’s a lifeline.  It bridges financial inclusion and environmental sustainability.  By designing policies and initiatives that promote green investments, we empower our people economically while safeguarding our natural resources.

I know I am speaking to experts here, so let me stress this point: as regulators, let us concentrate on creating, building and ensuring an environment that supports a level playing field.  A field where consumers can confidently engage with financial services, and financial services providers are excited to innovate and address gaps, but not at the expense of consumer rights or our environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to reiterate the message I shared at the last GPF in Manila.  “ Prosperity should not be the privilege of the few but for all.  Inclusivity means breaking down barriers of discrimination, inequality, and exclusion.  It means providing equal opportunities for education, employment, and participation in the decision-making process.  Inclusivity celebrates diversity and recognises that our differences are our strengths.  When we embrace inclusivity, we create a society where everyone can contribute and benefit from our shared prosperity.”

I want to close by thanking AFI for choosing Fiji to host these meetings.

I want to thank all of you for your commitment to the working groups deliverables.  For some of you, it has meant taking on more than your usual tasks.  Please know that your commitment is valued by AFI, your Governors, and the network of AFI members who benefit from the work being led by many of you.

I hope the discussions over the next few days will be fruitful and lead to concrete actions that will help promote financial inclusion.

It is a pleasure to have you all in Fiji.

My staff are available to address any special requests while you are our guests.  I also hope you can all make time to explore our country as well as experience our culture and world-famous hospitality.

Let us work together to build a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

Thank you,

Vinaka Vakalevu

© Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2009-2024