Eliki Boletawa, Director Policy Programs and Implementation at AFI, delivering the opening remarks at the opening of the working group meetings held in Lilongwe, Malawi

27 March 2023

CEMC, FID and FISPLG Working Group Meetings – Opening remarks by Eliki Boletawa, Director Policy Programs and Implementation, AFI

• Governor, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Dr. Wilson T. Banda;
• Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Mr. William Matambo;
• Chairs & Co-Chairs and Members of the AFI Working Groups and technical facilitators here present.
• Reserve Bank of Malawi Senior Executives and Staff;
• Representatives from various Government Ministries and Departments here present
• Representatives from various financial industry associations and financial institutions here present
• Organizing team from Reserve Bank of Malawi & AFI
• Ladies and Gentlemen

Mwauka bwanji!

I bring warm greetings and ramadan kareem to those observing from the Executive Director of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), Dr. Alfred Hannig and the AFI Management Unit. To all that have traveled from afar, we heartily welcome you to Malawi, the warm heart of Africa! Allow me to convey my heartfelt appreciation to Dr Banda and the team from Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) for co-hosting the three working group meetings and the wonderful hospitality we were privileged to receive so far, zikomo kwambili!.

The Reserve Bank of Malawi has been an active member of AFI since 2010, almost since its inception. The Reserve Bank of Malawi accepted early leadership responsibilities in the AFI network, including membership on the pre-existing Global Standards and Policy Committee. From 2020 to early 2022, it also served as Chairperson of the Consumer Empowerment and Market Conduct Working Group. Furthermore, the Reserve Bank of Malawi issued and fulfilled a number of Maya Declaration Commitments, beginning in 2011 with a focus on financial literacy, data, and agent banking, and then re-establishing new Maya Commitments in 2019 with a focus on financial consumer protection legal frameworks and market conduct, financial literacy in schools, and having other financial innovation-related goals in the works. RBM has actively used AFI In-Country Implementation initiatives concentrating on women’s financial inclusion and gender transformational policies, as well as increasing MSMEs’ awareness and implementation of electronic payments.

As a champion in the network on financial consumer protection, financial literacy, data frameworks, and strategic approaches on gender inclusive finance, the Reserve Bank of Malawi is the perfect co-host for these working group meetings. We look forward to learning from the Malawi experience on leveraging on these important aspects of financial inclusion policies to advance financial inclusion during the upcoming working group meetings. I thank our co-host for all the preparation and effort to make this event possible and trust we all will take back with us to our own jurisdiction the valuable learnings that will be shared by them during this week.

Ladies and gentlemen,
AFI is a global policy leadership alliance owned and led by member central banks and financial regulatory institutions with the common objective of advancing financial inclusion at country, regional and international levels. AFI partners with regulators, international organizations, and private sector leaders to drive practical solutions and facilitate the implementation of impactful policy changes through its cooperation model that embeds peer learning, knowledge exchange and peer transformation. The membership of the AFI network is made up of 83 member institutions from 75 countries. These member institutions are represented from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia (South, East, and Southeast Asia), Latin America and the Caribbean, Arab region, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia and in the Pacific. Many of these members are represented here today.

The global operating environment is characterized by ‘poly-crisis’, i.e. a cascade of interconnected risks and challenges. The combination of rising costs of living in the wake of the pandemic and geo-political cases, climate change, food and energy security, and emerging vulnerabilities in the financial sector suggest that the next few years will be volatile and turbulent for the global economy, including developing countries. In a global context of a ‘poly-crisis’, with a world economy expected to remain stressed, with inflationary pressures and slow growth in most regions due to heightened geo-political tensions, supply chain disruptions and climate shocks, there is a potential danger of financial inclusion being crowded out as attention focuses on macroeconomic and monetary stability.

However, one of the key takeaways from the last plenary session of the 2022 Global Policy Forum in Jordan on “Contemporary Financial Regulation” was that the mandate and responsibilities of financial regulators are rapidly evolving with the entry of new players and technological innovations, and additional mandates – either formal or added through supplementary regulation – considering financial inclusion policies should now be implemented. In this sense, policymakers must emphasize the complementarity of financial stability and monetary stability objectives with financial inclusion in order to address the genuine concerns and interests of developing and emerging economies.

The convergence of the three thematic policy areas, Consumer Empowerment and Market Conduct (CEMC), the Data and the Strategy working groups to meet this week in this beautiful city of Lilongwe to deep-dive and discuss new practical initiatives and solutions on each one of these policy areas is timely. Financial consumer protection and financial literacy, quality data to inform decision-makers, and a strategic approach to implement policy contributing to the financial well-being and stability, particularly of the most vulnerable groups in our societies – women, youth, migrants, and displaced persons – are now of the utmost importance in order to mitigate some of these global economic risks. These three working groups share common trends with the other working groups in their focus on leveraging on technology and innovation to advance financial inclusion from a protection, empowerment, metrics, and strategic approach perspective, focusing in on the most vulnerable groups represented by youth, women, migrants, and forcibly displacing persons with the overarching goal of procuring financial well-being or financial health among them.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to commend and thank you for the content leadership demonstrated by you, the working groups representatives. Your efforts are supporting AFI in providing members with services such as capacity building, regional initiatives, in-country technical assistance, and engagement with private sector stakeholders and developed country partners. For instance, all of our capacity building initiatives are based on the knowledge products produced by members of the working group. In addition, it is encouraging to notice that your work through the umbrella of the working group is increasingly being cited for in-country support initiatives, resulting in concrete policy change.

In the context of the three working groups meeting this week, it is essential to note that the future of financial services will continue to be shaped by technology and innovation, possibly even more than in the past, and at a faster rate in order to better serve financially neglected groups in our societies. Central Banks and other financial authorities recognise this, and they are simultaneously working on policy and financial architectures. Many central banks, including those in AFI nations, are investigating Central Bank Digital Currencies or CBDC, as well as innovations and solutions in the fast-evolving digital ecosystem. Based on the work of the working group, we believe that CBDC and these other virtual assets have potential for financial inclusion. Yet, the jury remains out! It must be viewed as one of the several tools utilised to improve financial inclusion and payments efficiency. The advancement of BigTechs into mainstream banking and the promise for financial inclusion is another example. They utilise massive volumes of customer data, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and other cutting-edge approaches to provide financial services on a massive scale. These technological breakthroughs and changes in business models necessitate a global convergence on the hazards of technology and regulatory/supervisory measures to address these risks.

Traditional patterns, such as North/South, are no longer effective. The world is filled with pockets of knowledge, and everyone may indeed learn from everyone. This involves not only the extremely active peer learning within AFI members, but also the burgeoning communication between developed and developing countries. This also requires tight collaboration and partnership with private-sector actors and stakeholders. This is done to increase mutual awareness of fintech innovations, risk profiles, and their role in financial inclusion, as well as to adopt a common approach to governance and regulatory requirements. We therefore take this opportunity to thank partners and stakeholders that will be contributing to the discussions of the working groups this week.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Beyond working groups, the update of three of our flagship Network commitments, the Denarau Action Plan, the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Accord, and the Sochi Accord on Inclusive Fintech during the 2022 GPF in Jordan brings to our attention the emphasis on the need to keep our policy focus on gender, inclusive green finance, financial innovation, and targeting vulnerable groups including youth, women, and forcibly displaced persons. 2023 will be a strategically important year for AFI as we continue exploration of AFI’s intergovernmental organization (IGO) status. We will also look to pilot AFI’s financial inclusion country assessments with at least two members on a voluntary basis and this will be led by the GSP working group.

Further, we are incredibly excited to host this year’s Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Manila the Philippines which will be co-hosted by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The organizing team just concluded the first visit to Manila to finalize the theme, dates, and other key aspects. We will focus on aspects related to stability, sustainability and inclusivity in central banking, clearly linking to the discussions from GPF 2022 on contemporary financial regulation, scope of central bank mandates, among other critical topics.

As I conclude, I would like to also acknowledge and thank the national stakeholders present here today. Its rewarding to see the support from you all even with your presence here today, and I would like to reiterate the importance of deeper collaboration amongst you all including with the broader community for the successful implementation of Malawi’s financial inclusion goals. AFI’s message to you all is to actively engage, support and collaborate with each other, so that the collective learnings can be channeled into mutual beneficial actions for all Malawians. AFI is committed to supporting the Reserve Bank of Malawi as a member and will always remain at your disposal to assist and guide you towards achieving your financial inclusion goals.

I end by thanking you the, working group members, for your participation and traveling thousands of miles to be in this beautiful city, as well as thanking the organizing team from the Reserve Bank of Malawi and our AFI colleagues for organizing these meetings. While in Malawi, I hope you’ll find time to experience the country’s welcoming culture through its vibrant arts scene and delicious cuisine. Try some traditional Malawian dishes like Nsima, a thickly mashed maize porridge, Chambo, a classical fish dish, and Kachumbari, a tomato and onion salad.

With this, I thank you for your attention and wishing you a productive week, full of mutual learning, bonding and fruitful deliberations.

Zikomo and thank you very much.

© Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2009-2024