Message from the UNSGSA
Financial inclusion is now firmly established as a powerful tool to improve lives and strengthen development. Much work has been done, met by much success, but the path forward has not grown easier.
As I reviewed my priorities as UNSGSA this year, I reflected on what will be required to speed progress as we enter a new, more demanding phase of our work. The story of Ibu Susanti, a honey and tea seller in
Indonesia (opposite; story page 7), illustrates a number of points we will need to address.
Like hundreds of millions of people, Ibu Susanti lives far from a bank and she finds it hard to save money at home to meet her children’s needs. Recognizing a business opportunity in these unserved customers, a local bank created an account with people like her in mind. Collaborating closely with low-income customers, they designed a no-fee savings account accessed by cell phone and supported by nearby shopkeepers who serve as agents for the bank. Ibu Susanti now saves regularly and can pay her daughter’s school fees. And she has a new goal: to set aside enough for her daughter to attend high school.
This story touches on the priority issues that I have chosen for my work:
• Customer-centricity: A sharper focus on customers will significantly influence whether they take up financial services and use them in ways that improve their lives. In the case of Ibu Susanti, the bank’s move to involve customers in the design of the product, rather than taking a top-down approach, encouraged it to address cost, convenience, and simplicity; the result was a more customer-centric product.
• Supportive regulations for digital financial inclusion: Ibu Susanti’s bank was able to offer a product she finds valuable because new regulations made it possible for local shopkeepers to function as banking agents so she doesn’t have to travel. Making sure policies support digital financial inclusion is vital.
• Development impact: Ibu Susanti’s children are attending school thanks to her use of financial services-specifically savings, which allows her to set aside funds for fees and transport. Financial inclusion can
help achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals by reducing poverty and hunger, improving education and health, and promoting economic and gender equality.
• Reaching neglected populations: Globally, women like Ibu Susanti are less likely than men to have access to financial services. The need to reach neglected groups including farmers, small and medium-sized enterprises, the poor, and women lies at the very heart of financial inclusion. Technology holds extraordinary potential but the stakes are higher than ever. The impact of digital finance has been demonstrated on multiple levels, from poverty reduction to GDP growth. Yet technology carries significant risks that demand appropriate regulation, good provider practices, and customer preparation. In addition, persistent low account usage makes it clear that the one-size-fits-all approach to products and customers does not work.
I have now served as UNSGSA for eight years and my experience has given me confidence that solutions will be found. I want to offer deep thanks to those partners who have contributed so much to financial inclusion and who have made my own work possible. Progress only has value if it is shared by all.I look forward to continuing our work together so that universal financial inclusion becomes a reality.
H.M. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate
for Inclusive Finance for Development