The Bank of Sierra Leone launched the Digital Financial Services (DFS) Working Group, one of the six working groups under the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2017 – 2020 that will deliver on the digital delivery of financial services. Chairing the maiden meeting of the DFS Working Group, Governor Dr Marah challenged the industry to use this platform to unlock the tremendous opportunity that DFS can bring to Sierra Leoneans who cannot access financial services and/or need capital for their businesses.
The DFS Working Group includes members from the regulators: Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) and NATCOM; representatives from the Commercial Banks, Microfinance Institutions, Mobile Network Operators, and Apex Banks. Members also include representation from the recently constituted Sierra Leone FinTech Association as well as the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) representative for the West Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Programmes who serves as the resident technical advisor to BSL. Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MoFED) was also represented through their Better Than Cash Alliance focal point at MoFED.
The specific terms of reference for the Working Group include:
- Provide an appropriate forum for industry-level dialogue where DFS stakeholders (government, mobile network operators, banks, microfinance institutions, development partners etc.) engage regularly.
- Identify constraints and opportunities related to the deployment of scalable DFS in Sierra Leone, in rural areas for target markets.
- Promote collaboration among the different players for delivering financial service in a transparent, fair and safe manner.
- Advocate for support from the government for DFS-related initiatives as well as assist in the framing of progressive DFS regulations and financial inclusion policies.
- Support the development of innovative models for widening the outreach of formal financial services by serving as a platform for generating and sharing knowledge.
According to M. Shola Taylor-Pearce from the Sierra Leone Association of Commercial Banks, “the only way we can jointly address the 87% disclusion of Sierra Leoneans from the financial sectors is by ensuring that everyone is a winner in DFS”. The discussion focused on issues such as clarification on the relationship between the telecom regulator NATCOM and BSL; importance of consumer education in DFS; the critical needs for open platforms upon which to build new and innovative services for the market such as nano-credit; inclusion of osusu, village credit schemes into the broader regulatory frameworks for financial inclusion. In addition, the opportunities that digital data trails can generate for better credit profiles was also discussed.
All stakeholders agreed that collaboration along with a dynamic and pragmatic approach was key to the DFS Working Group’s success. Governor Dr Marah closed the meeting with actions items for the secretariat to the Working Group and encouraged all members to contribute towards the development of a digital economy in Sierra Leone.