Opening Remarks Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, at the Expanding Digital Financial Services event

  • November 11, 2014

  • Brussels, Belgium

Distinguished Delegates,
Dear Ann,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you to this event on “Expanding Digital Financial Services” hosted by UNCDF and The MasterCard Foundation.

It is now only a little over one year until the 2015 target date for the MDGs, and the discussions on what will follow them - the post-2015 development agenda - are well underway.

The importance of promoting inclusive, sustainable, and equitable growth is featuring in this discussion, but often the question remains: What does that growth look like and how can it be achieved? There is a strong consensus that increased levels of financial inclusion – through the extension of savings, credit, insurance, and payment services – contributes significantly to sustainable economic growth.

One thing is certain: technology will play a critical role. The rapid spread of new information and communications technologies, and, in particular, mobile technologies, is increasingly making more services available to the world’s poor.

Access to mobile phones can be a game changer for the poor, particularly for those 2.5 billion adults who do not currently have access to financial services. Yet such access can contribute to poverty alleviation, development, and growth. With mobile technology, it is within reach.

UNCDF, the UN investment agency for the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries, has been engaged with a number of initiatives, which embrace digital financial inclusion.

In Fiji, for example, the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, a joint programme managed by UNCDF and UNDP, generously supported by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union, (including from the ACP Microfinance programme present today), has supported the Department of Social Welfare to ensure that the 22,000 social welfare recipients receive their benefits on time and without the long and often costly journeys they used to make to pick up cash.

Working in partnership with Westpac Banking Corporation, social welfare benefits are now distributed across Fiji through Westpac’s network of branches, ATMs, and point of sale devices. In the process, communities which previously didn’t have access to banking can access flexible, no-fee accounts. The Department of Social Welfare reports having more time now to spend on family visits and child protection, while also having been able to cut costs, reduce the number of ghost recipients, and cut fraud. Meanwhile, Westpac expanded its clientele by nearly fifteen per cent in the first few months of the scheme, and extended its reach in rural areas.

Fiji’s government is now requiring that all communal land lease payments, which are made mostly to rural communities, must move to electronic platforms. Financial institutions, government ministries, and central banks around the region are taking an interest in these innovations in Fiji.

Through the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF together with our partners the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi Group, the Ford Foundation, MasterCard, Omidyar Network, USAID, and Visa, bring together governments, the private sector, and development organizations to promote the shift from cash to electronic payments.

To date over 20 countries, companies and development organizations have made commitments under this initiative to channel significant volumes of money through electronic payments.

In 2012, together with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Australian Government, UNCDF has developed the Mobile Money for the Poor programme – also known as MM4P – to support branchless and mobile financial services in a select group of LDCs to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust branchless and mobile financial services ecosystem in LDCs.

MM4P is designed to focus intently on some of the poorer countries where the commercial business case for branchless banking and mobile money is marginal, but the needs of the population are great.

In March this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has joined MM4P and our efforts to work intently with banks, mobile network operators, regulators and users of these services in challenging markets to help them reach to millions of additional customers who are currently unbanked.

And today it is my pleasure to announce a long-time supporter of UNCDF, The MasterCard Foundation, is joining us and our development partners to expand MM4P in three additional least developed countries – Benin, Senegal, and Zambia, bringing to total number of LDCs where MM4P is active up to eight.

We are very proud and honored to collaborate with an organization that shares with us the conviction that the fight against extreme poverty needs innovative approaches and strong partnerships.

Since our very first partnership in 2010, The MasterCard Foundation has been an indispensable partner in our effort to bring the benefit of finance to the unbanked and underbanked, helping them so build a stronger future for themselves, their families and their communities.

The Foundation has not just provided crucial investment to expand our programmes, but most importantly it has brought technical expertise and strong commitment to the people we serve, the poorest in the world.

These elements have allowed us to improve and scale-up financial services to the poor, share experiences, and deepen our understanding of issues in the sector. Above all, we were able to discuss and debate ways to quicken the pace of innovation in financial products, services, and scalable delivery systems to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Member States are deliberating on the post-2015 agenda and the sustainable development goals.

A critical element in these discussions is to look at the kinds of partnerships which will be needed to implement the next development agenda.

Partnerships like the one UNCDF has with The MasterCard Foundation, broadly based, collaborative, and focused on specific development goals, are most likely to galvanize the action and investments needed to make headway.

Such partnerships will be critical to the success of the post-2015 agenda and to ensure that no-one is left behind.

Thank you