Remarks by Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, at the How financial inclusion strategies support inclusive growth side event

  • March 30, 2016

  • New York, USA

Thank you all for attending today’s side event on “How financial inclusion strategies support inclusive growth: The role of country-level diagnostics and data”.

Today ECOSOC is holding a special session on a topic which affects all of us: inequality.

A majority of households in developing countries—more than 75 percent of the population—are living in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s.

Countries with higher inequality tend to have lower and less resilient growth. Inequality limits the abilities of individuals to realize their full potential. Reflecting its importance for development, SDG 10 calls for reducing inequality.

For this to happen, finance has to be more inclusive.

Expanded financial inclusion can promote pro-poor growth and reduce inequalities. This can work, for example, by making it easier for poor people without credit history to access the funding they need to pay school fees, expand their businesses, or buy a home. Or it can work by ensuring that people living in remote areas can make and receive payments using low cost digital technologies such as mobile phones.

Considerable progress has been made in expanding financial services to unbanked populations. Between 2011 and 2014, the unbanked population dropped by 20 percent, from 2.5 billion to 2 billion. But in developing countries, only 54 percent of the population has an account—and there is a persistent gender gap in these countries of 9 percent.

Financial inclusion is about reaching poor people with the financial services and products they can use to build bridges out of poverty and improve their lives.

Without a nuanced understanding of the demand, or client, side of financial services, it is virtually impossible to create the right savings, credit, insurance, payment or remittance products that meet people’s needs and help them improve their lives or grow their businesses.

If people don’t see the value in using a product, don’t understand a product, or find it too difficult or expensive to use, they won’t use it. And worse than little or no client up- take, is the risk that poorly designed products can result in increased financial vulnerability instead of improved financial resilience.

All actors in this space – Governments, development partners, banks, telecommunications companies, microfinance institutions – need to understand who their client is, what that client wants, and how they can work together in order to succeed.

UNCDF’s Making Access Possible programme seeks to build a complete picture of

financial inclusion at the country-level, using robust demand-side surveys combined with in-depth supply and regulatory analysis. The programme takes a market-systems approach and attempts to identify potential new markets and assist Governments to define their own financial inclusion strategies and roadmaps based on data and hard evidence.

These data inform policymakers, regulators, financial service providers, other private sector actors, and donors on how best to expand financial inclusion and align resources and investments with financial market and development priorities.

MAP is currently supporting 15 countries. One of these is Nepal, which we are very pleased to have represented on the panel here today so we can learn directly from their experience in using data to expand financial inclusion and reduce inequalities.

We are meeting today in the margins of the ECOSOC Special Meeting on Inequality and the first Preparatory Meeting of Experts for the midterm review of the Istanbul Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries.

I look forward to this discussion on how data, such as that from UNCDF’s MAP diagnostic tool, can support the expansion of access to – and usage of - financial services, help reduce inequality, and support LDC graduation ambitions.