Remarks of Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, on the occasion of the Launch of the Fiji Financial Services Demand Side Survey Report

  • September 21, 2015

  • Suva, FIJI

Thank you for inviting me to join in the launch of the Fiji financial services Demand Side Survey report.

I congratulate the Governor of Reserve Bank of Fiji and his team, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme for generating this important publication.

Thanks to the Australian Government for providing important support for this report through its bilateral programme.

Financial inclusion is about reaching poor people with the financial services and products they need to build bridges out of poverty and improve their lives. It is by definition a sector that has to be client-centric in its approach. 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.

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

In other words, policies, strategies, and action plans need to be evidence-based and coordinated around hard data.

PFIP in the past has either directly conducted - or provided technical and financial assistance to partners, including the Reserve Bank of Fiji, to carry out - financial inclusion-related research.

Now, this Demand Side Survey can help policymakers and practitioners in Fiji shape their interventions in response to the challenges and opportunities of financial inclusion in this country.

The Demand Side Study reveals a number of important findings, which I am told the Reserve Bank of Fiji and the National Financial Inclusion Task force are planning to use during the development of the next set of financial inclusion targets.

We are proud that, with UNCDF support, PFIP has supported the Reserve Bank and National Financial Inclusion Task Force develop the 2011-2014 financial inclusion strategy and will support the second such strategy.

Financial inclusion has already come a long way in Fiji in recent years. According to the Demand Side Survey, 60 percent of all Fijians have bank accounts, which is high compared to some other Pacific Island countries where such surveys have been conducted. Nine percent of Fijians continue to have access only to informal sources of finances, whereas 27 percent are completely excluded.

Formal financial inclusion is higher among urban Fijians, men, and those with higher incomes. At the same time, the study also reveals that financial inclusion is lower in the Eastern and Western Provinces; among women; among iTaukei adults; among young adults; and among agricultural or casual workers.

This points to the need for targeted interventions to address the specific needs and overcome the specific obstacles unique to these population groups. For example, the proportion of men with a bank account is 16 percent higher than the proportion of women with an account. The survey identifies this as one area requiring further research. But the message here is that service providers needs to differentiate their product by the gender, age, and population location of the end-user.

Rural respondents, for instance, face high barriers to financial inclusion such as long distances to the nearest access points and long wait times to open an account. The solutions they need are different to those living in Suva.

PFIP has worked with the Fiji Government to establish successful G2P payment channels with the Department of Social Welfare. This assisted approximately 22,000 welfare recipients in receiving payments through electronic savings account. PFIP also assisted the Reserve Bank in developing enabling policies for mobile network operators to commence mobile financial services.

Nonetheless, the Survey reveals that mobile money has yet to reach its full potential. Banked respondents still express a preference for cash rather than electronic money. Future policy action can therefore be focused on increasing the relevance and use of electronic money among formally included adults.

I commend Fiji for integrating financial education into the curriculum of over 900 schools in Fiji. This means nearly 200,000 students are currently learning about basic financial skills in their classrooms.

Still, there is also a need to increase knowledge about formal financial products and services among the excluded. Easy-to-adopt measures such as increasing information on the minimal documentation required to open bank accounts could go a long way in reaching the excluded and the unbanked.

Overall, studies like this are an essential step in the financial inclusion journey. That journey cannot proceed smoothly if it doesn’t know what path to follow. This study helps to reveal that path.

Looking ahead, PFIP will continue to provide support to the Government and its partners. This will include work in areas such as inclusive insurance, reviewing consumer credit legislation, and identifying opportunities for digitization of Government payments, such as those to out-posted health workers and teachers.

UNCDF stands ready to work with the Government and Reserve Bank, and all our partners, so that together we can reach all Fijians with the financial services and products they need.