How the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative aims to achieve universal access to financial services

13.09.2018 - An estimated 2 billion adults worldwide are still without a bank account, but 1.6 billion of them have a mobile phone. ‘Mobile money’ started in Kenya just over ten years ago, and digital channels have since become a cornerstone of financial inclusion strategies worldwide.

The ‘Financial Inclusion Global Initiative’ (FIGI) is a three-year programme of collective action to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial financial inclusion in developing countries. The initiative will capitalize on information and communication technologies (ICTs) in extending the reach of the financial system.

Led by ITU, the World Bank and CPMI – with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – FIGI will enact the manifesto provided by the PAFI guiding principles, the Level One guidelines and the ITU policy recommendations for digital financial services.

FIGI runs two parallel work streams, an ‘operational’ work stream and a ‘knowledge’ work stream.

FIGI’s operational work stream will provide technical assistance to China, Egypt and Mexico in their efforts to create policy environments able to stimulate financial inclusion. China, Egypt and Mexico have demonstrated strong political will to expand financial inclusion, with large numbers of people standing to benefit. These countries host the ingredients necessary to form case studies of great value to other countries around the world.

FIGI’s knowledge work stream will advance research in three fields of critical importance to digital financial inclusion. Three working groups will research three foundational aspects of digital financial inclusion: the relationship between reliable ID systems and financial inclusion; digital payment acceptance by merchants and their customers; and security and trust in digital financial services.

Three annual FIGI symposia will showcase national experiences in promoting digital financial inclusion and share the latest findings of the three working groups. The first FIGI symposium in Bangalore, India, 29 November to 1 December 2017, shone a spotlight on India’s world-renowned biometric ID programme, Aadhaar, and the foundation that Aadhaar provides for financial inclusion. The Bangalore symposium evidenced that building trust in digital financial services will call for more work to provide an assurance of security.

FIGI is the successor to the ITU Focus Group on Digital Financial Services active from 2014 to 2016, a group which issued 85 policy recommendations for digital financial services and 28 supporting thematic reports.

The proposal to launch this Focus Group came at exactly the right time. We were seeing excellent country case studies emerging, with developing countries leading the way in the use of digital channels to increase financial inclusion. Innovators were finding their feet, developing the business case for digital financial inclusion and gaining an understanding of their ecosystem. ICT and financial-services companies were moving into new competitive space, with each sector determining the competitive advantages that they could draw from their different expertise. ICT and financial-services regulators, too, found themselves in new shared territory – with different mandates and expertise, they had different perspectives on the opportunities and risks related to digital finance.

Recognizing this growing momentum, a variety of international efforts had emerged to provide policy guidance to assist the pursuit of financial inclusion. Our Focus Group was successful in bringing greater cohesion to these efforts.

The Focus Group’s work was driven by the collaboration of more than 60 organizations from over 30 countries. Asked what made the Focus Group unique, all of the group’s participants highlighted its diversity. This was the first initiative to bring together all the actors working in the interests of financial inclusion.

The greatest success of the ITU Focus Group was the spirit of collaboration that it engendered among its very diverse set of participants. We opened new lines of communication to build a strong understanding of the components of the digital finance ecosystem and where innovation could drive growth and innovation. In the next phase of our collaboration, we will be certain that we are speaking on the same terms. The DFS Glossary issued by the Focus Group, a joint publication of ITU and UPU, will make a critical contribution in service of this aim.

Our Focus Group responded to a diverse set of challenges by mobilizing a diverse set of expertise. We are moving forward in exactly this spirit. The inclusive, partnership-oriented approach of FIGI is a model of collaboration that ITU is pleased support. FIGI will demonstrate the cohesive model of behaviour that will be the defining factor in our achievement of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

This article was submitted by ITU and appeared in the August 2018 issue of UPU's Union Postale magazine.  

United Nations


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  1. Dirk at 19.01.2016
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