Financial inclusion in the spotlight in Rwanda

John Owens

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All eyes are on Rwanda this week as the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) hosts an international conference in Kigali on “Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development.” This important event, organized in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) will take place on 18 July 2014 at the Kigali Serena Hotel. The conference brings together numerous central bank governors and leading financial sector regulators, key policymakers, global leaders from the payments industry, mobile financial services (MFS) providers, top-level bankers, donors and experts who will all share successful experiences, new breakthroughs and lessons learned in the field of financial inclusion.

Rwanda has made significant strides in the area of financial inclusion, which has doubled from 21 percent to 42 percent and reducing total exclusion from 52 percent to 28 percent in 2012. Already 72 percent of adult Rwandans are using financial services from both the formal and informal sectors, helping Rwanda achieve one of the highest levels of financial inclusion in East Africa. NBR has now set even higher targets to expand formal financial inclusion with a target of 80 percent by 2017 and 90 percent by 2020.

Several critical topics will be highlighted, including:

Financial inclusion, financial stability, financial integrity and financial consumer protection: synergies and trade-offs
In this opening session, the Executive Director of AFI, Dr. Alfred Hannig, will examine the balancing role of central banks in simultaneously managing financial stability, integrity, and consumer protection while promoting overall financial inclusion. Vice Governor of the NBR, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, will provide an update on the exciting rapid developments that are changing the face of financial inclusion in the country. The panel will be moderated by Prof. Njuguna Ndung’u, Governor at the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), and will include Lucas Abaga Nchama, Governor of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), Tiemoko Meyliet Kone, Governor of the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), Sanjeev Anand, Managing Director of I & M Bank Rwanda, and Israel Kamuzora, the Commissioner of Insurance at the Tanzania Insurance Regulatory Authority (TIRA).

Impact of financial inclusion on poverty alleviation and inclusive development
In this session we look forward to hearing from the key speaker, Shamina Singh, Global Executive Director at the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, who will share highlights on the impact of financial inclusion on poverty alleviation and inclusive economic growth. This session will discuss the value of timely, accurate and complete data for policymaking, the challenges of data collection, and the need for research that gives insights into the social dynamics of the poor. Ms. Singh will be joined by researchers, donor representatives and policy makers including Claudia Mckay from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Director at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), Makarimi Adechoubou, Head of the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa,  Bilal Zia, Senior Economist in the Finance and Private Sector Development Team of the Development Economics Research Group at the World Bank, and Rundheering Bheenick, Governor at the Bank of Mauritius (BOM).

Innovations, technology and financial inclusion
Innovations in technology are now making it more possible than ever before to have a dramatic impact on financial inclusion. Rwanda has likewise set a target to move toward a cashless society by 2017. Digital financial inclusion is now being accepted as a “game-changer” due to the efficiencies and cost-savings offered through digital means. The ability to go beyond geographic barriers and offer services where brick-and-mortar branch networks would be unable to reach is changing the way low-income households access financial services. Rwanda has set up an enabling environment to support digital financial inclusion and has attracted players with good local, regional, and international experience in using innovation and technology to expand access to financial services.

The key speaker for this panel, Dr. James Mwangi, CEO of Equity Bank, will highlight his bank’s long history in both Rwanda and the region, as well as recently announced plans to role out its Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) strategy to further financial inclusion efforts by harnessing mobile technologies to expand outreach to more customers. In addition, Uttam Nayak, Global Head for Emerging Markets Digital at VISA International, will share how Rwanda was selected as one of the first markets to launch the M-Visa initiative that brings together various financial players that jointly promote digital financial inclusion.

Rwanda is also one of the first countries in Africa to allow mobile money-enabled cross border remittances between customers in Rwanda and Tanzania. Tongai Maramba, CEO of Tigo Rwanda, will share his views on these efforts as well as the role of mobile money and financial inclusion. Professor Benno Ndulu, Governor of the Bank of Tanzania (BOT), will also share digital financial inclusion experiences in his country and the important role that regulators and policy makers have in promoting this process.

John Rwangombwa, the Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, will conclude the conference by highlighting the achievements, opportunities, and ways to move Rwanda forward to achieve their 2020 goal of 90 percent financial inclusion.

John Owens is the Senior Policy Adviser, Digital Financial Services & Financial Inclusion Policies, at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.

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