What does the rise of comprehensive national financial inclusion data mean for global datasets?

Charles Marwa

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In the next three to five years, every AFI member will have a comprehensive supply and demand-side data set that is country-led and owned. Will this development diminish the importance of global datasets, or shift the focus?

As the World Bank released the results of its 2014 Global Findex report in April, a group of high-level policymakers from 40 Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) member institutions convened at the Financial Inclusion Data Working Group (FIDWG) meeting in Kuala Lumpur to share their experiences on issues related to data and measurement of financial inclusion.

At the FIDWG meeting, participants highlighted the emergence of comprehensive national financial inclusion data.

Approximately 50 percent of FIDWG’s members reported their institutions were in various stages of conducting national financial inclusion demand-side surveys. It has been a trend and growing practice among nations to undertake national surveys in recent years in order to produce a clearer picture of both supply- and demand-side data for financial inclusion—a sign of the growing importance of financial inclusion in the development priorities of many countries. In fact, this trend is predominantly country-driven in an effort to meet national development goals and demonstrate impact to satisfy in-country constituencies as well as justify continued investment. Meanwhile, there has also been a shift toward an increase in requests for technical assistance as opposed to funding

These countries are using data to define and refine strategies, set targets—including in their Maya Declaration Commitments—and inform financial inclusion policymaking and industry. For example, one nation about to release its inaugural national financial inclusion demand-side report is Fiji, represented in the AFI Pacific Islands Regional Initiative (PIRI) by the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF). And, by 2016, all seven members of PIRI will have conducted at least one national demand-side survey. Furthermore, it is worth noting that none of these countries were surveyed for the just released Findex study.

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Interestingly, over the years, there has also been a greater awareness of these global data sets among policymakers in FIDWG. As recently as two years ago, less than 50 percent of FIDWG’s members were aware of the Findex report. However, now all members are not only cognizant of its existence, but are quick to articulate developed, informed opinions. The interest has centered both on the results, and also the methodological and study design aspects of the Findex report.

It is difficult to determine what the rise of national data will mean exactly for global datasets such as the Findex report. Once countries develop sufficient experience and capacity to undertake comprehensive surveys and develop robust in-country data, there could be a lessened reliance on global financial inclusion surveys. It may be time to rethink the whole approach, perhaps re-allocate the resources spent on global surveys to support national surveys.

Only time will tell what the rise of national financial inclusion data signals for global datasets. However, all of these developments indicate a growing interest in financial inclusion data and measurement. And as long as there is continued interest and matching investment in financial inclusion, the data sub-sector will mature and produce reliable data to serve the needs of various stakeholders. In the end, this development can only be good for financial inclusion.

Charles Marwa is the Senior Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. He can be followed on Twitter @CharlesMarwa_CM.

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