UNSGSA Queen Máxima Keynote Address at the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative Symposium

The Hague, the Netherlands

UNSGSA Queen Máxima encourages investment in digital public goods during her keynote address delivered as a pre-recorded video for the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium on 18 May 2021.

UNSGSA Queen Máxima Keynote at FIGI Symposium
UNSGSA Queen Máxima is pictured (screenshot) delivering a pre-recorded video message for the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative Symposium.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m delighted to join you virtually for the third and possibly last symposium of Financial Inclusion Global Initiative. We have been a close partners of the ITU, CPMI, and the World Bank for a very long time.

And it is my pleasure to congratulate you on the progress that this platform has created over the last three years. This gathering of the FIGI community also gives us the opportunity to examine experiences of the last year, to share lessons learned, and to look ahead.

Given the large economic impact of COVID-19, it is no surprise that this is high on the agenda. The pandemic has created the deepest global recession in eight decades. Up to 163 million more people around the world could potentially be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of the year, reversing the global community’s poverty alleviation progress.

Notably, it is a very challenging time for the poor and marginalized. Especially, for people who had limited or no access to financial services prior to the pandemic. Workers in the informal sector have suffered significantly. They are often not covered by social insurance and are not easily registered for relevant government SME assistance programs. Women have also been disproportionately affected. They are twice as likely as men to lose their jobs.

Economies, globally, have faced the challenge of supporting as many as 3.7 billion individuals and 500 million micro-, small, and medium-size enterprises.

With the huge scale and urgency that government disbursements have assumed during the COVID-19 crisis, it is high on governments priorities, to put in place key digital public goods, which can enable efficient and targeted emergency payments.

Over 200 nations have expanded social protection measures, many using foundational ID systems and digital payments to provide transfers directly into bank accounts or mobile wallets.

For example, India has leveraged its national ID system, Aadhaar, and its advanced interoperable payments infrastructure to rapidly send (USD) $7 per month to over 200 million vulnerable women.

They have also provided emergency government-backed loans for millions of MSMEs that are collateral-free.

These types of programs have created important entry points to the formal financial system by establishing new account holders and giving them access to digital financial services that support recovery efforts.

Scheme design and innovation are very important to ensure that account access translates into usage - and that really benefits them. As is taking a gender lens to ensure that programs benefit all and do not unintentionally exclude women.

Critically, the crisis has created an appetite in many countries to invest in key digital public goods.

These can provide the infrastructure rails and regulatory enabling environment to reach users and to build financial services which can improve their financial lives.

Some of these are critical for access, such as connectivity, physical infrastructure, and digital IDs.

Others make markets work better for customers, such as fair competition and interoperable payment systems. And still others protect the financial system and users, such as data privacy, cyber security, consumer protection, and digital and financial literacy. One important takeaway is that we need to share knowledge among different countries on how to carefully roll out digital public goods, how to boost coverage, and how to strengthen existing capabilities.

This is where platforms such as FIGI can be of importance. We can learn from Pakistan, which has established an interoperable payments system, or from Peru with its digital ID system.

Yet, as countries strive to make progress, we will need to think about digital public goods outside of silos.

We can start by recognizing that a whole-of-government approach helps to ensure that all involved ministries and agencies share the same vision and commitment. Seeking technical assistance in designing, sequencing, and coordinating approaches from partners at a very early stage is key.

My partners are ready to facilitate knowledge sharing among policymakers and beyond.

Finally, it is important to recognize that having access to financial services does not mean that customers will automatically have better outcomes in their lives. Financial inclusion is not an end in itself.

It’s a tool to create jobs, improve nutrition, increase access to health and education, and empower, especially women.

That means much more attention is needed in designing, innovating, and championing services that help them achieve these goals. Policymakers have a key role in putting in place the enabling environment and monitoring outcomes beyond just access and usage. And private sector innovators will be critical in designing, experimenting, and delivering services that improve the financial lives of their customers.

In closing, I look forward to following your countries’ continued progress and cheering your accomplishments. Together with my partners, we are ready to continue to provide support.

I wish you much success in all your efforts and fully expect that your work will help build a more inclusive digital financial system with expanded opportunities for all.

Thank you very much.