Ladies and Gentlemen,
Nearly seven years ago, I was fortunate to be on hand at the Philippine International Convention Center to witness the launch of the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion. As a global pioneer in inclusive finance, the Philippines laid out a plan to provide access to financial services for every citizen. At that time, less than one-third of adults in the Philippines had access to the formal financial system, and it was still early in the journey towards more digitized financial services.
Much progress has been made since then. Today, it is estimated that more than half of the population is included financially. And digital transactions now comprise 20% of total transactions. Congratulations on this important milestone! I also commend the initiative to refresh the National Strategy at this important juncture — building on significant successes, informed by the lessons learned along the way, and mindful of new developments ahead.
I also laud the shift in focus beyond just enabling access to the formal financial system, to ensuring that access and usage genuinely meet people’s needs and result in positive outcomes. An inclusive financial system should build resilience and create opportunities for empowerment and growth, particularly for the most vulnerable.
The COVID-19 crisis has made inclusive finance more urgent. We see that the lack of resilience affects everyone, everywhere — in developed and emerging economies alike. But more so women, small businesses, smallholder farmers, and the poor.
I therefore commend this new strategy’s special emphasis on resilience and financial health, twin goals which resonate with my work as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate. My office has worked with experts to define financial health, and now aims to establish a framework for measurement. It is a welcome development that the Philippines has adopted this definition and is committed to collaborating to make global measurement more robust.
I also note the deliberate attention to address inequalities intensified by the pandemic, as well as recent climate events like Typhoon Rai or Odette.
In the face of these developments, there is now a broad appreciation for the importance of digital and financial inclusion.
Let us build upon this momentum and continue to challenge ourselves to put outcomes front and center. This means ensuring financial inclusion leads to positive impacts and contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Financial inclusion is not a standalone issue, but closely linked with numerous SDGs, such as gender equality and combatting climate change.
Our efforts, along with the private sector, therefore need to be guided by this thinking. We should ask ourselves these questions:
Is there fair and equal access to digital ecosystems that create opportunities for all, especially for small merchants in rural Philippines?
Are investments in digital public goods designed to enable participation for those who have been systemically left out, even those with no IDs or connectivity?
And is the success of products and services measured not just by adoption, but by how they help build resilience for customers, such as savings and insurance that are designed with clients’ needs and capabilities in mind?
These questions represent a challenge for all of us working on financial inclusion.
Finally, while financial inclusion is a global issue, it should not be a conversation just between think tanks and policymakers. It is important for more people to understand how safely participating in the formal economy can benefit them. This means it should be internalized as a universal goal and brought to the grassroots – work with local champions and organizations that can help carry these messages to the heart of the very populations we aim to support.
I am hopeful that this new financial inclusion strategy will serve as a key enabler in building a more resilient future for all Filipinos, as well as provide another shining example for other countries to emulate. Together with my partners, we look forward to working with you to realize our shared vision.
Again, congratulations, and my best wishes to all who worked so hard to bring this strategy to life.