Freetown, March 17, 2016– The Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) International Growth Centre (IGC) has ended a three-day West African Sub-regional workshop on mobile financial services on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016.
The workshop is aimed at finding ways of integrating the marginalised and poor people in mobile financial services and lesson learning from other African countries. The meeting fostered peer-to-peer learning and sharing experiences from other sub-Saharan African countries and included delegates from East Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa: Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.
According to the IGC, West Africa in general and Sierra Leone in particular are far behind its African counterparts in mobile financial services and the conference seeks to, inter alia, identify areas for reforms to existing policies and regulations and map out potential areas of further research that would promote the optimal use of financial inclusion in Sierra Leone. Only 20% of Sierra Leoneans have bank accounts and over 70% of those are people in the provincial areas.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Foday L. Mansaray said that as a native of the largest but one of the remotest districts in Sierra Leone, he knows very well what it means for rural folks not to have access to financial services.
“In the rural areas, people have to travel long distances from their homes to collect remittances and this represents a significant cost in addition to the required fees,” said Mr. Mansaray adding, “For the village farthest from Kabala, (the district capital), the nearest bank is located 110 miles away. This means that people like teachers, who have to travel long distances to collect their salaries, end up losing almost half of their income just to access the only bank in the district.”
UNDP Sierra Leone Country Director, Mr. Sudipto Mukerjee said, “this convening is a great opportunity to identify necessary policy and regulatory reforms and also potential partnerships to not only integrate excluded and marginalized groups into the formal economy but also to ensure that they contribute towards financing for sustainable economic development in one of the least banked regions of the world.”
Globally, financial sector policymakers recognize the game-changing potential of digital financial inclusion. Specifically, regulators are increasingly recognising the major role that non-bank providers of mobile money services can play in fostering financial inclusion and, as such, are introducing more enabling regulatory frameworks that allow both banks and non-banks to provide mobile money services in a sustainable way.
This workshop contributes to the ongoing work by the G20 and global financial regulators to prepare the standard-setting world for both the risks and the rewards of the digitization of financial services.
Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, Mr. Momodu L. Kargbo, who was recently announced as the new Minister of Finance and Economic Development, explained that the use of digital financial services by formerly excluded customers brings lot of benefits, even if with some risks involved. Some of the risks are new while others, although well known, may take on different dimensions in the financial inclusion context. He said, adding that “Together we have the power to fundamentally transform the economics of delivering financial services to those who need it most, allowing them to save, send kids to school, afford malaria medicine or upgrade their house with a tin roof or a toilet.”
Day 1, the workshop focused on lessons from East and Southern Africa for central bank delegates from the West African countries that are part of WAMZ. Day 2 of the workshop focused on country-specific strategies, benefiting from experience and inputs from countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. The final day of the workshop focused on regional cooperation and integration.
UNDP and UNCDF’s support to this event is part of the West African Digital Financial Inclusion Programme for Fragile States 2016 – 2019.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.