In West Africa, Côte d'Ivoire is considered to be at the forefront of financial inclusion in many areas. According to the Global Findex (2017), 41% of adults 15+ had access to an account, representing an increase from 34% in 2014. This is largely due to the proliferation of mobile money and a well-developed national financial inclusion strategy (NFIS). Furthermore, the presence of the Agence Pour la Promotion de l’Inclusion Financière (APIF) enables the country to coordinate inclusive finance efforts across government and the private sector.
Côte d'Ivoire has demonstrated a commitment toward financial inclusion, including an aim to reach a 60% inclusion rate by 2024, as well as to gradually digitize 80% of the government’s financial flows.
However, financial inclusion appears more limited in rural areas and among underserved groups, such as the poor, women, SMEs and smallholder farmers. This includes a gender gap of 11%, a one-point increase from 2014 (Findex). Of the eight million unbanked individuals in Côte d’Ivoire, 52% are women. Key challenges that could be addressed to further improve the financial inclusion outlook in the country include encouraging the access and usage of products beyond digital payment products towards savings, credit, and insurance.
To offer support and seek out opportunities to collaborate, the UNSGSA, along with her partners, conducted a virtual country visit on 17 June 2021. She started with a pair virtual client visits with micro-entrepreneurs and financial technology companies to hear firsthand how access to and usage of quality digital financial services and products had benefitted their businesses and financial livelihoods.
The Special Advocate then proceeded to bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Patrick Achi, Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani, Minister of Economy and Finance Adama Coulibaly, Minister of Digital Economy, Telecommunications, and Innovation Roger Felix Adom, and Minister of Commerce and Industry Souleymane Diarrassouba.
Support Payments Digitization
The UNSGSA recognized the recent progress of Côte d’Ivoire on digitizing government payment flows, including tax collection, and the payment of civil servant salaries and student financial aid. The UNSGSA encouraged the digitization of additional public sector use cases, for example the payment of pensions and universal health insurance contributions. A number of new payment platforms have recently been set up in Côte d’Ivoire to support government payment digitization. The Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and the Special Advocate both highlighted opportunities to improve the interoperability and operations of existing government payment portals.
The Special Advocate underscored the importance of supporting payments digitization in the private sector, notably by encouraging SME merchants. Ministers discussed that this digitization provides SMEs the opportunity to adopt digital payments, increase efficiency, reach new markets, improve productivity and gain access to a broader range of financial services.
Improving Financial Inclusion and Competitiveness for SMEs
SME finance remains a constraint in Côte d’Ivoire, especially as the pandemic has tested the resilience of many small businesses. In meetings, the UNSGSA and the Minister of Economy and Finance discussed the importance of improving credit infrastructure, notably to further develop the market for moveable collateral-based lending, along with the usage of the electronic collateral registry launched in December of 2020. The UNSGSA highlighted the importance of making operational the country’s partial credit guarantee fund to help SMEs access finance at more affordable conditions.
Accelerating the Digitization of Key Value Chains for Smallholders
As access to finance for smallholders remains limited, the importance of applying digital technology to support improved financing outcomes for farmers in Côte d’Ivoire was underscored in a meeting between Queen Máxima and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development. The two leaders discussed that digital platforms are key to support agricultural finance and emphasized the importance of the digitization of specific agricultural value chains. The Special Advocate also stated that investing in key public goods, including identification and tiered know-your-customer regulations, could support further integration of smallholders into the formal financial sector.
Further, the UNSGSA and Minister agreed there’s an opportunity, along with APIF and the digital finance working group of the NFIS, to accelerate a pilot project to digitize two key agricultural value chains. This includes taking a comprehensive approach that involves all value chain actors, from input suppliers to cooperatives and exporters. The pilot could also emphasize digital platforms to overcome traditional geographic and risk barriers to accessing finance for smallholder farmers.
Supporting Regional Financial Sector Reforms
Discussions underscored the importance of legal and regulatory modernization to support continued development and innovation of both Côte d’Ivoire and the region’s financial sector. The Special Advocate emphasized the importance of laws supporting strong supervisory rules while accommodating for emerging innovation in both the banking and microfinance sector, as well as ensuring consumer protection.
The UNSGSA noted it could be prudent to adopt an oversight approach for the financial technology sector at a regional level (Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest - BCEAO). It was also highlighted that the Office of the UNSGSA would continue to coordinate with the BCEAO and support with technical guidance related to the oversight framework for fintech and the setup of a fintech innovation office.
UNSGSA Country Visit Partners
Alliance for Financial Inclusion, Better than Cash Alliance, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, UNDP, and the World Bank