Financial Health in Focus: UNSGSA Queen Máxima and Experts Discuss Key Strategies for South Africa

UNSGSA and Nedbank logos

In a virtual roundtable today, H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), and Ciko Thomas, Nedbank Group Managing Executive for Retail and Business Banking, led a dialogue on enhancing financial health in South Africa. The session, convened under Chatham House Rules, fostered a platform for a diverse group of South Africa's leading financial services providers (FSPs) and authorities to discuss strategies for improving the financial well-being of South Africans.

The discussion, co-organized by the Office of the UNSGSA and Nedbank, saw notable contributions from representatives of the South African Reserve Bank, the National Credit Regulator, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority, and the Banking Association South Africa, among others in the public and private sectors.

Participants explored how to improve financial health, highlighting the importance of creating financial services that truly meet people's needs. They also looked at how government authorities, lawmakers, and different industries play a crucial role in making sure everyone has a chance to be financially healthy. Topics included how businesses can benefit by prioritizing their customers' financial well-being and the need to protect people's information and technology in an increasingly digital world.

Financial health is a vital component of economic stability, referring to how individuals and businesses can navigate daily expenses, build financial resilience to economic and climate shocks—like the death of a family breadwinner or a drought—as well as plan and meet long-term financial goals. Notably, the World Bank Global Findex indicates a rise in South African account ownership to 85% in 2021 from 70% in 2011. However, access to financial services does not automatically lead to improved financial well-being, as evidenced by the struggle many South Africans face in their financial lives.

For instance, according to the NedFinHealth Monitor Survey (2023), the financial realities for many include struggling to pay bills on time (69%), spending as much as or more than their income (62%), dealing with late home loan repayments (33%), lacking sufficient emergency savings (50%), and facing mental health impacts due to unmanageable debt (67%)

The roundtable emphasized the need for policymakers and financial institutions to integrate financial health into their frameworks and strategies. This includes supporting mechanisms that aid individuals in managing finances, saving for emergencies, and planning for retirement.

This roundtable is part of Queen Máxima's advocacy to promote inclusive financial systems and financial health for all. The UNSGSA launched a Financial Health Working Group (FHWG) in 2021, which has issued guidance on financial health to policymakers and on measurement in a pair of policy notes. The FHWG sub-group of private sector members also issued information on the business case for financial health.