UN Special Advocate Queen Máxima Concludes Colombia Visit Driving Financial Health and Financial Inclusion

UNSGSA Queen Máxima meets a smallholder farmer during a client visit in the Aburrá Valley of Antioquia, near Medellín, during her visit to Colombia on 26 February 2024. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, in her role as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), concluded a four-day visit to Colombia today, capping off a series of discussions and meetings centered on bolstering financial inclusion and financial health for people in the country.

The Special Advocate's journey began in the Aburrá Valley near Medellín, where she explored the innovative efforts of Finaktiva and SiembraViva. These organizations are at the forefront of combining technology and finance to empower smallholder farmers towards a more sustainable future. 

In Medellín and its neighborhood, Envigado, Queen Máxima witnessed firsthand the life-changing impact of financial inclusion. A visit revealed the inspiring story of a pensioner-turned-entrepreneur who, with a loan from Avista, launched a thriving business. Additionally, she traveled in Medellín to learn about the Cooperativa Financiera de Antioquia (CFA), which is dedicated to expanding financial services access to underserved communities, further underscoring the progress in the region's financial inclusion.

The visit then transitioned to Bogotá, where the Special Advocate engaged with fintech leaders and policymakers. Through productive meetings with President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez, Queen Máxima emphasized the critical role of inclusive finance in enhancing the livelihoods of traditionally underserved groups, including the poor, women, smallholder farmers, and small-scale entrepreneurs. These conversations were complemented by strategic meetings with top financial authorities, including Minister of Finance Ricardo Bonilla, Banco de la República Governor Leonardo Villar, and Superintendencia Financiera de Colombia Superintendent César Ferrari, where the future of financial inclusion and financial health in Colombia were explored.

The UNSGSA’s visit shone a light on Colombia's significant advancements in financial inclusion, with the proportion of adults owning a bank account rising from 39% to 60% over the past decade (World Bank Global Findex, 2021). Despite these strides, the Special Advocate addressed remaining disparities, such as the gender gap in account ownership and the need for a broader range of financial services that cater to the diverse needs of Colombians.

UNSGSA Queen Máxima poses for a picture with Colombia President Gustavo Petro and First Lady Verónica Alcocer in Bogotá, emphasizing the crucial role of financial health in national policy agenda. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

The final day in Bogota was marked by the UNSGSA’s participation at a fintech conference and a roundtable discussion hosted by the Colombia Fintech Association. The Special Advocate delivered opening remarks at the conference, using the opportunity to encourage the deepening of fintech sector involvement in key financial inclusion reforms in Colombia. In her speech, the UNSGSA underlined that financial access is just the beginning, with real empowerment stemming from the use of financial tools to handle life's challenges. She pointed out the persistent barriers faced by many Colombians in accessing savings, loans, and insurance. Highlighting fintech's role, she called the audience the creators of future financial solutions that not only support small enterprises and connect remote areas to the global market, and urged a stronger focus on financial health.

This was the UNSGSA's second visit to Colombia for the United Nations, with the previous in 2014. UNSGSA Reference Group members the Better than Cash Alliance, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, and the World Bank supported the mission.