H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands participated in a virtual bilateral meeting on 18 December 2020 with Mr. Tiémoko Meyliet Koné, Governor, Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), to discuss the progress in financial inclusion throughout the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Queen Máxima attended in her capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA).
The BCEAO, also known as the Central Bank of West African States, is headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, and serves the eight west African countries which comprise the WAEMU. These include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. In the WAEMU, 60% of adults (age 15+) have access to formal financial services. This is an increase from 37% in 2014 and 26% in 2011 (Rapport annuel sur la situation de l'inclusion financière dans l'UEMOA, BCEAO, 2019).
Financial inclusion is driven in the region largely by the adoption of mobile money accounts, with 76.9 million mobile money subscribers in the WAEMU (Tableau de Bord des Services Financiers Numeriques dans l’UEMOA, BCEAO, 2019). Eleven percent of adults have an account at a financial institution, 8% of adults have both an account at a financial institution and a mobile money account, and 17% of the adult population have only a mobile money account (Findex 2017).
The Special Advocate and Governor Koné discussed the implementation of BCEAO’s current financial inclusion strategy, how to expand digital financial services to rural areas, and ongoing projects to promote payments interoperability and the fintech sector. Additionally, Queen Máxima highlighted the importance of having in place key public goods to support digital financial services as part of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of financial services to help vulnerable communities manage shocks, secure adequate nutrition, and help small businesses stay afloat. Countries with advanced digital financial services ecosystems have been able to more effectively respond. This includes scaling up emergency cash transfer programs which rely on mobile wallets or bank accounts, as well as promoting electronic payments more generally between people, governments and businesses.
The continent of Africa is a priority for the UNSGSA. The Special Advocate has engaged with numerous countries across the continent to promote inclusive finance topics over the years, including visits to Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
The UNSGSA works together with French Minister of Finance Mr. Bruno Le Maire and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Ms. Melinda Gates on advancing digital financial services for women across Africa. In parallel with the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Queen Máxima also delivered a speech at a G7 Partnership virtual event held on 23 September 2020 on this subject to support COVID-19 resilience and recovery strategies.