Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands will conduct a virtual country visit with Senegal in her capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) on 19-21 January 2021. The UNSGSA plans to discuss accelerating inclusive financial policies—particularly related to digital financial services and in the context of COVID-19—to improve the lives of people across the country.
The virtual country visit is a follow-up to a meeting between the Special Advocate and Senegal President Macky Sall during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2020, where President Sall conveyed enthusiasm at further support and collaboration with the UNSGSA.
Additionally, the UNSGSA had a productive virtual bilateral meeting with Mr. Tiémoko Meyliet Koné, Governor of the Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), on 18 December 2020. Senegal is a member state of the BCEAO (or, in English, Central Bank of West African States), headquartered in Dakar, serving the eight west African countries which comprise the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Along with Senegal, other WAEMU member states include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Togo.
Dialogue between the UNSGSA and Governor Koné focused upon the implementation of the 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, the UNSGSA 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 between people, governments and businesses, and promoting access to credit to businesses.
According to the 2017 World Bank Global Findex, 42% of adults in Senegal have access to formal financial services, either through a traditional bank or agent banking. This represents an increase from the previous Findex in 2014, where the percentage of adults in Senegal with financial accounts stood at 15%. It also represents a substantial increase from the 2011 Findex when only 6% of Senegal’s population had accounts.
Despite this increase, approximately 4.85 million adults in Senegal still have no access to financial services, such as bank or savings accounts, insurance, loans, pensions or digital payment methods. This limits their opportunities for development. Those most affected are people living in poverty, women, small business owners and groups in remote rural areas—all underserved segments which are a focus of the UNSGSA’s agenda.
The gender gap for financial inclusion remains an ongoing challenge in Senegal where 38% of women having an account compared to 46% of men, according to the latest Findex (2017). Fintech offers an array of options for simple methods of banking, such as via mobile phones, for underserved groups. Meanwhile, regulations could be adapted to better safeguard privacy, as well as ensure security and efficiency.
Throughout the virtual country visit, the UNSGSA will speak public and private sector leaders, as well as hold a roundtable with international development partners and representatives from the fintech sector. This includes President Sall, BCEAO Governor Koné, Minister of Finance and Budget Mr. Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo, Minister for Microfinance and the Solidarity-Based Economy Mrs. Zahra Iyane Thiam, and Minister for the Digital Economy and Telecommunications Mr. Yankhoba Diatara.
Africa is a priority for the UNSGSA’s work. The Special Advocate has engaged with numerous countries across the continent to promote inclusive finance topics over the years, including a visit to Senegal (2011), as well as 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.