UNSGSA Queen Máxima Ends Financial Inclusion Visit to the Philippines with a Call to Focus on Increasing Financial Health

UNSGSA Queen Máxima mets with Aubrey Udag, a GrowSari client, in Manila on 21 May 2023. GrowSari provides affordable products, e-business solutions, and financial services, helping sari-sari stores thrive. With affordable inventory access, a seven-day grace period for payments, and specialized insurance products, GrowSari eases cash flow pressures and protects store inventory. Photo credit: Patrick van Katwijk

On the final day of a visit to the Philippines to promote inclusive finance, H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), emphasized the importance of ensuring that access to financial services also results in increased financial health for Filipinos. Queen Máxima conducted the 21-23 May 2024 visit in her capacity as the UNSGSA.

The successful mission to the Philippines—Queen Máxima’s second visit as the UNSGSA, with the previous in 2015—focused on strengthening the foundational pillars of financial inclusion, including connectivity, cybersecurity, and digitization, alongside enhancing financial health and resilience against economic and climate-related challenges. She also highlighted the need for affordable financial services, especially crucial for the Philippines' many small islands.

Throughout her visit, Queen Máxima engaged in a range of meetings with key public and private sector leaders, including President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Secretary of the Department of Finance (DOF) Ralph G. Recto, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Dr. Eli M. Remolona Jr., and others. These discussions aimed to foster partnerships and support continuous financial sector innovations. Additionally, Queen Máxima met with Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa to explore regional collaboration opportunities.

In Manila and surrounding areas, the UNSGSA conducted field visits to interact with financial services users and observe innovations improving financial health. One notable visit was to a fisherfolk community on Talim Island, where Queen Máxima explored last-mile financial solutions tailored for remote islands. In Metro Manila, she also learned about a tech-enabled platform (GrowSari) that empowers small 'sari-sari' (retail) store owners by helping them grow their businesses and digitize operations.

The Philippines has made substantial strides in financial inclusion over the last decade, with adult bank account ownership climbing from 26.6% in 2011 to 51.4% in 2021, according to the World Bank Global Findex. Despite this progress, approximately 37.6 million Filipinos remain unbanked, placing the country among the top 10 globally with the highest number of unbanked adults. Queen Máxima's visit highlighted ongoing efforts to address this challenge.

The Global Findex data also reveals pressing concerns about financial resilience among Filipinos, with 42% of adults worried about covering medical costs in case of serious illness or accident, 24% concerned about managing monthly expenses, and 17% about securing funds for old age. Many of these concerns were also raised by a small group of Filipino women who participated in a focus group on financial health, which provided the UNSGSA with insights into how financial products can better address women’s needs and enhance their financial health.

Throughout her visit, Queen Máxima emphasized the pivotal role of financial services in improving economic prospects and quality of life, particularly for underserved communities.

The UNSGSA was supported by members of her Reference Group, including the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), the Better than Cash Alliance, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and the World Bank.