UNSGSA Queen Máxima Wraps Up Visit to Morocco

UNSGSA and Head of Government
H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, and Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch hold a bilateral meeting to discuss a range of financial inclusion issues in Rabat, Morocco on 22 March 2023. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands today concluded a three-day country visit to Morocco conducted in her capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA). Digitizing payments, fintech sector development, and inclusive green finance were high on the agenda for the UNSGSA across meetings with key government and private sector leaders.

Financial inclusion remains a priority issue in Morocco. In 2021, 44% of adults in the country had access to formal financial services, according to the World Bank Global Findex (2021). This represented an increase from 29% in 2017, largely from traditional accounts in financial institutions—mobile money did not exist in Morocco before 2017. Still, 15 million adults in Morocco remain unbanked, notably underserved groups such as the poor, women, smallholder farmers, and micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

In a bilateral meeting with UNSGSA Queen Máxima and Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch on Wednesday, the two leaders spoke about the importance of digital payments to bring people into the formal financial sector, as well as help support social assistance programs. This is essential to better reach underserved groups.

The UNSGSA underscored that the importance of prioritizing fintech sector development in Morocco through effective regulation, policy, and market investments is critical. For example, developing a comprehensive oversight approach to fintech regulation can greatly accelerate this agenda.

Additionally, dialogue focused on continuing to develop and adapt regulation and financial policies to support inclusive green finance. With rising climate risks and exposure to drought, the UNSGSA suggested that Morocco could include inclusive green finance as a core pillar of its national financial inclusion strategy, as well as adapt social protection programs to stress climate resilience.

The Special Advocate covered many of these themes throughout bilateral meetings on the visit, including with H.R.H. Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco (who is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador), Secretary-General of the Government Mohamed El Hajoui, Economy and Finance Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui, Industry and Trade Minister Ryad Mezzour, Delegate-Minister to the Head of Government in charge of Digital Transition and Administration Reform Ghita Mezzour, Bank Al-Maghrib Governor Abdellatif Jouahri, and Moroccan Capital Market Authority President Nezha Hayat.

Medina of Rabat Morocco - UNSGSA Queen Máxima
The UNSGSA participates in a client visit in Rabat, Morocco, on 22 March 2023. She is pictured meeting with a small store owner in the Medina of Rabat. He is a client of microcredit organization Arrawaj Foundation. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

The Special Advocate also participated in two field visits to meet entrepreneurs and customers to hear about their firsthand experiences using various financial services and products, notably the benefits and challenges to building better financial health and resilience.

This included on Monday in Casablanca when the UNSGSA visited with the founders of a Moroccan startup called Chari which has an online platform and mobile application that enables “mom-and-pop” shops to digitally procure goods for their stores. This has disrupted the traditional distributor model of prioritizing large retailers such as hypermarkets and discounters which buy in bulk. Queen Máxima met one of these merchants to learn more about his experience using Chari’s app. The company also aims to expand into digital financial services for small merchants, who are often outside the formal financial system.

The UNSGSA’s second field visit was held on Tuesday in Rabat, where she learned how Arrawaj Foundation aims to reach finance micro-entrepreneurs and businesses typically excluded from the formal financial system. The organization offers microcredit, microinsurance and non-financial services like training. The Special Advocate met with a pair of clients to hear their insights, including a woman who started an at-home bakery and a man who sells traditional leather and artisanal goods in a small shop at the Medina of Rabat.

This was Queen Máxima’s first visit to Morocco in her UN capacity. It was supported by a small group of partners from the UNSGSA’s Reference Group, including the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and the World Bank Group.